In 1995, two years after he won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadians, Ed Ronan played in just 17 games with the Winnipeg Jets and didn’t record a single point.
His first child, Corey, was born that fall. Ronan and his wife, Leah, had purchased a home in Franklin, they spent most of their time in an apartment in Winnipeg, with Ed shuttling between the Jets and their American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield.
More traveling came the following season, when Ronan spent the year between Buffalo and its AHL team in Rochester, N.Y. Leah and Corey tagged along.
Ronan enjoyed his time in western New York, where the locals like to pound down Canadian beer and prefer grinding fourth-liners with missing teeth over slick puck-handlers. It was a crowd that found it easy to root for a steady, hustling winger like Ronan. But when Buffalo didn't sign him the following year and a new team and city again seemed likely, the 29-year-old decided to trade in his hockey gear for a daddy apron and diaper-changing duty.
As Ronan remembers it, “I was pretty young, but I was also not really established,” he said. “I think I got to a point in my career where I was going to be moving around a lot, get traded from team to team every year or spend time in the minors. If I was a top-six forward it might have been different.
“And once my son was born it just wasn’t conducive to the lifestyle I envisioned for myself, so I walked away from the game. And I had no problem with it.” Ronan played parts of the 1997 season with the Providence Bruins just because they needed players and it was close to home, but he soon put his stick away for good and turned to a new passion.
Corey was on the ice as soon as he could handle a pair of skates. Ed was the youngster’s first instructor. And for the next 14 years, Corey never had another coach.
His father taught him everything he could about hockey, breaking down the game’s intricacies while placing a premium on some of the more obvious teachings that often go overlooked: Get down and block shots, hustle for every loose puck, create open lanes for teammates, and never stop working.
“When I retired, there was always that void there,” said the 44-year-old Ronan, who grew up in North Andover, prepped one year at Phillips Andover, and was a four-year standout at Boston University. “Now that hockey wasn’t there, the competitive spirit was gone.
“I got a little bit of that back when my son was born. I started coaching him and that’s been my hockey fix. Watching him develop and grow has been every bit as fun.”
For Corey, the feeling was mutual.
“I like to do what he does,” said Corey, now a rising junior at St. Sebastian’s in Needham. “A lot of people who saw my dad play and then see me play say that I have a lot of similar qualities. Mostly it’s my work ethic. I’m proud of that.”
Ed Ronan’s voice fills with excitement when talking about Corey’s progress as a hockey player. Even at 5-foot-5, 135 pounds, Corey had a standout freshman season in the Independent School League as a third-line forward and penalty-killer.
He initially didn’t even think he’d make the team as a freshman. But what Corey didn’t realize, having played for only one coach his entire life, was that everything he had learned from his father over the years helped shape him into a player with certain intangibles that most high school athletes just don’t have.
And it didn't take long for St. Sebastian’s coach, Sean McCann, to notice another ability that has made Ronan one of the area's most highly sought college recruits.
“He’s easily one of the fastest kids in prep school,” said McCann. “That’s his big strength. What he also adds is good sense and good vision. He moves the puck well. And he capitalizes on opportunities.”
At St. Sebastian's last winter, Ronan started to find his stride while playing on the same line as Danny O'Regan, now an incoming freshman at Boston University who was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round of this year’s NHL entry draft. Ronan finished his sophomore year as the team's second-leading scorer behind only O'Regan.
“Corey is one of the fastest kids you’ll ever see,” said O’Regan. “But he also makes those little plays. You can tell his dad teaches him those things.”
O’Regan isn’t the only one noticing.
After impressing at local district tryouts for the US U-18 select team this summer, Ronan headed to upstate New York for the national tryouts. At best, he figured, he could get the attention of some scouts and eventually find his way into consideration for the World Juniors squad.
Instead, Ronan was named to the select team from a pool of more than 180 players, and will be representing the United States at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia starting on Aug. 13.
But since Ed Ronan won’t be traveling overseas to give his son support — letting his 60 clients at Bay Financial Associates manage their own portfolios for a week probably wouldn’t be good business — this could be a learning experience for Corey and a chance for him to form his own identity.
There are no names printed on the back of the team’s red, white, and blue uniforms. Ronan will be just a number.
And once he slips on the Team USA sweater he’ll have done something his father never got to do.
“I already told him he’s one ahead of me,” Ed Ronan quipped.
The dad’s voice then started to sound concerned.
“I’m just hoping he’s not too nervous.”