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Charge: Verbal altercation at St. Paul bar ended in assault, death of Bloomington high school hockey coach

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 4/19/2021 Mara H. Gottfried
a man looking at the camera: Ryan John Whisler (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press Ryan John Whisler (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office)

A high school hockey coach died after a man punched him in downtown St. Paul, leading him to fall down a flight of stairs and hit his head, according to a murder charge filed Monday.

a person with collar shirt: Mike Ryan (Courtesy of the Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press Mike Ryan (Courtesy of the Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars)

Prosecutors say the incident stemmed from a verbal argument at a downtown bar on Saturday night; the men didn’t know each other previously. Mike Ryan, who was 48 and head coach of the Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars girls hockey team, died on Sunday from a brain injury.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office charged Ryan John Whisler, 43, of St. Paul, with second-degree unintentional murder.

Players gathered outside the Bloomington ice arena on Monday night, sharing memories of Coach Mike and trying to process what happened.

“It’s hard to fathom,” said Josh Levine, Bloomington Jefferson assistant girls varsity coach.

STARTED WITH DISPUTE

Two friends who were with Ryan at Herbie’s on the Park on Washington Street and Kellogg Boulevard on Saturday night told police that Ryan went to the restroom at the same time as Whisler. Some urinals were covered with cellophane to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

a man looking at the camera: Ryan John Whisler (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press Ryan John Whisler (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

“Whisler punched a hole in the cellophane and took a cell phone video of himself urinating at the covered urinal,” according to the complaint, which went on to say Ryan “was agitated with Whisler, but he didn’t say anything to Whisler at the time. (Ryan) called Whisler out for his behavior in the men’s bathroom as they were leaving the bar which led to a verbal confrontation.”

One of Ryan’s friends told police that “Whisler took a lot of verbal abuse” from Ryan, but things seemed to calm down when they got outside.

However, surveillance video outside the bar showed Whisler grabbed Ryan’s shirt and Ryan held onto a railing trying to pull away. Whisler apparently struck Ryan as Ryan’s mask fell from his face, the complaint said.

A man with Whisler got between him and Ryan, after which Whisler punched Ryan’s “head with a large, sweeping motion,” the complaint said. “The video, when played frame by frame, shows Whisler pushed (Ryan) towards the stairs. (Ryan) flew through the air to the bottom of the stairs and his head hit the concrete.”

Officers were called to the bar about 11 p.m. Saturday and found Ryan on his back at the bottom of a flight of nine concrete stairs.

Police were able to get Whisler’s name from the bar because he used a credit card to pay.

Paramedics took Ryan to Regions Hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with a brain injury he couldn’t survive, the complaint said. He was put on life support to allow for notification of his family.

Whisler, who was at a Minnesota Wild game before going to the nearby bar on Saturday night, turned himself in to police on Sunday and declined to make a statement to an investigator.

His attorney, Ryan Garry, said Monday it was too early for him to comment on the case.

HE WAS A DAD, COACHED AT ALMA MATER

Mike Ryan lived in Bloomington, and is survived by his wife and two teenage daughters.

Players from Mike Ryan’s team left flowers and a hockey stick at a memorial for him in Bloomington on Monday, April 19, 2021. (Courtesy of Josh Levine) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press Players from Mike Ryan’s team left flowers and a hockey stick at a memorial for him in Bloomington on Monday, April 19, 2021. (Courtesy of Josh Levine)

He was a center on Bloomington’s Jefferson High School’s 1989 championship hockey team and also played at Gustavus Adolphus College, according to a 2016 Sun Current article.

Ryan coached in Bloomington for years, said Levine, who remembered him as caring and in-tune with his players. He kept a notebook with him and would write leadership principles or character traits that he wanted to see the players develop.

“He was very much not just coaching the game, but coaching these girls and boys to become better men and women,” Levine said.

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