St. Cloud, MN – Fifteen years ago I took a trip to Pembroke, Ontario via Ottawa to attend the Fred Page Cup Tournament, a Canadian junior hockey tournament that’s been played since 1995. The Fred Page Cup is given to the winner of a round-robin playoff between the Bogart Cup champions of the Central Canada Hockey League, the Kent Cup champions of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, La Coupe NAPA Champions of the Quebec Junior Hockey League, and a pre-determined host team. The winner of the Fred Page Cup moves on to the Centennial Cup, the national Junior A championship.
I was accompanied on this trip by St. Cloud hockey connoisseur Dave Erickson, a former volunteer goalie coach at St. Cloud State and St. Cloud Cathedral High School and a local attorney. In addition to spending our time sight-seeing in the scenic Ottawa Valley separating Ottawa and Quebec and sampling genuine poutine from roadside food trucks, we eventually made the approximately 90-mile drive to Penbroke for the Fred Page Cup Tournament.
Our primary reason for making the trip was to watch the play of a young hockey phenom from California named Ryan Lasch who was posting some freakish numbers in the Central Junior Hockey League for the Pembroke Lumber Kings. The future SCSU Husky was coming off a season in 2005-06 in which he netted a ridiculous 70 goals and added 77 assists for 147 points in 56 games. Pembroke didn’t win the Cup but despite being hobbled by an ankle injury and being played sparingly, he still produced 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points in four games. He had indeed confirmed all the rumors about his play and mopped up CJHL awards that season including CJHL First All-Star, CJHL Most Goals, CJHL Most Points, CJHL Most Valuable Player, and CJHL Player of the Year. He would be off to St. Cloud State the following season.
I caught up with Lasch on June 4th after he returned to California following a season with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League to talk about his past, the most recent season in Finland and Switzerland, and his future in the Swedish Hockey League after signing a new three-year contract.
But first, a little background information:
Hockey in California
Lasch grew up in the most unlikely of hockey places at the time in Lake Forest, California not far from Newport Beach on the Pacific coast. ‘”My dad did some speed skating and skated recreationally and he decided to take me to the ice rink one day when I was three years old and that’s where the love of the game started,” said Lasch. “I guess I liked it so much we just continued to go back even though there was not much ice time available back then.”
The Los Angeles Kings emerged in 1967 but it wasn’t until the Wayne Gretzky trade in the 1988-89 season when the enthusiasm for hockey really began to take hold. “The Anaheim Ducks weren’t around at the time but during the Gretzky era, it was more about following the Kings. Gretzky coming here was huge for California hockey and it sparked a lot of interest. After the Ducks came hockey really took off because it was in Orange County in southern California and that’s when a lot more of the southern California kids began to play.”
Lasch connected with well-known skating and skills coach Larry Barron as a teen as his interest in hockey began to blossom. In addition to running camps, Barron is also currently a skating coach for the Anaheim Ducks. ” I had a skating coach (Larry Barron) I was working with and Larry and I formed a pretty good bond. At the time, I didn’t make the Triple AAA team which is kind of funny,” said Lasch. “I didn’t really have anywhere to play. Larry had some connections so he suggested why not go try to play Junior A hockey in Canada.”
Hockey in Pembroke Ontario
As a 16-year-old, Lasch packed his bags and headed to Pembroke, Ontario located in the Ottawa Valley to audition for the Pembroke Lumber Kings, the longest-running Junior A team of the then Central Junior Hockey League. “It turned out I made the Junior A team in Pembroke. Obviously, it started something great in my career because if I didn’t make that team, I don’t know what I would have done. Those years in Pembroke were fun times.”
Dominate he did from the get-go with 13 goals and 30 points his first season, 25 points and 39 points his second season, and an obscene 70 goals and 77 assists for 147 points in 56 games in his final season. He dominated the league awards following his third season including being named First Team All-Star, Most Valuable Player, and Player of the Year.
