Bob Ryan

A happy return for Ryder so far

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / February 27, 2009
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To paraphrase Bill Parcells: In hockey season, hockey players play hockey.

Take an errant stick in the head? Get three "fractured facial bones" in the forehead? Have surgery and then step back on the ice to play in a real, live NHL game 15 days later? Put up 3-2 -5 numbers in your first two games, including a pair of goals in last night's 6-0 dispatch of the Anaheim Ducks?

What's the big deal? He's a hockey player.

"I feel good," said Michael Ryder, who indeed took that whack in the forehead from the stick of Ottawa's Antoine Vermette Feb. 5, who really was operated on four days later, and who now acts as if there is nothing abnormal about getting back in the lineup so soon after that kind of physical trauma. "I was a bit worried about my timing and my legs, but it was only two weeks. It didn't take too long to get it back."

There was lots happening at the Garden last night. Ryder and Chuck Kobesaw each had two goals. Five players had multiple-point games, and it was the first time that's happened since Dec. 21. Tim Thomas had his first assist of the season. Milan Lucic duked it out with Mike Brown. Even Marc Savard had a scuffle, mixing it up with noted noncombatant Scott Niedermayer.

Oh, and Thomas submitted a richly deserved shutout. You see that 6-0 score and you naturally think about offense being the story, but this could have been a very different evening of hockey had the goalkeeper not made some nice early stops. The fact is the Bruins were outshot, 10-5, in the opening period and the Ducks did have some legitimate scoring chances.

But if you're looking at the famed Big Picture, there may not have been any developments bigger than another excellent outing from Ryder, the ex-Canadien who was brought here at some expense to, well, to do exactly what he did last night. And if he's going to play this way down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup playoffs, that elusive Cup might come back to the Hub after all.

Peter Chiarelli put himself in the line of fire for the Ryder signing. Once a promising goal scorer (25, 30, and 30 in his first three seasons with the Canadiens), the Newfoundland native slumped to 14-17 -31 totals last season and was not in uniform for nine of Montreal's 13 Stanley Cup playoff games. But the Bruins general manager still threw $12 million over three years at Ryder, inducing him to come our way via free agency last July 1.

The GM knew one thing for sure, which was that Ryder had always performed well for Claude Julien, who just happened to be the Bruins coach. Julien was Ryder's coach for three seasons in juniors, seasons that included such totals as 50-58 -108. Julien also coached Ryder for a season in the AHL and two more in Montreal. Whether it was button-pushing or stroking or who knows what, there simply appeared to be a bond between this particular coach and this particular player.

Things weren't looking so good after 20 games. At that point, Ryder was sitting on 3-8 -11 figures and the fans were getting restless. But he began to pick it up in the next 20, going 11-5 -16, and now he is making his GM look very good.

The sturdily built wing has a shot, all right. "I shot a lot as a kid," Ryder said. "That's all I did." That shot was in great evidence on his first goal, which came when the Bruins were nursing a 1-0 lead early on the second period. Swooping in from the right wing on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, he unloaded a rocket that basically paralyzed the Anaheim netminder. It was a goal scorer's goal

"He's a threat when he's out there, and, again you see how strong he is on the puck," said Julien. "He's not an easy guy to push off, and he wins those battles, and he's still a pretty physical player for a guy who can score goals. So he brings that element to our hockey club, and I think three goals now in two games since he's been back definitely helps our offense."

Ryder isn't a 50-goal guy, but with his equipment, and in this company, he certainly could get 35 or 40 one of these years. When it comes to goal scoring, the Bruins are a safety-in-numbers club. No one has gaudy stats (other than Savard's 46 assists), but right now they have Phil Kessel (25), Ryder (22), Savard (21), and David Krejci (20) all in the 20s, with Blake Wheeler (17) reasonably certain to join them. Their production possibilities aren't limited to one, or even two, lines. But the numbers on Ryder's paycheck indicate that management thinks he may be a little more equal than the others.

On that fateful evening in Ottawa, what Ryder was most concerned about when Vermette's stick made that inadvertent contact with his head was his eye. "That was the thing that gave me the most concern," he said. "Everything else you can fix, right?"

I guess.

His eyes are fine. What he had was damage to something called the "frontal sinus." It required surgery, and now he is going to spend the rest of his life with three little metal plates in his forehead. He doesn't seem too concerned. He's a hockey player, isn't he?

He met the media with a baseball cap worn backward with the word "Ironhead" on it. Knowing hockey players, what else could anybody deduce other than this was his new team nickname?

"No," he laughed. "This is a Shawn Thornton hat," and, sure enough, on the side it read, "Sugar 22."

"But that's a good one," he agreed. "I like it."

Take it, Mike. You've certainly earned it.

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