Boston College men’s hockey forward Ryan Leonard has only been on campus for a couple of months, but has already become an electric player to watch on the Heights. Along with his scoring ability, Leonard is strong on and off the puck while being a driver of play at wing on the Eagles’ second line.
A Western Massachusetts native, Leonard has 7 points in 8 games to start the year. He tallied his first point in his first college game against Quinnipiac on Cutter Gauthier’s overtime game winning goal, and scored his first collegiate goal against Michigan State on October 26. In the Eagles’ sweep of UMass-Lowell this past weekend, Leonard had two goals over both games, and generally was a standout against the River Hawks.
Before the Eagles take on Maine at the Alfond, we sat down with Ryan to chat about adjusting to college, playing with his teammates from the USNTDP, the unreal student support this year, and more!
First things first, something I ask everyone — why did you choose BC?
I’ve just kind of always wanted to go to a Boston school, [whichever] one kind of felt like the most home. And then, obviously, you take the tour of BC and the whole campus and the building and structures really speak for itself. The coaching staff really seem like they’re really interested so that kind of attracted me a lot. And Coach York obviously the big name he had you kind of always wanted to play for him but lucky enough to have Coach Brown and really happy that I’m here.
What was that like, given your family ties to Western Mass / UMass?
Yeah, they were really supportive, they kind of just let me run with it. They were just kinda behind me the whole way from the first day of the recruiting process till the day I committed and they just let me be me.
Did your brother chirp you at all for that because he played out there?
No no [laughs]. No, he was really happy for me, he knew I’ve always wanted to go to a Boston school.
I think I read — correct me if I’m wrong — but you were the first one of your linemates to commit to BC?
Cool, what was it like when Will Smith committed after you and then Gabe Perreault committing after that? Did you have any conversations with them, or did they just come to commit on their own?
So Will committed here in December of our first year in Michigan — so a year and a half ago maybe. And like, I kind of figured [it would happen], his whole family’s been here. And then for Gabe — his brother played in the OHL, so we didn’t really know if he was gonna go that route or the college route. And then after we started playing with each other for the first couple of games in the 18 year we’re like, “alright, just come” — like there’s a little bit of like, telling him “hey, like you should actually go to college like it’s really special, you get a degree and an education, all that, and the hockey’s way better.”
So obviously you have your linemates, but you also played with so many other guys on this team in the past — what does it mean to you to get to come to college with so many guys that you already played with last year?
Yeah, it’s very calming in a way — like the first couple of weeks you kind of already have those familiar faces that you know, and people that you already have a bond with. So it was really special to come with those five other guys that were on our team last year. And then having Cutter, Gasser [Andre Gasseau], Hershey [Aidan Hreschuk], Eamon, Ledds [Charlie Leddy] from past NTDP teams. So it’s just kind of cool to always have that culture of ties to the program here.
Going back to before college — can you talk about what it was like winning U18 worlds?
Yeah, that was a pretty special 20 days we were over there in Switzerland — kind of all over the place. When we got there three guys on our team didn’t have their gear —
Oh no, did the airplane lose it?
Yeah it didn’t make it from — I don’t know, the Netherlands or maybe Amsterdam? Regardless, the first two or three training camp days for the tournament they didn’t have their bags so they were just watching practice and doing workouts but once the tournament got moving we kind of had a really good pre-tournament and all of those games in the pool play. We kind of knew that we had a chance, and then we had a tough test with Slovakia and Czech in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. And then in the gold medal game we were down two goals and we found a way to come back and win.
What was this whole past summer like, getting drafted, going to dev camp, etc?
All over the place. Honestly, you kinda just try to take in as much time as you can back home, like actually at my house and spending time with friends and family. Just tried to take advantage of all those, because between the draft, the combine, development camp, and then world junior camp, I was probably away for a good, probably around a month and a half of the summer. So I wasn’t able to be home for as much as I wanted to, but this summer was definitely one I’ll never forget.
Switching gears a little bit - you mentioned you were recruited by Coach York. What was it like being recruited by him and then deciding to come play for Coach Brown?
Yeah, I don’t think my decision was like [changing] — we always kind of knew there was a chance that he was going to retire at some point, just because of the history he’s had. But I trusted BC that they would hire somebody that’s had such a good track record, I guess. And Coach Brown fits the job perfectly. And he’s been awesome.
Can you talk a little bit more about what it’s like to play for him this year?
Yeah, just kind of like his style that he plays with. I’ve always heard such good things about him. Like, when we were talking with the guys after Coach York announced that he [was retiring], we were saying how the style is offensive but he lets you play your game and he’s always going to be there to get on you at times to make you a better player. And that’s kind of what you want in a coach is for somebody to let you be you, but when it’s time to get down to the details he’s going to be there.
The team already seems really close from an outsider’s view; was there anything in particular either you guys or the upperclassmen did to really foster that sense of community?
I think just the first couple of days, it didn’t really matter what age you were and all that, everybody kind of had a voice. Obviously, if you’re a freshman or underclassman, you’re not talking as much. But the upperclassmen and the grads — Eamon [Powell]’s been awesome, being a captain and a leader we can all look at — have all been super welcoming and everything.
It’s early but I’m curious if there is a particular upperclassman that you’ve really been able to look to as you adjust to college?
Probably Colby [Ambrosio]. Kind of a guy I always talk to a lot, most of the time out of the rink if I’m with an upperclassman he’s probably the guy that I’ll be with. So yeah, he’s kind of been a guy I look to, he’s in his senior year so he’s been here for a couple of years, knows his way around campus. And yeah, he’s just a good guy to have on your side.