Obviously, Lasch was beginning to catch the eye of recruiters and it was before his third season at Pembroke that he attended some USHL tryout camps. It was there that he first caught the eye of then SCSU hockey assistant coach Fred Harbinson, now the President, General Manager, and Head Coach of the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. ” I ended up going back to Pembroke for my third year and after seeing the success I was having, that’s when (then SCSU head coach) Bob Motzko came into the picture,” said Lasch. “Hats off to Bob. He didn’t mess around. He’s such a good recruiter and knows what he wants. He came up and watched me play two games and right away wanted me to be a Husky. I told him I was thinking about a few other teams but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He believed in me and explained how I would fit into the program at St. Cloud. I then visited the campus and I knew right away this was the place where I wanted to be. There were such good guys on the team like Andrew Gordon, Dan Kronick, and Gary Houseman to name a few. I fell in love with the place right away.”
The St. Cloud State Years
Lasch joined the Huskies as a 19-year-old and much like Pembroke, had an immediate impact playing within the wide-open offensive style of play Bob Motzko preached. He produced nearly a point a game as a freshman with 16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points in 40 games. He was rewarded by being named to the WCHA All-Rookie team following the season. He followed that up with his most productive scoring season the next year with 25 goals and added 28 assists for 53 points. He was named an assistant captain for his junior and senior seasons and rewarded the team with 38 goals and 53 assists for 91 points in those final two seasons.
He captured numerous awards in his final three seasons including two more selections to the WCHA First All-Star Team, WCHA scoring champion, and All-American in 2007-08, WCHA All-Academic Team, and Hobey Baker finalist in 2007-08. His final season catapulted him to the top of the all-time points chart at St. Cloud State with 79 goals and 104 assists for 183 points in 161 games, a record that will be difficult to surpass.
Reflecting on his experience at St. Cloud State, Lasch commented “What an experience college hockey is for a young man. You have to grow up and adapt and you make relationships that are purposeful in your life. The biggest thing is the development of relationships you’ve made over four years. I still keep in touch with a lot of my teammates.”
When asked about his most memorable games Lasch recalled “I always thought I played my best game against the Gophers and Wisconsin. I especially remember my freshman year when we swept the Gophers in a home-and-home series. The biggest game for me was being a part of the first NCAA win over Northern Michigan. We were 0-7 in NCAA games before that and it was a win in overtime on a goal by Tony Mosey.”
Post St. Cloud State in Europe and the American Hockey League
Following his senior season in 2009-10, Lasch opted to pursue his professional career in Europe. “I felt like to have an opportunity to play in the NHL, I needed a two-way contract but at the time I didn’t get the looks they wanted as a player so for me, it made more sense to go to Europe. I did some research and saw that players went there for a couple of years, developed and played well, and then signed a deal after that. A couple of examples were Tim Stapleton and Brian Rafalski. It did work in the sense where I was able to play well and develop (in Sweden) and then after two seasons signed with the Anaheim Ducks. So I got my chance.”
Lasch was signed by Anaheim for the 2012-13 season and played in 19 American Hockey League games with the Norfolk Admirals and was then traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs and finished the season with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL playing well with 4 goals in 11 games. “I loved my time in Toronto, played well and liked it there,” recalled Lasch. Regardless, I liked being in Europe and it suited me more than grinding in the AHL and I felt it was better for me to return to Europe. My time frame was one year and if it didn’t work out I was happy to return to Europe.”
Back to Europe
Lasch returned to Europe for the 2013-14 season and has been playing exclusively in Europe for the past seven seasons with 325 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), 128 games in Liiga, the Finnish Professional League, and 69 games in the Swiss National League. “There are some small adjustments in the style of play between the leagues,” commented Lasch. “There are some differences in parity and the depth on rosters. I think they are all great leagues and I’d be happy to play in any of the three leagues. It’s unfortunate it doesn’t receive the exposure in the USA and I understand it with the NHL, but I think a lot of people would be surprised with how good the hockey is in Sweden for example.”
Success has followed him to Europe with two league championships in Sweden, one in the Swiss League and runner-up in the Swiss Cup this past season. He was the points leader in the Finnish League in 2011-12, League MVP, and points leader in Sweden in 2015-16, 2018-19, and 2019-20.
