Former NHL enforcer, Ryan VandenBussche, sheds light on his fourteen year career as a professional hockey player. Ryan was originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1992 and was later traded to and played for the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Best known for being pound for pound one of the toughest enforcers in the NHL, and the man who ended the career of Nick Kypreos in a pre-season game in 1997. Ryan played alongside some of the game’s greats including Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux. He played 310 games in the NHL, fought over 100 times, and registered more than 700 penalty minutes.
Ryan left the game after numerous concussions and injuries suffered during his hockey years reliant on prescription drugs to treat the chronic pain that plagued him well after his retirement from the NHL. Today he is the Founder and President of New Leaf Canada, a cannabis growth and research facility that will educate the community on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis an alternative to opioids.
Tell us about your career?
I played 14 years of professional hockey (9 NHL season) from 1993-2007. I was first drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1992, played for the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What brought you into the industry?
I left the game with 12 surgeries, north of 20 concussions and many broken bones. Throughout the course of my career we were given opioids to ease pain, inflammation & sleeplessness while traveling between cities and dealing with the time changes. When I retired from hockey in January 2007, I was still dependent on opioids until I was introduced to cannabis for medical purposes in the summer of 2009. By 2010 I had a designated grower grow my cannabis for me and by 2012 I was able to get 100% off the synthetic opioids. In 2013 I submitted my application to become an LP and after a few amendments to our original application, finally in April 2020 (4/20) the company I founded received the approval to become a LP where we could cultivate, process and sell for medical purposes.
You are considered a cannabis advocate, why?
I give credit to cannabis for getting me off all the synthetic opioids I was prescribed throughout my hockey career and post hockey life. I feel it is my job now to help advocate, by educating people through sharing my experiences that I had, and still have with cannabis in hopes to destigmatize the plant and let the world know there are alternative plant-based medicines versus synthetic opioids.
Have you been a lone wolf in this journey?
My wife Lisa has been by my side this entire journey, my immediate family and of course my brothers who I have played with, against and even fought on the ice. There is a good handful of us that share our stories to whomever wants to listen in hopes of normalizing the long-term benefits of plant-based meds.
What are your plans for the future?
Now that our 32,000sf facility is licensed that we now call an innovation centre, we are working with other like-minded individuals to bring products and technologies to market. To avoid the long, stringent, and costly expense of going through Health Canada’s licensing process to become an LP, we are offering an opportunity to utilize our innovation centre. We are also licensed in Jamaica to cultivate process, transport, and sell Cannabis/CBD orchard style hemp.
Do you have a favourite strain? consumption method?
Cali OG, Blue Dream. I am mostly into the good old-fashioned way of smoking the herb, however, I am liking the convenience of having gel caps for the precise dosing they provide making it easier to track progress.
How has cannabis affected your life?
As mentioned earlier, I credit cannabis in aiding me in getting completely off of all my synthetic opioids I was prescribed throughout my 14 year pro hockey career. This plant has opened my eyes to other alternative plant-based meds and has given me a deep understanding of the importance of knowing what you’re putting into your body. This plant also brought out the entrepreneurial spirit in me to start my own company in Canada and Jamaica.
What is your favourite hockey memory?
Oh I would say it would have to be my first game in the NHL at the then “Marine Midland” arena in Buffalo Dec 13, 1996. I was 6 or 7 years old when Wayne Gretzky & Mark Messier started playing in the NHL, fast forward almost 20 years later, I will never forget being on the bench looking to my one side and seeing Messier and then on the other side sitting beside Gretz and now I’m teammates with them, very dreamlike - I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
A close 2nd would be when I was playing my 2nd year pro in St Johns Newfoundland under Tom Watt, first game of the year when we were being introduced he wanted us to skate out as fast as we could onto the ice from where the Zamboni comes out and stop at the blueline making a snow show. Well, when I went to stop, my blade caught an edge, I slid into the red carpet that was laid across the red line with our mascot “Buddy the Puffin” bird standing on it, taking him out as well. I got a standing ovation and as I made my way back to the blueline I did a bow to the crowd.
Advice for the aspiring athlete?
Have a clear vison of what you want to accomplish, create milestones to reach them and don’t look back, just do it!
The serenity prayer has helped me many times. “Control what you can, don’t worry about what you can’t control and most importantly, know the difference between the two.”