You guys have started this season with some huge opponents — what’s that been like, coming in as a freshman and basically immediately facing really tough college competition?
It’s been cool, it’s kind of the way that you want to start your season off. I liked how we didn’t have an exhibition, because it kind of just tested us as a team especially to go up against the national champs from last year on their banner night at their rink. So that was a pretty big test for us. And then yeah, our team just kind of gelled really early, like you said, and everybody around the rink has noticed. So I think that’s helped our team on and off the ice.
Kind of going off of that, what was it like starting the season against the defending national champions and knocking them off in OT?
Yeah, there were definitely chills, that’s for sure. Walking out, sold out place. You know you’re gonna have to sit through a banner raising and a bunch of alumni and everybody who was there last year. They had a lot of returners too, so it was a tough test for sure. But to come out on top was a really relieving moment for us.
Going into conference play last weekend, did Coach Brown and/or the captains and upperclassmen prepare the team any differently, or was it just what you guys have been doing?
No, it’s just what we’ve been doing. But we looked at the games outside of the conference as playoff games like those games will weigh a lot more at the end of the season with the polls and all that. We had a really good record for out of conference — we still have a couple of other games, but the start of the season was what we wanted. And now we just kind of want to be the best team in Hockey East and take over the league.
You had a pretty big weekend against Lowell — what were some things you liked about your game against them?
The puck’s going in now [laughs], so that’s a lot of fun. Obviously, you want to score as much as you can, but I think to sweep the first weekend in Hockey East our team was great. Will and Gabe have made my job easy playing with them for the past month or two here and then the team has just been great. Everyone’s doing their job and we’re all just in it to win it.
Lowell and Maine historically have been tough rinks to play in — is that something that you guys maybe talked about while preparing for Lowell and now for Maine?
Yeah, you obviously hear about the tough rinks to play in. Lowell, I don’t think it was too emphasized about it playing a role, I think just the opponent itself - they’re a hard, older, physical team and really tough. They’re a good team but we were fortunate enough to come out on top. And then Maine I’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s a tough rink to play in — small tight corners, student section basically hangs over you — I think it’s sold out so it’s probably gonna be a fun test.
This season so far has really felt like BC finally getting back to the elite level the program has been historically — how does it feel being a part of it as a freshman, and getting to experience it with some of the older guys too?
Yeah, I think it’s good for the culture and good for everybody here. We’ve always kind of wanted to get it back to that standard of the way they were a couple of years ago. But I think we just kind of had a good recruiting class this year, and I think the coaches have done a really good job with that [in the years to come]. But we’re obviously only focused on this year, and everybody who’s here this year has one goal, and that’s to win.
Can you talk about the student support you’ve seen so far and what it’s been like to come in and immediately be so embraced by the BC community?
So we warm up in the gym from 5:50 to just about 5:59. I always go right to the bench right after and you see — because the doors open right at 6 — the students sprinting in, it’s nuts. And then we come out for warmups and everybody’s already filled up behind the nets and then you get out there for the game and the whole place is just whatever the theme is that night. It’s surreal, honestly.
Everybody around campus has been super nice too and they just want to be there for us, so if it’s a game day and it’s at home they’ll say good luck. That stuff really goes a long way. But yeah, the students have been insane, like I’ve never seen it. Especially that first game, when they set that record.
Highest student attendance EVER at Conte!— BC Men's Hockey (@BC_MHockey) October 14, 2023
Absolutely electric ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/8iU2yDCdyV
How has adjusting to college off the ice been like so far?
I think it was just kind of finding a rhythm and then being able to maintain that. The last couple of years it’s been a little different with online school for two years, but yeah everyone says you have to be a student-athlete and there’s no denying it. You gotta go to class and do all your work, but then once it’s time to get to the rink, you gotta be fully into hockey. So I think it was just kind of finding a balance, and then once you find it, it’s pretty easy.
Fun questions that have nothing to do with hockey!
What’s something that BC fans might be surprised to know about you? (Again, with the disclaimer that it has nothing to do with golf or fishing — sorry not sorry.)
My dad was drafted in the NBA. That’s a pretty good one.
A TV show that you most recently watched?
Can I say favorite? Yeah! Eh, no, I watched this recently — Full House.
What’s a song that you’ve had on loop?
I’m not the guy in the locker room so it’s kind of just whatever that’s playing.
[Scrolling through Spotify]
Oh, Your Heart or Mine by Jon Pardi, kind of just country. I like country and I like him a lot. So that’s kind of been my blast from the start of the summer and just kept playing it.
Guilty pleasure song.
Hmm, something Lizzo. Or Ice Spice, actually. It doesn’t matter. One of them.
Do you actually consider it a guilty pleasure? Or do you just like, own that you like them.
No no, I’ve owned Lizzo for a while but I’ve gotten into Ice Spice a little now.
Go-to UberEats/Grubhub/etc order?
I don’t really do it a lot here. If it’s at home, and like I don’t have a car or anything. I’ll look for a local Hot Table. I love Hot Table.
It might be too early for you to have an opinion on this but I do have to ask — do you have a favorite dining hall meal at BC yet?
Does it matter which dining hall? Nope!
[After some back and forth]
Oh wait! The Honey Q Chicken — the honey barbecue chicken wrap, or the chicken parm presser, both from Eagles Nest.
A huge huge thank you to Ryan for taking the time to sit down with us!