Ryder has plenty to play for

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Some accused him of being lazy.

His coach thought he was too one-dimensional.

There were rumours that perhaps, just perhaps, he enjoyed the taste of a frosty beverage just a little too much.

From the bustling watering holes of Crescent St. to the bowels of the Bell Centre, there was no shortage of scuttlebutt concerning Michael Ryder a year ago in hockey-crazed Montreal.

Just ask Michael Ryder.

He won't get into the specifics of his subsequent divorce with the Montreal Canadiens. Nor will he address the innuendo and accusations that were aimed at him during his final season as a Hab.

But know this: All that chatter did reach his ears.

And now, he would love nothing better than to make his critics eat their words.

"I heard what people were saying," Ryder recounted yesterday. "But I didn't think I could lose (my skills) that fast.

"In my career, there was one season that people questioned me. And that was last year. Last year was the first time people started to doubt me.

"I want to prove people wrong."

There is no anger in his voice when he makes that vow. That is not Michael Ryder's way. In fact, the happy-go-lucky winger from Bonavista, Nfld. actually has been slagged for not having enough snarl in his personality or his game.

But make no mistake. Ryder is a competitive guy. And a determined one. So when he claims he is aiming to have the last laugh on all those who slagged him, he means it.

And, even though Ryder, 29, won't come out and say it, you can bet that former Habs coach Guy Carbonneau is on that list, if not at the top of it.

In his first three full seasons in the NHL, the sharp-shooting Ryder registered totals of 25, 30, and 30 goals, respectively. But the defensive-minded Carbonneau was concerned about his ugly minus-25 rating in 2006-07, a likely reason why his ice time suddenly shrivelled last season.

The result: A miserable 2007-08 campaign in which Ryder scored just 14 goals. Come the post-season, Ryder found himself helplessly watching Games 6 and 7 of the Habs first-round series against the Boston Bruins from the press box, which on this occasion doubled as Carbonneau's dog house.

How did he fall into the Habs' bad books so quickly?

"I don't know," Ryder said, shrugging his shoulders. "Sometimes teams have plans for certain guys. And sometimes guys aren't in those plans."

Maybe that was the case in Montreal. But that view was not shared by Bruins coach Claude Julien, who had coached Ryder twice before, first with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, then during his rookie season of 2003-04 with the Canadiens.

The Bruins jumped at the opportunity to snap up Rider last summer, inking him to a three-year, $12 million US deal. Not bad coin for a guy the Canadiens had no use for.

Said Julien: "Everyone talks about how much I knew him, how I coached him (in Montreal), in the minors, etc. But people in this organization liked him all along.

"It wasn't my decision (to acquire him). It was the organization's decision.

"If not for his slow start and injuries (this season), he could have had 30 goals."

Instead, he registered a respectable total of 27. More importantly, he finished the season at plus-28, flushing away all those insinuations that he always would be a defensive liability.

And now, Ryder has the chance to line up against the same Montreal Canadiens team that figured he was washed up.

"It's a little different being on the other side," he admitted. "I certainly have a lot of friends on the other side. (But) I don't think a lot about the past."

At least Ryder is participating in this highly anticipated first-round series, which begins in Boston tomorrow night.

That's more than can be said for Carbonneau, who can only watch the series on television after being canned late in the season.

So, who's laughing now?


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