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'Pretty special getting to put on the jersey': Broncos' McCleary playing for hometown team in final year of junior hockey

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Swift Current Broncos defenceman Ryan McCleary is honoured to be playing for his hometown team in his final season of junior hockey in the Western Hockey League (WHL).

“Being a 20 year old, you only have a few spots [on the roster]. It’s kind of an honour that they decided to choose me and hopefully put my best foot forward and hopefully win here,” he told CTV News.

Hockey roots run deep in the city of Swift Current not just because it’s his hometown but also because his dad, Trent McCleary, played for the Broncos from 1988-1993.

He won the WHL championship and Memorial Cup with the team in 1988-89 and a second league championship in 1993. Trent went on to play just shy of 200 games in the National Hockey League (NHL).

“It’s obviously pretty special. He put on this jersey a few times, even won a championship. One when he was 20 and kind of a part championship when he was 16. Kind of trying to follow in his footsteps,” Ryan said, speaking about his dad.

Trent now sits on the board of directors as the board chair for the Broncos organization. Despite the heavy involvement in hockey, Ryan says home life is not always surrounded around the sport.

“There’s a lot of conversation about hockey but we try to keep that a bit separate. So it’s not everything hockey but it’s great to have him around,” he explained.

“He’s basically taught me everything I know. Kind of modelled my game around what he thinks is the best route to get me to the NHL.”

Ryan spent his first four seasons in the league with the Portland Winterhawks. He played in 147 regular season games, recording 21 goals and 47 assists as well as 20 playoff games, adding another two points.

In August the Broncos announced they had acquired the 2003-born defenceman along with a conditional 2025 6th round draft pick, and conditional 2027 5th and 6th round picks. In exchange, the Winterhawks received forwards Josh Davies and Tyson Yaremko.

“It was kind of a weird feeling because I had left my home for the last four years. So coming back is kind of bittersweet feeling because it’s obviously a good team here and a great group of guys but it was kind of a family in Portland just being there for so long,” Ryan shared.

Broncos’ assistant coach Taras McEwen told CTV News about the team’s excitement around acquiring McCleary.

“We have some really good, young defenceman that we were really happy about and the progress that they’ve made. So when we had the opportunity to acquire Ryan we were real happy to jump on it,” he said. “Obviously being a 20 year old, he’s an impact player for us on the back end. Just helping some of our younger players you know being one of the older players, just the way he works every day in practice. He always wants to get better.”

McEwen also has a Swift Current connection as his dad, Brad, coached the Broncos for six years.

“It’s really special [for guys like myself and Ryan]. A place like Swift, where everybody talks about the Broncos. You go out into town at any time and see someone wearing something with a Swift Current Broncos [logo]. It’s very special to be playing in a community like that,” McEwen shared. “Any player that gets to come back home it’s obviously special for them. An experience for Ryan in his last year as a 20 year old that I think he’s enjoyed. [He’s] a big part of our team here.”

“He’s doing a really good job being a role model and competing really hard for us on the ice. When he makes a big play the crowd definitely gives a good roar so it’s been pretty cool to see,” said Broncos forward Josh Filmon.

Once upon a time, he was just a fan in the crowd cheering on the Broncos. Now, Ryan is embracing every second of the full circle moments this season.

“I grew up a Bronco fan, wearing my jersey to games. [We] had a lot of good teams growing up. Watching that team all the way through in 2018 and being able to win it. It’s pretty special getting to put on the jersey [myself now] and hopefully win a championship this year,” he said.

The defenceman was selected in the 7th round of the 2021 NHL draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So far this season Ryan has suited up for 15 games recording 4 goals, 1 assist for 5 points. Even though he hopes to continue his career in the pro ranks once he finishes junior – he is taking in the little time he has left in the WHL.

“Turning pro, that’s the goal. Obviously seems like it’s not that far away,” he said. “But trying to take every game one at a time and trying to get better every day and hopefully try to make that step next year.”

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