Last year at this time, fresh off a regular season that featured him dropping from 30 goals to 14, winger Michael Ryder was well ensconced in Montreal head coach Guy Carbonneau’s dog house.
Ryder appeared in just four of the seven games the Canadiens played against the Boston Bruins in the first round of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs. And he averaged just a little more than 10 minutes per contest. Ryder then found himself in the press box for the entirety of the Habs’ second-round series, which they lost to Philadelphia. That put Ryder’s value into question when he became an unrestricted free agent.
That is, Ryder was looked upon as a player in decline by most teams other than the Bruins. On July 1 the Bruins locked up Ryder for a reunion with his former coach at three different levels Claude Julien, who said he knew all the right buttons to push. Ryder rewarded the Bruins’ faith with a 27-goal regular season, and now he’s ready to be a key cog in the upcoming playoff series against his former team — which starts Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.
“I think the only one season that I had that people were questioning me was last year and it was a lot of situations that come into effect there,” said Ryder after the Bruins’ first postseason practice today at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. “But I had Claude one year in Montreal there and I had him in the minors, and he knows what type of player I am. Last year was a year that people started to doubt me. And I just wanted to make sure that I proved people wrong.”
Although he tried to block out the doubters, Ryder said he didn’t mind silencing them as well.
“You always hear things people are saying, but I didn’t really want to think about it. But I wanted to make sure I really worked hard,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t really lose it like that. If I got the opportunity and the chance to prove myself again, I wanted to make sure I did that.”
Ryder got the chance and once he fell on a line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler in late November, he took off. He’d scored just three goals in his first 23 games before scoring twice Nov. 28. A severe facial fracture then kept him out for a couple weeks in February, but he came back and found the hot hand again.
“Michael Ryder probably played the way he’s always played except for last year. Everybody made a big story about the bad year he had; nobody ever talked about all the good years he had before …” said Julien today. “Our people in our entire organization have always liked him as well. So it wasn’t my decision, I think it was organization’s decision that felt that this guy here could help our hockey club. And when you score 27, 28 goals, it means you’ve had a decent year. And despite his slow start and his injury later in the year, I think he could’ve hit the 30-goal mark.”
It’s a bit ironic that while Ryder has had a bounce-back season, his nemesis Carbonneau is no longer behind the Habs’ bench — replaced in February by general manager Bob Gainey. Ryder said he’s blocked what happened last season out of his mind and now he’s just revved up to be part of a playoff club that wants him to contribute and will give him that chance.
“It’s good, definitely. This is what you play for, playoff time, and when you’re looked at to be a part of that and help the team, it’s a good feeling and you want to have a purpose. It helps you play when you get out there,” he concluded.