Okay, so it’s a stretch to ‘connect’ the Burnaby-born, North Delta-raised forward with the team’s gifted Swedish ensemble, unless you dig a little deeper.
The 30-year old Ritchie’s trek back home first saw him wind through minor league cities like New Haven and San Antonio, interspersed with tenures with NHL teams like Carolina, Florida and Calgary. During the NHL work stoppage in 2004.05, he then played for a Swedish club team in Rogle, where he met and eventually married Maria Johansson.
Did we make the ‘connection’ for you? BYRON RITCHIE certainly hopes so as he re-connects with the team he grew up with as a kid. RAIBLE
: So, what’s the story on the kid from Sunshine Hills, going to play over in Sweden and finding the girl of his dreams? RITCHIE
: It was a great opportunity for me to play while we weren’t playing over here and one of my good buddies, Marcus Nilsson, is from Stockholm. I was visiting him the summer before the lockout and talked to a club team in his hometown. They weren’t taking any North American players but it turns out Rogle showed some interest in me during the NHL work stoppage. Marcus put in a good word for me, and I jumped at the chance. RAIBLE
: I understand you got to play a lot more hockey than you thought you would. RITCHIE
: Well, I played 30 games but it would have been more if I hadn’t broken my ankle about a month after I got there. I was out for two months. In the time I did play, I got a ton of ice time, in all the important situations, and got to be the ‘go-to’ guy again. It was great for my confidence and for my skating, on their big ice surfaces. RAIBLE
: Is Maria a hockey fan? RITCHIE
: Oh, yeah. She knows the game really well. Her brother, (Andreas Johansson), played in the NHL for a few years. She’s been around the game quite a bit. And she was a bit of an athlete herself. RAIBLE
: Now, you know how laid-back the Swedes are. Has Maria brought a little more balance into your life? You’ve always been a pretty intense guy. RITCHIE
: (laughing) Yeah, I’m pretty intense. But she’s probably a little more competitive than I am. We complement each other really well and now we have an amazing son. Things are really good. RAIBLE
: So, to really cement this ‘Swedish connection,’ you have to find some way to get on that Sedin line this season, although, they have you listed as a centre. RITCHIE
: Well, I played all three forward positions in Calgary and mostly on the wing. I think that’s one of my assets, being able to play all three positions comfortably. It’s great to be on the same team as Daniel and Henrik, instead of trying to chase the puck when they have it. They are pretty special and talented players. RAIBLE
: You’ve been brought here to fill a certain role: that ‘energy’ role that all successful teams have to have. But there are times in your career when you’ve shown some noticeable offensive talent. Where’s the scoring touch gone? RITCHIE
: I don’t think it’s gone anywhere, it’s just getting an opportunity to show it. I was on the top two lines in Calgary last season for four games, and scored four goals. It’s all about opportunity and when the coach has confidence in you, you have confidence in yourself. When I started off in Carolina, the coach didn’t play the young guys much and gave most of the ice time to the older guys, like Gary Roberts, Rod Brind’Amour and Martin Gelinas. That trip to Sweden showed me that I hadn’t lost the touch, but there’s no doubt that my game is different at the NHL level. I take a lot of pride in my defensive game and being a good team guy, a gritty player that shows up every night. RAIBLE
: So, you don’t mind the label ‘grinder?’ RITCHIE
: It doesn’t bother me. I like to think I have a certain skill, and over the years, people have taken notice of that skill. Role players make the difference in championship teams. After your top two lines, the talented goal-scorers, you have to have the checkers, the role players, stepping up for the team to move forward. RAIBLE
: You’re playing in your hometown for the first time since you were drafted back in 1995. Back then, you were a Canucks fan so I’m guessing there was some disappointment that Vancouver didn’t select you? RITCHIE
: Yeah, I was a big Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure fan. My size was probably an issue then. It would have been great to have started my career here but everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s better I’m here at this stage of my career, and not at the beginning. It is kind of special to come back to play in your hometown. Not too many guys get that opportunity. I know my family and my close friends here are pretty excited about it. My parents grew up watching the Canucks as well. They get to see their new grandson grow up for awhile. It means a lot and I hope to be here for a long time.
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