When Saugus native Ryan Tait takes the ice at 6:30 in the morning for hockey practice with Providence College, he doesn’t complain. Rather, he likes it.
Early-morning skates are why he spent hours at his childhood rink, why he traveled across California for hockey tournaments, why he moved from to Minnesota at 14 years old (and consequently gave up In-N-Out).
“I’m at this level, (so I’m trying) to keep working to the next level and play hockey as long as I can,” Tait told The Signal. “It’s my passion and I enjoy it every day.”
The junior forward felt that passion unfold when his dad, a lover of the game who never played himself until later in life, strapped skates on him at four years old.
He played in Ice Station — Valencia’s in-house league — and later played for travel teams around Southern California.
When he reached age 14, Tait made the decision to enroll at Shattuck St. Mary’s, a boarding school in Minnesota, in order to advance his hockey career.
“I think it was challenging but exciting hockey-wise because I’m surrounded by kids from all across the country and other countries,” Tait said. “…Emotionally, I had to grow up really fast being on my own being in a dorm away from my parents, so it was definitely a big step.”
“I’d be Skyping my parents and my family while they’re eating dinner and my mom or dad is cooking something nice and I would be eating at the dining hall.”
After St. Mary’s, Tait played several years of junior hockey in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers and the Green Bay Gamblers before being offered a spot on NCAA Division 1 Providence College’s roster.
Playing for the Friars has paid off for Tait, who has reached the NCAA Tournament with his team the past two years.
“As a kid growing up playing hockey, you grow up watching Boston College and Boston University and now I’m playing in the same league as them,” said Tait. “I’m going to where all these famous NHL-ers played at.”
Tait comes back to the Santa Clarita Valley for Christmas break and over the summer. He even still trains in Valencia and meets up with fellow area hockey players for some In-N-Out.
“I’m like craving it right now,” he said of the fast food restaurant.
Each time he comes back, he can’t help but notice the increase in youth hockey opportunities since he was a kid beginning the sport.
“There’s so many more teams and so many more coaches who are helping out with the youth program,” Tait said. “So there’s a demand now with so many kids playing that we need more coaches to develop kids and learn to have fun and experience hockey.
“Hopefully when nine- and 10-year-olds are at my ages, USC has a hockey team,” Tait joked.
For those current young hockey players, Tait has some simple advice: skate as often as possible, listen to the coach and always have fun.
“I think the best time in my life in hockey is when I was a little kid in Santa Clarita just going to the rink with my friends and skating all day and having fun,” he said.
“But the biggest thing is just have a passion for it and work harder than everybody and its possible to play Division 1 college hockey and get on a scholarship.”