Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to ECHL.com
BOSTON — Things weren’t always like this for Michael Ryder.
A talented winger with a nose for the net, Ryder has worn two of the most prestigious sweaters in all of hockey; those belonging to the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, and has two 30-goal and four 50-point seasons under his belt in the NHL.
With that kind of success, some might be surprised to learn that Ryder also has 25 games of ECHL experience to his name as well, having skated for the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks during his rookie season of 2000-01 and the Mississippi Sea Wolves in 2001-02.
Selected in the eighth round of the NHL Draft in 1998 by the Canadiens, Ryder split his first professional year with their top minor league affiliate at the time, the Quebec Citadelles, and the Tiger Sharks.
"I went down to Tallahassee, and I only got to play five games," recalled Ryder before a recent Bruins game at Boston’s TD Garden.
"We were supposed to play in the playoffs, and there was some kind of rule where you had to play a minimum amount of games. But the team got suspended and we got disqualified from the playoffs that year, so that was my first memory down there."
After his nine points in five games stint during his rookie year, Ryder would return to the-then East Coast Hockey League for a second time the following season, playing in 20 games for the Sea Wolves inbetween stints with the Citadelles. His 14 goals were tied for sixth-best on the team despite only playing a little more than a quarter of the season, and his 27 points were still good for eleventh on the team.
"I got sent down to Mississippi in November or something like that, and played 20 games and came back up," Ryder said. "I made a lot of friends down there, they were some nice guys. It was better hockey than I thought it would be, I was surprised when I got there. To me, it was just all about trying to work hard and get back up."
Ryder was surrounded with future NHL’ers like Francois Beauchemin, Sheldon Brookbank, Jay Leach and Rob Skrlac while with the Sea Wolves, but many of his teammates weren’t as fortunate. While heading to the ECHL was tough to take at first, Ryder says that all he could was work hard and hope for an opportunity to get another chance in the AHL before focusing on his NHL dreams.
"You’re definitely disappointed when you do go there," Ryder said. "But for me, I said that I knew if I worked hard and played the way I can, hopefully I’d get a chance. I just had to wait for someone to see me and give me that opportunity. Eventually, after three years of minor league hockey, that chance came."
After spending his first full season in the AHL in 2002-03, Ryder made the Canadiens out of training camp the following season and spent the entire year in the National Hockey League, going so far as to play in the NHL Young Stars Game during All-Star weekend. He’s since played in over 500 NHL games and tallied over 150 NHL goals, and each one of those just might be a little bit sweeter considering he had to take the long road to get there.
"It seems like my whole life, I’ve had to do things the long way," Ryder said. "I wasn’t drafted in major junior, and then I was a late round pick in the NHL. So it seems like this hasn’t been an easy road for me, but that’s always stuck with me. I’ve always said that good things will happen when you work hard."