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Former NHLer Ryan Walter channels creative passion into new board game

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Former NHLer Ryan Walter channels creative passion into new board game

The Canadian Press
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A former NHLer who won a Stanley Cup with Montreal, Walter has moved on to motivational speaking, broadcasting and . . . board game designing.

Seriously.

"I didn't come into life saying, 'Gee, the top things I'm going to do in life is play in the NHL and build a board game,"' Walter said this week from Calgary. "But I do have a creative bent."

Walter is the man behind Trade Deadline Hockey, a new board game that gives participants the chance to experience life as an NHL general manager.

The goal is to acquire as much talent as possible while staying below the $39-million salary cap.

Walter came up with the concept last year while driving home from a Vancouver Canucks game and listening to fans call in to a talk radio show.

"It really clicked in my brain that the average fan has changed," he said. "The average fan now is much more wanting to be a GM than even a player."

So he developed a way for them to experience it.

Walter admits to having "no clue" how to make a board game when he started the project, but quickly learned.

First, he and wife Jennifer designed and constructed a board and worked with their five children, who range in age from 11 to 22, to develop rules for the game.

"You'd laugh if you saw the board," said Walter. "It was just an old piece of cardboard."

That hardly mattered. It was the concept that impressed Specialty Boards Games, the Barrie, Ont.-based company that helped polish the game and bring it to stores.

The process took 15 months in all.

"It took a little while in terms of packaging and getting the right look," said Ed Moitoso, the vice-president of SBG, who first met with Walter. "We're pretty proud of what we accomplished."

The 48-year-old Walter is naturally excited to see the finished game, which retails for $29.99, on shelves at Wal-Mart and Sears. He's even more thrilled to see how much fun people have while playing it.

Walter was in northern Manitoba earlier this week playing the board game with a couple junior hockey teams.

"They just absolutely loved it," he said proudly.

Walter never imagined he'd be in the board game business when his career ended after the 1992-93 season with the Vancouver Canucks.

He had played more than 1,000 NHL games and was looking to continue his career when he went for a meeting with then-Canucks GM and coach Pat Quinn.

"I said, 'So Pat, another year?,"' Walter recalled. "He said, 'Nope, not with this team.'

"And that was my retirement."

After 20 straight training camps, it was a tough thing to hear.

"Jen and I were as prepared as anybody . . . but I think it's always a shock," said Walter. "It's something that you've done all your life."

He spent the first year away from the game painting the inside of his house.

Then came broadcasting, as he was hired to be a colour commentator during Canucks games. Walter still works for Rogers Sportsnet.

The biggest step came three years ago when he decided to go back to school at the age of 45 and received a master's degree in Leadership and Business from Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C.

He's since written three books on leadership training and worked with businesses across the country as a motivational consultant.

"I've found my stride now with the inspirational and motivational speaking," said Walter. "This is really my value. This is my mission. This is how I add value to people's lives."

With all that on his plate, it's a wonder Walter had any time to develop his board game. He says that he started using the many hours he spends on planes and in hotel rooms working on it.

Since finishing the game, he's found it useful during his leadership training. He recently gave one session where he had a group of employees play the game to get them thinking about developing a culture of high performance in their workplace.

"I'm going to use this game a lot," he said. "The client told me that it really connected with the employees. It created fun. It created banter. And it created a great atmosphere."

Ultimately, that's what Walter wants his game to be about.

It's supposed to be fun and might even save some people the hassle of trying to shop for that tough person on their Christmas list: "What do you buy Dad for Christmas? Another tie?" says Walter.

Despite his many professional interests, Walter is first and foremost a father and husband.

He credits his family most for working together on Trade Deadline Hockey and for creating something that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

"Our goal is to get the family around the kitchen table again," he said. "It's one of those games that can help do that."

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Former NHLer Ryan Walter channels creative passion into new board game