Ryan Sittler views his chance at NHL stardom with realistic eye U.S. OLYMPIC FESTIVAL He says dad's experience will help him


SAN ANTONIO -- Ryan Sittler was thinking -- daydreaming, really -- about how exciting it would be if the Flyers selected him in the 1992 NHL draft. The Flyers had the seventh pick and Sittler, a hot-shot high school player, was on the board.

"I was thinking, 'Boy, it would be great if they picked me,' " Sittler DTC said. "But how often do things work out the way you hope? Not very often."

Imagine Sittler's delight when the Flyers' turn came and they called his name, making him the top U.S.-born pick in the '92 draft. It was like a homecoming for the 6-foot-2, 195-pound winger, who used to hang out at the Spectrum when his father, Darryl, played for the Flyers.

"My favorite thing was standing on the bench and tossing the pucks onto the ice for warm-ups," said the 19-year-old Sittler, who is the most heralded of the 50 NHL draft picks taking part in this week's U.S. Olympic Festival at the Alamodome.

"I was only 10 years old, but I still remember doing that. I remember going to the practices and hanging around the locker room. I don't remember much about my father's career in Toronto, I was too young, but I remember the years in Philadelphia really well."

Back then, Ryan Sittler was a pudgy kid playing peewee hockey at The Coliseum, the Flyers' practice rink in Voorhees, N.J.

Today, he is a strapping sophomore-to-be at the University of Michigan and a key figure in the Flyers' future.

Sittler expects to play at least two more college seasons before signing a pro contract. At his father's urging, Sittler is working toward a degree in kinesiology rather than knocking around the minor leagues. The elder Sittler feels his son can polish his hockey skills at Michigan while continuing his education. The Flyers will retain Ryan's rights.

"That's still my goal, to play in the NHL," Sittler said. "It is something I've thought about since I was 6. But I think college is the best thing for me now. I have a lot of work to do.

"The jump from high school [hockey] to college was unbelievable. The game is so much faster, it took me a while to adjust. I'll be better this season. The combination of playing at Michigan and playing for the national team will be real good preparation for the NHL."

As a freshman last season, Sittler took a back-seat to the Wolverines' upperclassmen, scoring nine goals in 35 games. He added 24 assists as Michigan advanced to the hockey Final Four before losing in the semifinals to Maine, 4-3, in overtime.

The team lost its top scoring line to graduation, so Sittler will see more ice time next season. Already, he has played for the U.S. Junior National Team in tournaments in Japan (1991), Germany (1992) and Sweden (1993). Said Frank Serratore, his Festival coach: "Ryan is one of those kids who keeps getting better and better."

Sittler is a late bloomer. Anyone who saw him on skates four years ago never would have imagined him as an NHL prospect, much less a first-round draft choice. At 15, Ryan was built like a Zamboni (5-10, 217) and moved about as fast.

"I loved to eat," he said. "I pigged out on hoagies when we lived in Philadelphia. I played youth hockey, but I wasn't a very good skater. I was too heavy.

"I didn't think much about it until kids started making wisecracks. That bothered me. I also got depressed when I was playing hockey and people would see the name on my jersey and say: 'That's Darryl Sittler's son? He's so fat.'

"It reached a point where I said, 'OK, I'll show them.' "

At 16, Sittler went on a diet and started running. In one year, he lost 35 pounds and grew four inches. He went from short and dumpy to tall and lean. He became a much better skater, with a long, fluid stride.

That season, Sittler broke scoring records at his high school, Nichols (N.Y.) Prep. He also was named to the U.S. Select Team for the tournament in Japan. He was on his way to following in his father's footsteps.

It isn't easy, living in the shadow of a famous father. Darryl Sittler is a Hall-of-Famer, one of the greatest players ever to wear the Toronto Maple Leaf uniform. He still holds the NHL record for most points in a game -- 10, six goals and four assists against Boston in 1976. Ryan has watched the tape dozens of times.

But Sittler says his father never pushed him into the sport. He would go to Ryan's games and stand quietly in the background.

Said Ryan: "He told me not to worry about my name. He said, 'You are your own person. Do what you want to do.' "

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