Fashion Lighting Player Spotlight: Ryan Merkley
By: Steph Coratti
It’s been 14 years since Ryan Merkley was introduced to the game of hockey at three years old – a game that has seen him excel in so many ways already.
The 2016 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection’s first overall pick.
2016-17 OHL Rookie of the Year.
A gold medalist with Team Canada’s Under-17 squad in 2017.
And now, currently the Guelph Storm’s leading scorer and a top eligible prospect for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Taking a moment to look back though, the highly skilled defenseman traces his start – and success – back to a very simple foundation.
“My father,” Merkley said of who got him into the game, without hesitating to credit his older sister, Lauren Merkley. “My older sister played hockey too, and it made me want to play. I guess it just runs in the family.”
That remains true, as 23-year-old Lauren, the oldest of three, led the way playing the game competitively straight through university, right to the youngest Merkley – Karley – who recently committed to play Division-1 hockey at Harvard University.
An accomplishment that older brother, Ryan, is certainly proud of, even through his typical good-natured quips.
“She’s got the brains in the family,” Merkley said, smirking.
That very nonchalant, easy-going side can sometimes be lost on the ice in the five-foot-11, 170-pound defenseman’s fierce competitiveness – a side that developed early alongside Karley, who sits just one year younger than her 2000-born brother.
“We were so close in age so we would get pretty competitive and sometimes stick together,” Merkley recalled. “We always had competitions – who could get more points, who’s team would win, all that stuff.”
“When he was growing up, there was never a time that Ryan and his sisters weren’t playing mini sticks in the family room, or skating on the backyard rink for hours,” Joanne Merkley, Ryan’s mom, remembered too, adding that support is paired with her three kids competitive spirit, with Ryan growing up in rinks cheering on Lauren, and now never missing an opportunity to watch his little sister play whenever he can.
Looking to older sister Lauren, Merkley knows he never would have chosen to stand on the blue line without her.
“I switched to be a defenseman when I was 10-years-old – I wanted to be like my sister,” he said of his decision to start a new position at the start of his Minor Atom year.
From there, there’s no doubt Merkley has become something to watch on the backend with his offensive flair and speed. Yet, it hasn’t been short of obstacles along the way.
“Getting cut from the Under-18s as an underager… that was tough,” Merkley explained of his biggest challenge to date. “Going up there, getting cut, and getting sent back home… I accepted it though, worked harder, and I just had to use it for motivation.”
That he did, having a dominating performance months later in the Under-17 tournament in the summer of 2017.
Still looking back, the Storm sophomore’s competitive edge shows itself in doses – this time when asked what he’s most proud of.
“Of course I’m proud of where I am,” Merkley said. “But you can always be better.”
An attitude that continues to push the Oakville, Ontario native to always look ahead to what’s next, and how he can get there – an attitude that focuses on the team first.
“We want to make the playoffs, that’s a big goal here – get back in the playoffs and go as far as we can,” Merkley said of his goals for this season. “After that, we’ll look at the draft.”
Heading into the NHL Entry Draft in June, currently sitting as a highly rated prospect, those who got him to this point isn’t lost on Merkley.
“My father and my mom,” he said, crediting those who got him to this point. “They’re always there, always taking time out of their day… I thank them for sure.”