SUN Hockey Pool

Now is the Ryde time

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The puck hit the tape of Daniel Ryder's stick.

He swooped in from the faceoff circle and immediately roofed a shot from in tight.

Looks like all that time off didn't diminish his skills all that much.

"It's good to be back," the Calgary Flames prospect and brother of Boston Bruins Michael Ryder said after hitting the Saddledome ice.

The Flames are sure thankful to see the talented centre back on ice, as he was for the first day of the club's annual summer prospects camp after a hiatus over nearly the whole year.

Friends, fans and teammates, too.

The talented centre drafted in the third round, 74th overall, in 2005, was a no-show at last summer's camp, excused for "personal reasons" but the expectation was he'd be on hand after recovering from a second straight long OHL playoff run.

However, Ryder also begged off the Flames' rookie camp and main training camp in September, showed up in time to join the AHL's Quad City Flames.

Then, after netting one goal and four assists in the club's first six games, he headed home to Bonavista, Nfld.

Naturally, the theories came fast and furious, even after Flames GM Darryl Sutter said the now-21-year-old simply needed time to decide whether he wanted to pursue a career in hockey.

Ryder said yesterday his decision came down to something that simple.

"I just needed some time away from hockey," said Ryder, one of a handful of skaters who hit the ice with the goalies. "I wasn't ready for a full season. That was my decision to make and I'm glad I did it.

"I'm ready for the season now. A full season.

"Two long seasons in a row and two short summers. It was just hockey every day. I just wasn't ready for the full season."

He was part of consecutive Memorial Cup runs -- first with Peterborough and then with Plymouth. He won the OHL's playoff MVP award, the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award after the 2006 playoffs.

Then, stunningly to most observers, he opted to step back, but decided in the spring he did want to return, with no real defining moment to set it in motion.

"Just time," he said. "It's too good an opportunity to pass up. I'll go with it and see what happens."

The Flames, he said, didn't exert any pressure.

"They were great with it. They helped me a lot. It's good to have people around like that," he said. "They just let me take the time I needed and be ready for the next year."

How ready he'll be remains to be seen.

A season away is going to have an impact, but he said he doesn't feel too rusty.

"Ever since I've been on skates again, it felt fine. No games, nothing competitive. Probably lost a little bit of development, but I wouldn't say too much," said Ryder, who skates a few times over the winter. "Getting back on the ice, it's good. I'm looking forward to a good camp and getting it going."

Yesterday's on-ice action was mainly for the four goaltenders -- Matt Keetley, Kevin Lalande, Leland Irving and James Spratt.

Sessions run today through Saturday, with workouts for half the group starting at 9 a.m. and 12:30, while the other half skate at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.


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