MONTREAL – Being limited to only 20 games in 2011-12 didn’t stop Ryan White from leaving his mark on the Canadiens’ lineup…and a few of his opponents’ faces.
Sometimes, all a player can do is roll with the punches. In White’s case, his latest campaign stood as an exercise in taking the good with the bad; getting only the final quarter of the season to showcase his skills, but recognizing the importance of using every second of it to remind fans what he brings to the table.
“All I wanted to do was get back in and play,” said White, who had the unfortunate distinction of being the only player on the Canadiens roster to have his short season bookended by injuries. “It sucks when you’re not in the lineup, and obviously this year I had a tough time dealing with injuries. It’s frustrating at times, especially at the end of the season where I was looking to finish strong.”
After spending the first four-and-a-half months of 2011-12 on the sidelines as he waded through the tedious process of recovering from sports hernia surgery, White finally made his return to action against the Bruins on Feb. 15. Exploding out of the gate and dropping the gloves with Boston’s Adam McQuaid 14 minutes into the game, the Brandon, MB native had an immediate impact on the Canadiens’ lineup. But as fellow clinic-regular, Andrei Markov can attest, 57 games of rust can be a lot to shake off.
“It’s tough coming into the season that late and trying to find your groove, especially when you’re bouncing around lines like I was,” admitted White, who battled to find his scoring touch and timing after the long hiatus. Luckily, putting points on the scoresheet isn’t the only facet of the 24-year-old’s game. After a season-long call for team toughness, White’s return provided the lineup with some much-needed sandpaper.
The gritty forward immediately got to work bruising bodies with punishing checks and going toe-to-toe with anyone who stood in his way. In only 20 games, the 193-pound winger dropped the gloves seven times, often making the jump to the league’s heavyweight-division against the likes of Ottawa’s Chris Neil or the Panthers’ 6-foot-5, 210-pound Erik Gudbranson, to do so.
“I think that partly came into play because a lot of us were sick of losing. Obviously getting Staubby [Brad Staubitz] there at the deadline also helped out a lot, too. In the end, we play in a pretty tough division. You look at the teams we play every night, between the Leafs, the Bruins, the Sens and even Buffalo – you have to be tough to play against going up against those guys all the time,” explained White, of the importance of gritty physical play.
White threw 61 hits in 20 games, putting him on pace for 250 had he played the full 82-game campaign.
“Some nights when we don’t play that way we can be an easy team to play against,” he conceded. “But I think that if we stick together, play hard together and become a tough team to play against it’ll make it harder on everyone facing us.”
While White’s physical play is no secret in the league, the Habs forward has often displayed the hands and potential to develop into an effective playmaker as well. With the amount of time he spent on the shelf, it’s little surprise that fans weren’t treated to as much of that side of his game as he would have liked, but that’s something White hopes to change moving forward.
“I like playing center and I really like playing up the middle. It’s where I played my whole life and I’m comfortable up there. I think I only got to play two or three games in that position though, so there wasn’t the chance for me to build too much steam at center,” explained White “Wherever this team needs me to play, I just want to contribute. Whether that means taking faceoffs or playing wing and getting the puck out, it’s all the same – anything I need to do to help my team win.”
Slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, White will have to wait and see how he factors into Marc Bergevin’s plans for the future. One thing the Canadiens’ new GM can assure himself of is that the return of a healthy Ryan White has the ability to spark any lineup with his selfless play and team-first mentality. His season may have ended prematurely after suffering a concussion in his last bout against Gudbranson on Mar. 27, but if you’re wondering how that might change White’s game, you clearly haven’t been paying attention to his body of work.
“I’m not going to change my game. This is how I’ve always played and it’s the only way I know how,” finished White, who will spend his offseason working hard to set himself up for an impressive 2012-13. “I want to be back here. I love this city, I love playing for this club and I love playing for my teammates here. This is definitely where I want to be.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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