SUN Hockey Pool

Ritchie master of own future

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Byron Ritchie's opportunity has arrived.

A healthy scratch for five of the seven games this season, Ritchie will get the chance he has been waiting for tonight when the Flames host Edmonton (7 p.m., Sportsnet).

With centre Matthew Lombardi on the shelf for up to eight weeks due to an ankle injury suffered Monday, the Flames have only 12 forwards on their roster, meaning Ritchie can dictate his future.

"You never want to be sitting out or anything but you want what's best for the team," Ritchie said. "You're going to push to get back (in the lineup) as quick as you can but you have to be patient and positive around your teammates. When you get your opportunity, play so well they can't take you out again."

Just before the season began, Ritchie appeared to be earning a regular spot.

He was one of the best forwards during the pre-season, using his speed to his advantage. But those good times came to a crashing halt when he was drilled with a big check from Vancouver's Jarkko Ruutu.

Ritchie didn't suffer a concussion but was extremely sore for a couple of days, missed the final three exhibition outings and saw his game derailed.

"It's the first time at the NHL level I've had a bit of confidence with the puck and stuff like that," said the 28-year-old.

"But when the season came, I wasn't playing as well as I was in the pre-season, plain and simple."

During yesterday's practice, Ritchie centred a line that included Jason Wiemer and Shean Donovan.

He vowed to correct what was wrong in his previous outings.

"I've got to be stronger in my own zone, harder to play against, skate and be physical without taking penalties," he said.

"That's what Darryl (Sutter) and the coaching staff expect from me and that's what I expect from myself."

Inserting Ritchie into the lineup doesn't appear to be Sutter's only move.

The GM/head coach had Steven Reinprecht playing on a line with Jarome Iginla and Tony Amonte, the third centre to try his hand at that spot.

Said Sutter: "As a coaching staff, we're still trying to give every opportunity or find every way to make some of the guys better.

"Rhino has to meet the challenge of playing centre. He wants to be a centreman, came here a centreman, but part of being a good centreman is productivity both ways, defensively and offensively.

"He's capable of that and we need him to do that."


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