No. 10 Michael Ryder

Robin
Robin Short
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Bonavista native from humble hockey beginnings became an offensive force in NHL

Given his consecutive 30-goal seasons, following a 25-goal rookie year, it's not hard to see why NHLer Michael Ryder is on The Telegram's list of the province's all-time 10 best athletes.

It's just the position that may spark some debate.

"He had a bit of an off-year this year," said Brian Brocklehurst, one of our panellists, "but if we had voted last year, I've got a feeling a whole lot of people would have moved his name forward."

Canadiens Michael Ryder watches his team during practice at the Bell Centre. Photo by The Canadian Press

Given his consecutive 30-goal seasons, following a 25-goal rookie year, it's not hard to see why NHLer Michael Ryder is on The Telegram's list of the province's all-time 10 best athletes.

It's just the position that may spark some debate.

"He had a bit of an off-year this year," said Brian Brocklehurst, one of our panellists, "but if we had voted last year, I've got a feeling a whole lot of people would have moved his name forward."

Ryder's production dipped to 14 goals this season with the Montreal Canadiens, was a healthy scratch in nine games and dressed for only four playoff games.

Still, there's no denying his on-ice prowess prior to the 2007-08 season, and for that Ryder comes in as the 10th choice on The Telegram's list of Newfoundland and Labrador's all-time top 10 greatest athletes.

Ryder's start in hockey back in his native Bonavista wasn't exactly the story of a prodigy-in-waiting.

In fact, he was cut from his Tri-Pen midget team his first time out. He made the Osprey the next season, and led Tri-Pen in goal-scoring.

Playing in rural Newfoundland, Ryder might have gotten all the ice he wanted playing shinny or scrap hockey, but there were only a handful of games each season during his critical development years.

"There was one year - first-year bantam, I think," his father, Wayne, told The Telegram in 2004, "he played only nine games. And five of those were in the Easter (provincial) tournament."

"If you play when you're younger," Ryder, the player, said, "you develop quickly. It took me a little longer because I didn't play much."

During that AAA midget season, when he potted 31 goals in 23 games, the Gatineau Olympiques noticed the kid from Bonavista with a penchant for scoring goals and invited him to training camp as a free agent walk-on.

Ryder impressed and made the team. And he continued to impress that 1997-98 season, earning a spot on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's all-rookie team.

That June, he headed to Buffalo's HSBC Arena for the NHL Draft. While his on-ice play might have made an impression, NHL scouts apparently weren't noticing.

Using their second-last pick, the Canadiens finally put an end to Ryder's wait, choosing him after 215 names had been called.

Olympiques' coach Claude Julien, who would play a huge role in Ryder's career, liked what he saw in the Newfoundlander, enough so Julien selected the high-scoring Gatineau winger to the 2000 world junior championship team, which would win bronze in Sweden.

After finishing the 1999-2000 season with 50 goals in 63 Gatineau games, Ryder was poised for a big leap into the pro game.

Instead, he waded in, and on least two occasions over the next two years would split time between Quebec of the American Hockey League and Mississippi and Tallahassee of the ECHL.

"You find yourself further and further away from playing in the NHL," Ryder told The Telegram in a 2004 feature, "but I never got down.

"I just tried to stay positive and hope somebody would see me and probably give me a chance."

That somebody was Julien, who had made the jump from major junior to minor pro, taking over the Hamilton Bulldogs, who were now the Canadiens' primary minor league affiliate, replacing the Citadelles in Quebec City.

Ryder thrived once again under his old coach, registering 34 goals in 2002-03. In the playoffs, he caught fire with 11 goals and 17 points in 23 games, helping carry Hamilton to within a game of the Calder Cup.

Midway through that season, the parent Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and Julien was called up to run the big club.

In 2003-04, Ryder became a full-time NHLer. And while no doubt Julien played a role in Ryder's ascension to the top, fact is, Ryder made his own bones.

"I hadn't seen him play a lot," Canadiens GM Bob Gainey said in The Telegram, "but he didn't have to do a whole lot to convince people here he could play.

"So based on that, and his playoff in Hamilton, we let a couple of right-wingers (Randy McKay and Mariusz Czerkawski) go in the hopes it would open some opportunities for the young guys."

