Ryan Howe is grateful for a lot of things – family, friends, hockey and,
most importantly, life.
Wearing the ‘C’ for the Red Lake Miners at the 2022 Centennial Cup,
presented by Tim Hortons, the 21-year-old from Caledon, Ont., wasn’t sure
he would get an opportunity like this five years ago.
“It was a pretty traumatic experience, and it was near death, so for me, I
am just grateful that I am here,” says Howe. “I appreciate the little
things in life a little bit more.”
Five years ago, Howe was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a bowel ailment
that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
He didn’t go to school for four months and was hospitalized for six weeks
at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He was diagnosed with a toxic
megacolon, which is a rare disease that occurs when swelling and
inflammation spreads into the deeper layers of the colon. As a result, the
colon stops working and widens.
“There was a high chance that I would need a surgical procedure. Luckily, I
didn’t,” Howe says. “I was also diagnosed as anemic as I struggled with
Throughout his illness, Howe dropped a significant amount of weight. When
healthy, the forward weighed around 165 pounds. During his hospital stay,
he lost 66 of those – dropping to just 99 pounds as a 16-year-old athlete.
“I didn’t know if I would ever be able to play hockey again,” he says.
When he was released from the hospital, Howe weighed 120 pounds. His
recovery focused on getting stronger every month.
“For me, it was just about trying to gain a little bit every month and get
stronger,” he says. “I struggled a lot that summer because I didn’t have a
lot of energy.”
When Howe stepped back on the ice for his second year of U18 AAA with the
Mississauga Senators, he was back to his regular weight but wasn’t where he
wanted to be hockey-wise.
“I wasn’t playing my best hockey at all – it was a struggle,” Howe says. “I
couldn’t take a couple of strides or raise the puck on my stick – I was too
weak. It took a lot of time to get there. It was a long journey.”
Throughout the experience, Howe understood that life can change quickly,
and to embrace the little things.
“After that experience, I looked at not just hockey, but life in general,
differently,” he says. “I was 16 years old and very athletic and doing well
in hockey. My future was looking bright in terms of hockey options and
unfortunately a lot of things changed. My focus wasn’t so much on hockey,
it was about health.”
Now, he doesn’t take an opportunity he is given for granted.
“Looking back on everything, I appreciate things in life. I am very
grateful that I even get a chance to still play hockey. I was originally
told that the doctors didn’t know if I could play again,” Howe says. “Going
from that to being able to play at the Centennial Cup is awesome and I’m
grateful to be here.”
Howe still has an extensive regime to follow to stay healthy – every six
weeks, his doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital ship out a Remicade infusion
that is administered in Red Lake. Those take two hours to sit through, as
well as a daily iron pill and digestive enzymes.
“He is a special kid who does things the right way,” says Geoff Walker,
head coach and general manger of the Miners. “He is stronger as a person
and there isn’t much more life can throw at him.”
Walker has watched Howe develop over the past three years with the Miners,
naming him captain this season. The growth he has seen on and off the ice
has been most impactful with his teammates.
“He is calm, cool and in control and that has rubbed off on the team. He
has made my job a lot easier,” says Walker. “I’ve seen him grow a lot;
coming from Toronto to Red Lake isn’t easy, but he took it in stride, and
he moved into that leadership role so seamlessly.”
For Howe, he has used his experience to share that wins and losses aren’t
the most important things. And the Miners have fed off what Howe has
preached all season – doing it together.
“Winning matters, but I wanted it to be a close group and it has been all
year. These guys are my best friends,” Howe says. “The Centennial Cup is a
prestigious tournament and playing against the best [Junior A] teams in
Canada is a cool experience. We know we are the underdogs, but we are
trying to embrace the moment.”