As far as his style of play, Lasch admits his game has evolved. “My game has developed since I was at St. Cloud. I was scoring a lot of goals back then. I think I had 25 goals in one year. I’ve gotten smarter with the game and try to slow it down and I’m more of a playmaker now.”
He’s had the opportunity to play with some tremendous players including Mikko Rantanen, currently playing for the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Andreas Johnson of the New Jersey Devils, and Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres to name a few. “The way they are developing kids in Europe right now is something special,” said Lasch.
The Pandemic and the 2020-21 Season
With the pandemic and an uncertain season ahead of him, Lasch decided to return to the hometown of his wife Jasmin in Lahti, Finland. “The pandemic shut things down and I was without a contract. Because of the uncertainty, teams didn’t know their economic status so they weren’t signing anyone. So, in July, I agreed to a game-by-game contract just to get things going. I ended up playing 33 games and it was funny because it was a game-by-game contract. We initially thought it was going to be 10 games but we just kept winning so we kept playing.”
Midway through the season, Lasch, who was without a contract was contacted by the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League as right-wing Chris Baltisberger was injured 23 games into the season. “They needed a player and that’s how it came about,” said Lasch.
It turns out former SCSU teammate Garrett Roe was under contract to the Lions and had been playing in Switzerland since 2017. “I knew Garrett Roe was on the team so it was kind of funny when they said they were interested in me. Garrett was already signed for the season and has been there for 4-5 years. He was the first guy I called after I signed and it was exciting to play with him again. We played on a line together for a bit and were on the power play together. It was a lot of fun playing with Garrett Roe again because he is such a good player.”
The ZSC Lions advanced to the Swiss National League playoff finals against the Geneve Servette and were defeated in three straight games to end the season. “We went 0-3 against Geneve. They were a good team and we ran out of gas. We had a tough first-round series and just ran out of gas in the final series,” said Lasch.
Lasch finished the season with 7 goals and 10 assists for 17 points in 23 regular-season games and 4 goals and 5 points in 9 playoff games.
A New Three-Year Contract in Sweden
Shortly after the Swiss League season ended, Lasch re-connected with his former team in Gothenburg, Frolunda and things just fell into place working out a three-year contract to take him through the 2023-24 season. “I’m really happy about it, said Lasch. I’ve played there two times before and we’ve had a lot of success. My wife and I are excited to go back. We have a lot of friends there and at this point in my life, it was the right place to be. Gothenburg is the second-largest city in Sweden but has a small-town feel because of how close and nice the people are. The team wants to win and that’s a big thing.”
Obviously, he’s had to work his way to this point but, financially, Lasch is making a good living playing in Europe but “It’s not the money,” said Lasch. “It’s being happy and being in the right place for where I’m at in this point of my career.”
Joel Lundqvist, the brother of Henrik Lundqvist is the captain of the Frolunda team is a friend and great leader and Lasch is looking forward to reuniting with him.
Frolunda also recently signed former Minnesota Wild, LA Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadien player Christian Folin who has played in 244 NHL games another indication of their hunger for success.
Lasch will be 37 years old at the expiration of his current contract. Still youthful-looking at 34, Lasch said ” I have no desire to leave hockey. I feel really strong in body and mind and am still hungry and that’s what is driving me to keep playing. It’s demanding but the style of play in Europe allows you to extend your career a bit.”
Having lived in Sweden for a number of years, he conceded he can speak decent Swedish or at least understand it. But, even with his wife Jasmin being Finnish “I can’t speak a lick of Finnish. I tried for two months with a language program but it didn’t work. ” With a laugh, he said if I learn another language (Swedish) before I learn Finnish my wife would not be too happy about that.”
Lasch and his wife spend three months during the offseason in California to spend time with family. They’ll head back to Sweden for the 2021-22 season which is expected to start on September 11.
He’ll no doubt be “churning” out more points in the Swedish Hockey League.
Ryan Lasch (Courtesy Frolunda SHL)