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Callahan's moxie resonates with coaches

Thursday, 11.05.2009 / 1:00 AM / Tough Guys of the NHL

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Ryan Callahan was in the midst of killing a penalty against the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this season, patrolling the top of his defensive zone. The puck eventually bounced toward the Rangers' fourth-year forward, setting him up for a routine clear of the zone.

Unfortunately for Callahan, the puck refused to cooperate. He whiffed on the clearing attempt and wound up on his stomach as the puck trickled toward a Leafs defenseman.

As usually is the case with Callahan, however, his tenacious nature wouldn't let that be the end of it.

He extended his stick from his prone position and whacked the puck down the ice to take pressure off the penalty-killing unit. It's that sort of determination that shows why the Rochester, N.Y., native was named an alternate captain this season by coach John Tortorella.

"I think that Ryan Callahan has shown the capabilities for that role and that he deserves that role," Tortorella said. "It's in the way he handles himself on the ice, the way he prepares, the way he practices, the way he conducts himself. It's about being a pro."

There isn't a role Callahan isn't willing to play. He sees time on the power play and penalty kill, and he has shown the willingness and desire to throw his 5-foot-11, 188-pound body around. His versatility and physical nature could be his tickets to suiting up for Team USA at 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"I like to go out there and throw the body around, and if there are guys needed to do that for Team USA, I'm willing to do it," Callahan said. "It's exciting knowing you have a shot to play for the Olympic team."

Luckily for Callahan, he gets to display his skills in front of Tortorella, an assistant coach for Team USA. While he's not going to guarantee his player a spot on the Olympic team, Tortorella sees a lot of useful qualities in Callahan.

"Ryan Callahan is a guy who blends in, especially in a short tournament," Tortorella said. "When you have a versatile guy, that's very important because there may be an injury along the way, and when you have someone who can do a lot of different things and play in different situations, that's an important guy to have."

Callahan's style of play hasn't gone unnoticed around the League, either.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson will coach the U.S. team in Vancouver, and he has been impressed with Callahan's well-rounded, physical game. When asked what Callahan's chances were of donning the red, white and blue in February, Wilson said "very good."

"He's the type of player that you need in your lineup because he can play in every single situation," Wilson said. "He's good defensively, he's a great skater, he plays with a lot of intensity, a lot of pride. From a coach's point of view, I'd love to have him on my team."

Callahan doesn't cast an imposing shadow on the ice, but he's a wrecking ball out there. He led the Rangers and was fourth in the League last season with 265 hits, trailing only Dustin Brown (Kings), Brooks Orpik (Penguins) and Cal Clutterbuck (Wild), three players who outweigh Callahan by an average of 25 pounds.

Callahan is doing more of the same damage with his body this season. Through 16 games, he led the NHL in hits with 65.

"I think that Ryan Callahan has shown the capabilities for that role and that he deserves that role. It's in the way he handles himself on the ice, the way he prepares, the way he practices, the way he conducts himself. It's about being a pro."
-- John Tortorella, on naming Ryan Callahan an assistant captain

Going back to his junior days in the Ontario Hockey League, Callahan's propensity for hitting anything that moved was evident. Guelph Storm coach Jason Brooks, who was an assistant when Callahan played there, remembers him as a player with immense talent, but someone who never was shy about using his body to send a message.

Callahan made a name for himself right off the bat, and he left an impression on his former coach.

"As a 17-year-old rookie he played so hard and really earned his ice time," Brooks said. "He wasn't the biggest kid but he was willing to bang and crash and lay his body on the line. It was infectious and it really made an impression on the older guys with the team.

"Everything he did, he did it hard. He hit hard, he went to the net hard, he finished hard. By the time he was in his final year he was a captain and he had his 50-goal season (52 in 2005-06), he still led by example. The way he'd throw his body around was infectious and I think everybody responded to that."

Nearly five years later, it's the same story with the Rangers. Coming off a career-high 22-goal season in 2008-09, Callahan's thinking more about leadership and setting the tone with his physical play this season.

"I've been with the organization for four years," Callahan said. "I was up and down my first year, this year I've got to be more of a leader. Just because I have the letter doesn't mean I have to change my game or my personality. I'll go out and present myself off the ice the same way. I want to build on what I did at the end of last year when Torts took over. I started to really make strides under his system and want to keep it going."

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com
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