The office tower at 130 King Street West rises high above Toronto, 36 storeys stretched to the sky, a sea of steel and glass looming over the city core. It is your standard-issue downtown skyscraper, the home of the Toronto Stock Exchange. As workplaces go, however, it is another space entirely than Ryan O’Marra is used to.
O’Marra, once a highly touted prospect who won gold twice with Canada at the World Junior Championship before an NHL career that coughed and sputtered across seven seasons with three teams, works here now. He wears a suit each day to his new office. The smell on the trading floor is generally preferable to the dressing rooms he had spent most of his life inside.
Indeed, as one of National Bank Financial’s newest associates, O’Marra has come a long way. Every NHLer has a life that continues after pro hockey, but few seem to make entire career changes, and fewer still tackle jobs as demanding or positively white-collar as those in finance.
“Ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be working at a bank,” O’Marra said. “Obviously, I had aspirations to play in the NHL a lot longer than I did.”
O’Marra is 29 now, a baby in life but perhaps long in the tooth for hockey players exiled to the professional fringes of the sport. After being selected 15th overall in the 2005 draft by the New York Islanders, O’Marra reached the NHL for only 33 games, and since 2012 had lived the life of a hockey wanderer: a season in Finland, another in Italy and, following that, a year playing in the United Kingdom.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he had the raw physical makeup teams look for in an elite center, and he had the talent to go with it, that much was clear. As a teen, growing up in Mississauga, Ont., he was a top pick and later a top scorer for the OHL’s Erie Otters. In 2006 and 2007, he skated alongside Jonathan Toews, Kris Letang and Carey Price on Team Canada squads that won the world juniors each year.
O’Marra had transcendent skill, though he found it became less so as he aged and the competition around him stiffened. He scuttled early in the pros and even spent time in the ECHL after struggling to find footing in the AHL.
In 2007, before he’d played an NHL game, his rights were traded to Edmonton. At that time and for years after, the Oilers were an organization in flux. It was a culture that was difficult to thrive in, and though in 2010 O’Marra scored his first NHL goal, the cruel reality was that it would also be his last. He spent more time in the AHL before he was ultimately moved to Anaheim. He played only two games as a Duck.
When the lockout came in 2012, O’Marra knew that, work stoppage or not, the list of NHL teams clamoring for his services had dried up. He found suitors overseas but was aware what a transatlantic move would probably mean: if he left to play in Europe he was likely done in the league he had always dreamed of playing in. The realization was “devastating, it was tough,” he said. “It was a very difficult decision, but I felt like it was the right one for me.”
O’Marra joined the Lahti Pelicans, in Finland, to launch his career in Europe. Yet he also drew for himself other goals. In 2012, he began preparing for a life outside hockey. In his free time, he started toward a future in finance. His father had worked in institutional bond sales, and O’Marra knew that if hockey were to fail, he was interested to follow his dad into banking.
He finished his undergraduate studies online, and with a business degree in tow he graduated with distinction from Coventry University, in the U.K., holding his MSc in investment management. He retired from pro hockey last spring, and by May he joined National Bank Financial.
When O’Marra is home (the bank regularly posts him in Montreal and Calgary), he is again a nomad, bouncing with his wife, Chelsea, between guest rooms at either of their parents’ places. The couple’s pre-construction townhouse in Toronto’s west end is still more than a year from completion.
Hockey is no longer his primary responsibility, though of course he has never truly left the sport. O’Marra still gets his fix as a forward on the Senior AAA Stoney Creek Generals, near Hamilton, and during one of his work posts in Montreal late last year he was happy to visit with Taylor Chorney, the Washington Capitals defenseman and one of O’Marra’s best friends, who was in town for a game against the Habs.
“You can always look back and feel like maybe things could have been different,” Chorney said. “But as time goes on, I think ‘O’Mar’ in this next chapter of his life – he’s going to be unbelievable at what he does.”
O’Marra always wanted hockey for himself, ever since he was two, when his dad first put him in skates on the backyard rink. Yet he was smart enough to plan his future, too, to know there was no shame in admitting when it was time to look elsewhere.
“You got to be pragmatic and look at your life,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the guy sitting there in my 30s wondering what’s next.”