Byron lords over fresh start

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Could be the time of the year that had Byron Ritchie feeling this way.

The Christmas season can do that to you.

Or maybe it was the excitement of facing his old team.

Either way, the now Vancouver Canucks forward found himself taking stock of his lot in life and acting a bit like Tiny Tim, ("God bless us, every one.")

"It's funny, skating this morning I was thinking about it -- I'm living a dream come true," Ritchie said after the morning skate to prepare for last night's clash with the Calgary Flames. "To be a kid that grows up here, gets to play in the NHL in his home city with all his friends and family around, is pretty special.

"I want to make the most of it."

Yes, life is going swimmingly right now for the product of the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

Certainly it's a huge change from the final few months of last season in Calgary.

Ritchie, something of a journeyman player, went from what he thought was the best time of his career when he scored four goals in three games, starting the night Flames star Jarome Iginla was lost for a month with a knee injury, to the doghouse of then-head coach Jim Playfair, then to a trip out of Calgary seemingly in the blink of a eye.

"It was really frustrating," Ritchie said. "The way the season ended last year, you didn't know if a team would want you. I felt I played well when I played up until January, but once February started, it just seemed I didn't play at all.

"I sat out a lot of games, and even when I did dress, I'd be playing six minutes or under.

"It was especially hard because I thought I proved I could contribute, maybe not offensively every night, but could be part of the team to help it win.

"I wanted to be a bigger part of the team and to contribute, but when it's taken away by a coach, it's pretty frustrating."

Proving it is darkest before dawn, Ritchie left the Flames an unrestricted free agent only to find a new gig right away.

"I was in Sweden when we got the call, but (Canucks assistant GM) Steve Tambellini called my agents and mentioned they were interested and asked if I'd be interested in playing here. It was an absolute no-brainer," Ritchie recalled.

"As of February last year, I knew I wasn't going to be in Calgary. It was a great opportunity and I jumped on it."

Having ridden the carousel that spins a player in and out of the lineup his whole NHL career, Ritchie has only been scratched one game this year

He'll be hard-pressed to surpass his career-best scoring stats of a year ago -- eight goals and 14 points, many collected while Iginla was on the shelf and while playing with Matthew Lombardi and Alex Tanguay -- but Ritchie has another stat in mind, 11:44 -- his average time on ice.

"This year, I have a role with the team and feel important to the team, playing every game," said Ritchie, who had two goals and three assists heading into last night's game at GM Place.


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