Ryder would lead all NHL rookies in goals, assists and in scoring in 2003-04 (25-38-63). Yet despite his success, there were murmurs about his skating, that he was a one-dimensional player.

All he did was score goals.

While Ryder enjoyed a banner rookie season, he finished runner-up in rookie of the year voting to Boston Bruins goaltender Andrew Raycroft.

To prove he was no flash in the pan, Ryder would follow up with back-to-back, team-high 30-goal seasons, the first Newfoundlander to reach 30 goals in the National Hockey League.

This year, the bubble burst. While his defensive game improved - he went from -25 in 2006-07 to -4 this season - his offensive game went south. And let's face it, Ryder wasn't paid US$2,950,000 to shadow anyone.

It was the fourth straight one-year contract Ryder signed with Montreal, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

It's not likely Ryder will re-sign with Montreal. The Bruins, with Julien behind the bench, are a possibility. So, too, are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who like the idea of Ryder with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. But the Pens have a bunch of free agents and just signed Malkin to a big deal. They also have to come to terms with restricted free agent goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Regardless where he ends up, the 28-year-old Ryder's done enough in his young career to warrant the No. 10 spot on our all-time list.

rshort@thetelegram.com




Selection criteria

The object: To select the 10 best athletes Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Seven prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy and John Browne of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Athletes must have been born in Newfoundland and Labrador and spent a large part of their development years within the province. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
John McGrath: A former Newfoundland soccer president, McGrath is chairman of the board of governors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
Brian Brocklehurst: A two-sport star in St. John's during the late 1960s and '70s, Brocklehurst was the 1969 St. John's athlete of the year.
Don Johnson: A former president of both the Canadian and Newfoundland amateur hockey associations, Johnson was also head of the St. John's Senior Men's Softball League and Royal St. John's Regatta Committee. He has served on the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Canada Games Council.
Roger Grimes: Otherwise known as a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, those in sports know him as an erstwhile Grand Falls Cataracts senior hockey player and Grand Falls Beothuks senior baseball player.
Terry Hart: Another Grand Falls-Windsor native, Hart has broadcasted local sports for over 30 years. He continues in radio today at VOCM.
Glenn Stanford: He's known most recently as the man who ran the St. John's Maple Leafs for 14 seasons. But before that, Stanford was a two-sport star - basketball and soccer - with Holy Cross and Memorial.
Alan (Tex) Seaborn: Seaborn has had a long-standing involvement with the Corner Brook and Newfoundland baseball associations. He served as vice-chairman and vice-president of sport for the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.



Top 10 best athletes

1. TBA -Aug. 23, 2008
2. TBA -Aug. 16, 2008
3. TBA -Aug. 9, 2008
4. TBA -Aug. 2, 2008
5. TBA - July 26, 2008
6. TBA - July 19, 2008
7. TBA - July 12, 2008
8. TBA - July 5, 2008
9. TBA - June 28, 2008
10. Michael Ryder

Organizations: The Telegram, National Hockey League, Montreal Canadiens Quebec Major Junior Hockey League HSBC Arena NHL Draft Boston Bruins American Hockey League Pittsburgh Penguins Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall Softball League and Royal Regatta Committee Canadian Sports Hall Fame and Canada Games Council Maple Leafs

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Bonavista, Quebec City St. John's Buffalo Sweden Mississippi Tallahassee Montreal Corner Brook Grand Falls-Windsor Canada

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Carl
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    This series should be great for sport in the province and great for The Telegram. I trust the panel are being given the numbers and not left to rely on legend and hearsay. Judging from the story today, I have great expectations that the series will be spectacular.

  • Brad
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Great idea, folks! I'm looking forward to reading these throughout the summer.
    Tough list to number for sure.

  • Chuck
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Excellent idea. Ryder number 10?? Can't wait to see who beat him out hight in that list! Looking forward to this for sure.

  • Carl
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    This series should be great for sport in the province and great for The Telegram. I trust the panel are being given the numbers and not left to rely on legend and hearsay. Judging from the story today, I have great expectations that the series will be spectacular.

  • Brad
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Great idea, folks! I'm looking forward to reading these throughout the summer.
    Tough list to number for sure.

  • Chuck
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    Excellent idea. Ryder number 10?? Can't wait to see who beat him out hight in that list! Looking forward to this for sure.