The beginning of the 2014-15 NHL season was a bit of whirlwind for Ryan Carter. The center spent training camp with the New Jersey Devils. When that came to a close, the Devils, the team he spent the previous three seasons with, didn't offer him a contract.
Then the Minnesota Wild stepped in.
ON Oct. 6, 2014, three days before the Wild's season opener, the White Bear Lake Area Hockey Association alum returned home on a one-year contract with the team he grew up idolizing. Despite the mere days he had to get to know his new teammates and learn the Wild's systems, Carter earned a spot in the opening-night lineup and has been a fixture on Minnesota's fourth line ever since.
Minnesota Hockey Journal caught up with Carter, a member of the 2007 Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks, to see how his return to the State of Hockey is treating him.
MHJ: What was it like to come home?
Ryan Carter: It's just kind of starting to sink in now. It was all business when I got here. But it's nice, obviously, to play for a team you grew up watching and idolizing. There's added benefits now. My parents get to stop over and see their grandkids, which makes them happy, and that makes me happy.
MHJ: Any memories from watching the Wild while growing up?
RC: Oh yeah. I stayed up probably later than I should have watching games. They'd go into overtime and I'd be like "I've got to stay up, five more minutes." I watched them all the time.
MHJ: Obviously there's always a learning curve when you join a new team. How has that been going and is it nice to have a familiar face on the team in Zach Parise, your former teammate from the Devils?
RC: It's nice. No questions are dumb questions, but there's a lot of little things that go on throughout a team whether it's on the ice or off the ice. To be able to bounce those questions off of someone is nice.
MHJ: Growing up in White Bear Lake, what were some of your first experiences with hockey?
RC: I'm a first-generation hockey player; nobody in either of my families has ever played hockey before, which is rare coming from Minnesota. I had a neighbor, Robin Larson, who played for the Gophers, who had a couple of boys my age. And I grew up in a fantastic neighborhood where we had an outdoor rink. I just wanted to be out there with my buddies when I was young. We'd go outside and play outdoor hockey, really until the neighbors would get tired of hearing pucks hit the post and call the police. They'd come and say "all right boys, time to turn the lights off." We'd go inside and wait until the next day to do it again.
MHJ: How do you think playing outdoors helped you develop your skills?
RC: I'd say skill-wise, you'd go out there and play, but really what it did was grow my love of the game. The winters are long here, or they can be, so it was something to look forward to on a daily basis. I'd go to school and be like "oh man, I can't wait to go home and go outside to play." It was something to look forward to, something that was fun, and it created the drive. I think that was important for me.
MHJ: Did you ever emulate any players when you were out there?
RC: Oh yeah, just the older brothers, the older kids. That's how it was for me. We were the younger kids in the neighborhood. There were older kids you'd want to go out and compete against. If they weren't there, you'd try to pretend that you were them or things like that. It was fun.
MHJ: Do you still stay in touch with any teammates from those White Bear Lake days?
RC: For sure. I'd say more than players, probably the coaches. White Bear Lake had a fantastic group of coaches there when I was growing up. For the most part, that youth program has been with the same guys, so when I would come back in the summers, I'd see them at the rink and talk to them. It's nice.
MHJ: After graduating high school, you played in the United States Hockey League for the Green Bay Gamblers for a few seasons (2001-04), but then returned to Minnesota to play college hockey at Minnesota State-Mankato. How did you decide on Mankato?
RC: For me, I wanted to play in the WCHA. My first year in (USHL) they came and told me they liked me. I went on a visit and it was good, fun. I enjoyed it. They said if you'd like to come, we'd like to have you. I was pumped with that.
MHJ: Nice to seem them playing well in recent years?
RC: Yeah, it's a good program. It's a fun college, a fun place to play. Hockey is the only Division I program on campus so you're not getting the short end of the stick anywhere. You get good workout time and things like that.
MHJ: Any advice for young players?
RC: Everyone always told me to stay in school, that hockey might not work out. What I'd like to tell those kids is, yeah, stay in school, do your thing but dream big because it can happen. It does happen. Set your goals and you can reach them. You'd be surprised.
MHJ: And finally, what is the best thing about hockey in Minnesota, for you?
RC: As I enter a new phase of life with children, I'm excited to show them what it's like in Minnesota and in hockey. Hockey has taught me a lot. There's good people in the game of hockey, it makes a good culture, and that's something that I'm happy to have my children, hopefully, get a chance to see while playing here.