TORONTO –The Habs enjoyed a five-year reunion at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday morning.
Michael Ryder has come full circle in his NHL career. There’s no question fans can expect to see the same relentless work ethic from the born-again Hab they witnessed during his first four seasons in the league. The difference this time around is that the 32-year-old is returning to Montreal older, wiser, and more offensively explosive than ever.
“As you go around the league you learn a lot and experience is a big thing,” confirmed Ryder, who scored 99 of his 203 career NHL goals in a Habs uniform. “I never thought I’d be one of the older guys on the team, but it’s at that point now – even though I don’t think I’m that old. I’ve been through a lot. I won a Cup in Boston, and then I went to Dallas. I’m going to just try to bring some experience to the young guys here and try and help everyone out as best I can.”
After landing in Toronto just in time to make it to the ACC for his team medical, Ryder hasn’t had much time to reminisce with his former-turned-current teammates yet, but he’s already managed to pick up right where he left off five years ago.
“That’s the strange thing about hockey guys: you can go a couple years without talking and as soon as you get back together like we were this morning, it was like we hadn’t been apart for more than a day or two,” shared Josh Gorges, who played just over a season with Ryder in Montreal. “He’s a guy I got along really well with.”
Sad to see Erik Cole head to Dallas, but happy to have his old friend back home, Gorges is looking forward to seeing what a reincarnated version of Ryder can bring to the Canadiens lineup.
“That’s the craziness of hockey; you lose one guy but you gain another. We’re excited to have him back playing in a Habs uniform again,” mentioned the Habs assistant captain. “He’s one of those guys you can’t leave alone for more than half a second. If he gets that puck anywhere in the offensive zone and he has the time or an opportunity to let that shot go, he’s dangerous.
“He’s a guy that’s a threat and another right-handed shot, but with him, he’s aggressive,” he added. “He gets in on the forecheck, he finishes his checks, he works hard and that fits in perfectly with the way this team plays.”
Coming off a career-year that saw him lead the Stars with 35 goals, Ryder is heading into Wednesday’s game looking to extend his current point streak to seven games. While he didn’t get to hit the ice with his teammates for the pre-game skate, the Bonavista, NL native isn’t planning on making too many adjustments prior to puck drop.
“They’ve been winning here so I don’t want to mix things up too much,” explained Ryder. “I guess I’ll talk to Michel [Therrien] a little later about the system and everything. I just have to go out and play my game and try and do what I can to help the team win.”
With Francis Bouillon and Ryder back in bleu-blanc-rouge and the Habs sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, it might feel a little like 2008 in Montreal – with five extra years of NHL seasoning for Ryder and his new/old teammates Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Gorges. In full throwback mode, Ryder will even be donning his familiar No.73 when he hits the ice on Wednesday night.
“No price has been set…but if he wants to give me something, I’ll gladly take it. I’m not too picky,” joked Brendan Gallagher, who offered to change to No.11 to let the veteran winger have his number back. “I kind of figured I was going to have to give it up last night. He showed up today and I asked him if he wanted it. He’s worn it his whole career and I was happy to do it.”
The best way for Ryder to pay back the rookie winger might be to chip in with a few big goals in his Habs debut against the Leafs on Wednesday night. That, or a nice watch…
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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