McDonagh’s offseason commences with earning university degree

Ryan McDonagh earns his degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and hopes to see some of his NHL peers follow his lead.

McDonagh’s offseason commences with earning university degree

Feature Photo: IG /  @rmcdonagh27

Ryan McDonagh can now add college graduate to his list of impressive accomplishments.

A two-time Stanley Cup Champion and two-time NHL All-Star, the 34-year-old newly reacquired Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman recently earned a degree in personal finance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He was joined by family and friends at the school’s commencement ceremonies just over a week ago, a moment he shared on his Instagram page.

“It was exciting to have my family and my parents there. The support I have had throughout has been amazing.”

McDonagh who attended Wisconsin from 2007 to 10 and captained the Badgers’ men’s hockey team in 2009-10 before joining the New York Rangers for his NHL rookie season in 2010-11 had been just eight credits shy of earning his degree when he began his NHL career.

“Thinking back to when I was in school and some of the classes I was taking, I didn’t think much of it at the time. You’re young and you have those aspirations to play in the National Hockey League.”

A combination of factors over the past few years provided him with the opportunity to complete his studies.

One of them started with the global pandemic in 2020.  

“The door kind of opened with COVID. Everything went online and the university created an online program for people to finish their degrees. The whole world was pretty much online for a year or two, so it ended up being a blessing for me.”

From studying on the road to staying on top of assignments, McDonagh remained committed to seeing his scholastic goals come to fruition.  

“I left university after my junior year, but you think about it, to want to go back for that senior year to have that in your hand.

“You never know what can happen. Your hockey career could be short-lived or not end the way you want to, and you might need that degree.”

There have been various times during his NHL career when McDonagh, who has played with the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators, wondered if he would ever complete his studies.

Admittedly, there were moments when it felt like a longshot.  

“It was frustrating because when I left school, I was only eight classes away. At the time, they wanted you to go back on campus and finish in the summer or even during the fall and the spring. That is impossible when you are playing, and we were making some deep playoff runs with the Rangers every year.

“Then you get into six, seven, eight years in and you think, ‘Is this ever going to get done?’”

Support from many helped McDonagh to keep pushing forward.

He credits several people, including his parents, Sean and Patty, and his wife, Kaylee, for providing big assists along the way.

“My wife was very understanding that if I had an exam on a certain night, she would take care of the bedtime duties. We laughed about those moments on a few occasions. It was great to have that support.”

McDonagh, who has played 928 NHL regular-season games, also had a familiar face join in pursuit of the same goal.

“My old school roommate at the time, Cody Goloubef, caught wind that they were making a program for people to finish online. I figured I could do a little bit here and there, a couple of hours each night or when I was on the road travelling.

“It worked out easier than I thought in terms of finding time to chip away at it. It was one class each semester, so it was fun for us to do it together.

“Cody has three kids as well. Chipping away at it at the same point in our lives it was great to be able to graduate with him, to get back to campus and celebrate together.”

For now, McDonagh, who played in his 14th NHL season in 2023-24, will keep the focus on hockey.

But he is already planning for a life beyond the arena.

“Having finished this degree, now with a family of three, it is a lot more impactful.

“You are learning about wealth planning, all the different types of insurance, estate planning if I was a 22-year-old senior with no family at the time, I wouldn’t have thought much of it.

“But it is important stuff now when your life is very different. You need to plan and think ahead with your family.”

McDonagh is hopeful his story resonates with some fellow NHLPA members across the league.

He has received a steady stream of text messages from teammates, past and present, congratulating him on his accomplishment.

“That’s been the fun part, people reaching out to congratulate you. Even some of the young guys … it might open their eyes to say, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”

Although McDonagh pursued the completion of his studies on his own accord, he strongly endorses the NHLPA UNLMT initiative for players like himself wishing to pursue interests and opportunities off the ice.

The initiative is designed to help players maximize their experience on and off the ice and give them the tools to leverage the game. NHLPA UNLMT utilizes a truly bespoke approach, helping players become the best they can be during their hockey career and for years to come.

“It’s great to see the NHLPA establish the UNLMT program for guys who want to take these classes,” said McDonagh.

“You only have one chance at this life, and you want to learn as much as you can, to keep growing and keep all those doors open.”

McDonagh is glad he did.  

“The importance of education was instilled in me early on, to be disciplined in both hockey and school. To finally complete this feels good.

“Hockey will come to an end at some point, so I hope this is a way to motivate my young family to give education and everything in life an honest effort.”