Michael Ryder raises his arms in celebration after scoring one of 16 goals he’s tallied for the New Jersey Devils so far this NHL season. Since breaking into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003-04 season, the Bonavista native has scored 229 times — the most of any Newfoundlander.
©— Photo by The Associated Press
Joe Micheletti, perhaps gaining more notoriety these days as an analyst on U.S. hockey broadcasts than for his work as a journeyman defenceman in the old World Hockey Association and later the National Hockey League, recalls a story Claude Julien sometimes shares.
It involves Michael Ryder, the New Jersey Devils’ right-winger, a player about whom Julien knows a thing or two.
First in a six-part series.
Tomorrow: Ryane Clowe
The Telegram — NEW YORK
Julien was Ryder’s first junior hockey coach, when the latter arrived in Hull, Que., a 17-year-old recruit from rural Newfoundland who didn’t say much, but sure could shoot the puck.
Ryder would play three years under Julien while in Hull, including a trip together to the 2000 world juniors. When the two turned pro in the Montreal Canadiens system, it was Ryder and Julien together again in Hamilton, Ont., with the American Hockey League’s Bulldogs.
Then, when Julien was promoted to the Canadiens after Michel Therrien was fired from his first go-round in Montreal, Ryder cracked the Habs’ lineup and made a bang with a 25-goal rookie season, good enough to make him a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
A few years later, the duo hooked up again in Boston and won a Stanley Cup in 2011, with Ryder, the pride of Bonavista, among the Bruins’ top performers that spring.
So, in a nutshell, Julien can speak with authority when it comes to Ryder, which makes Micheletti’s recount all the more amusing.
“Get Claude to tell you,” laughs Micheletti, the New York Rangers’ colour guy, before the recent Rangers-Devils outdoor game at Yankee Stadium. “Claude would say to him in the morning skate, ‘You know Michael, we got a game tonight, right?’”
Those who don’t know Michael Ryder won’t get it. For those who do, well, Micheletti’s little narrative is bang on.
“Oh yeah,” smiles Adam Henrique, Ryder’s centre on the Devils, “that’s Rydes. He’s a loose guy. Not a lot bothers him.”
It’s safe to say stress will never get the better of Michael Ryder, now in his 14th winter of professional hockey. You might even suggest he marches to the beat of his own drum, which probably helps his approach to each game of the 82-game grind that is the NHL schedule.
It’s that laissez-faire attitude that might also help Ryder get through the lean times. And as a notorious hot and cold scorer, Ryder has languished through his share of scoring slumps over the years.
“That probably may be the case,” Henrique says. “He doesn’t seem to worry about a lot of things, and I guess you could say he’s carefree.
“But I’ll tell you,” adds Henrique, the smile slipping from his face, “when it comes time to play, he’s ready. Rydes wants to be out there a lot, he wants to be on the ice at key points in the game.
“He’s a scorer and he wants the puck.”
During the Bruins’ Cup run — when Ryder had eight goals and 17 points in 25 springtime games — his new golf clubs on order arrived at his downtown Boston condo.
To hear his mother, Debbie, recount the story to The Telegram’s Brendan McCarthy, Ryder was the proverbial kid in the candy store with the new sticks.
Ryder laughs when the subject comes up, probably because it’s half true. Anyone who knows the player knows golf ranks just below breathing on the scale of his priorities.
But that’s not to say hockey’s getting old. Granted, he’s done just about all there is to do. He’ll retire as the highest-scoring Newfoundlander to play in the NHL, he has a Stanley Cup ring, played for two Original Six franchises and — wait now, let’s see … oh yes — he has earned just over $27 million so far in his career, with another $3.5 million to come next year with the Devils.
No, even today, just over a month away from his 34th birthday — getting on in years if you happen to be a pro athlete — Ryder still gets excited coming to the rink.
“Oh geez, yes, obviously,” he says. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t.
“I’ve been playing hockey every day of my life since I was a kid, and I still get excited to do this very day.
“I’m not getting any younger, but I still love playing the game. I still love competing and I love winning. I hate losing, and that goes for anything ... golf, whatever.”
Things are changing for Michael Ryder. There’s the new team, of course, after the Devils signed him to a two-year, $7 million free agent contract last summer. Away from the rink, perhaps the biggest change is forthcoming, as his girlfriend, Caroline Mulcahy, will have the couple’s first child.
On the ice, however, it’s business as usual for Ryder. He may be hot and cold — which has a tendency to drive coaches batty — but he’s money in the bank for 20 goals every year.
Consider this: since becoming an NHLer, his yearly goal totals read: 25, 30, 30, 14 (under Guy Carbonneau, a long story), 27, 18, 18, 35 and 16 (in lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).
With 16 so far for the Devils, Ryder is well on his way to another 20-goal campaign.
But what is it with him that makes it look so — dare we say it — darn easy?
Well, it is, in a word, his shot. It’s among the most lethal in all of the NHL, a single facet of his game that’s made him a ton of money.
Ryder is not a bad skater, but he’s probably not up there with the game’s elite. He’s not a drop-the-gloves tough player, but he will venture into the dirty areas of the ice, from the corners to the front of the net.
But it’s his shot, lightning quick and deadly accurate, that sets him apart from others.
“He’s a pure goalscorer, plain and simple,” said Henrique, who centres a line with Ryder and another Newfoundlander, Ryane Clowe of Fermeuse. “When we’re working down low, we know he’s going to find a little hole in the slot and if we can get him the puck, we have a great chance at scoring.
“We’re trying to find that loose area where we know Rydes will be.”
Circling around the ice, helmet low to his brow, almost shielding his eyes from opponents, Ryder is like a predator waiting to pounce, only in this instance, the bait is the puck and opposing goaltenders his prey.
And, in most cases, he needs only a split second to make the kill, or get the shot off, as it were.
“I was always shooting pucks, balls, whatever, when I was younger,” he recalls. “I’d be down in the basement shooting all the time. Then I’d be out in the driveway.
“There were puck marks all over the door downstairs, so my parents finally got me a net for Christmas.
“Then I was shooting at that all day long.”
Ryder has entered the Olympic break on a lengthy scoring skid, empty in his last 13 games. Before that, though, there were five goals in six games and earlier this year, four goals in five games. That came after an 11-game goalless streak.
Of course, that’s been Ryder’s M.O.
But when he’s on, he can be lethal.
“When he’s hot,” Henrique said, “he can carry a team.”
“He’s just gotta keep shooting,” New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer said. “There are a lot of streaky guys in this league. (Ex-Devil) David Clarkson was a similar-type guy. They score in bunches and when the pucks go in, they go in. And when they don’t, they don’t.
“If the chances start to dry up, I’ll be really concerned, but I think he’s getting quality looks.”
“You just try to find the right areas where you’re going to get a shot off,” Ryder says. “You have to think when you’re on the ice, where is the best place to get a shot off? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
“It’s hard to explain. You just read the play and try to anticipate what’s going to happen and get to that spot. Then when I get a chance to shoot … I just use my shot. It’s my bread and butter.”
And for years, he’s feasted on it.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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