He is a character like few others with an upbeat personality, a devilish smile and a motor of a mouth. He is also a winner and has taken his high wire act as a coach and general manager from the North of Superior Hockey League to the Greater Metro Hockey League to the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to the Central Canada Hockey League. He goes by the name of Ryan Leonard but is simply — and affectionately — known as Lenny to many in the junior hockey world.
Following a stellar career as a star forward with several teams in the NOJHL, the now 42-year old Sault Ste. Marie native began his coaching career at age 23 as the volunteer bench boss of the Thessalon Flyers of the now defunct NSHL. From there he headed to the NOJHL as an assistant coach with the Blind River Beavers before heading down the highway to Elliot Lake as owner, GM and coach of the erstwhile Bobcats.
He spent seven years in Elliot Lake — five as members of the GMHL that included a championship and two more as part of the NOJHL — before founding an NOJHL expansion team in Cochrane. In a five-year span in Cochrane, Leonard led the Crunch to the league finals twice, winning the championship once, before selling the team to current owner Tom Nickolau in 2020.
Now in his first full season in the CCHL as GM, coach and part owner of a new team in Renfrew, the energetic Leonard is into his latest challenge. He led the Wolves to a second place finish in their division and fourth overall among 12 teams in 2021-2022 with a record of 35-17-3. Leonard then coached Renfrew into the semi-finals of the playoffs before the Wolves lost a closely-contested series to the eventual CCHL champion Ottawa Jr. Senators.
Leonard told Hockey News North that he and his family are “very much enjoying” the Ottawa Valley town of Renfrew.
“Renfrew has treated us very good,” Leonard relayed. “It was a tough go for our family at the start as we moved to Renfrew three weeks into pandemic. I have a 15 year old son at the time of moving who is active and social and my wife and I are social as well. So the first year (which was mostly a write-off due to the pandemic) was tough all around hockey wise and socially to get involved in community. It was tough to move to new area and start up a new program in a new league where we did not know any one but we did manage to meet a small group of friends and were able to make the best of it.”
Besides its Junior A team in the CCHL, Leonard also helps to oversee Junior B and under 18 teams as part of the Renfrew Wolves brand, which he said makes for a lot of 10 to 12 hour days. But travel in the CCHL is very limited with all 12 teams in the Ottawa area and Leonard noted that “even on game days on the road I am back home and in bed not long after midnight.”
Now in the CCHL and having been in the NOJHL for so long, Leonard noted the biggest differences between the two Junior A leagues.
“The difference between the two leagues I would say is the style and speed. The game here is played a bit faster and I have to think a tad quicker and a lot more systematic. The games here flow a bit quicker,” he relayed.
Despite how much he likes Renfrew and being a part of the CCHL, Leonard said he misses the NOJHL.
“It would be a lie if I said I didn’t miss the NOJHL and the people in it. I miss the chats with the commish. I miss the fans in all the small towns as I was always welcomed in many rinks with a wave and a smile from so many and asking me how my family was doing,” he began. “Call me crazy but I miss the long bus rides and the over night stays … that is what builds a lot of character in the NOJHL.
“The NOJHL was family,” Leonard continued. “I even miss giving it to (referee) Darren Long but be able to shoot the shit with him right after the game like nothing happened. Having said that, I do enjoy being in the CCHL and the people in it. We have great partners who are wonderful people which made it easy as we made the move we did as its part of the growth. I spent a lot of years in one league and now getting to learn how another is run and how to adapt is important and exciting.
“As you know I love the challenges of starting new teams in new towns. I have been successful at it. We brought championships and memories and winning teams year after in Elliot Lake and Cochrane and we will never forget that,” Leonard added.
Now after a successful first full season in Renfrew and the CCHL, Leonard is looking ahead.
“We had such a successful year that the bar is set and expectations are higher going into next season which will be tough to beat. Our fan base continued to grow and by the end of it we were averaging between 450 and 600 fans per game. We have moved 10 of our players on to university and college and three who have signed to play in the Ontario Hockey League and that’s what it’s all about at the end,” summed up the man who they call Lenny.
He has spent a lifetime in the game and been encouraged along the way by his mom, Dana, and his wife, Katherine, among others. He is a good guy and there are times when he is not for the faint of heart.
But at all times he is just Lenny being Lenny.
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See below for details on Renfrew’s upcoming training camp.