Thursday, March 22, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports: Two Former Habs And A 1st-Time All-Star Helping Stars Shine In Dallas

Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today’s NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador’s Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week’s article - as the Dallas Stars look to lock up the Pacific Division, three players that took three very different paths to Dallas are helping to lead the way.

Two Former Habs and a 1st-Time All-Star Helping Stars Shine in Dallas
Jamie Benn and Jordan Eberle in Ottawa
During the 2012 NHL All-Star Game
(Photo - Andrew Rodger TVOS)
To say that the race towards a Western Conference playoff position is too close to call is an understatement! With less than ten games remaining in the season, the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks are all within 3 points of one another. Three of these teams will be on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin and chances are they will miss the post-season by only a point or two.

To make things more interesting, four of these teams are in the same division. So, while two teams may finish in 7th and 8th place, earning a difficult first round match-up with St. Louis and Vancouver, the Pacific Division winner will be the third seed and start the playoffs with home-ice advantage in the first round. The team currently holding down the division lead (for today anyway) is the Dallas Stars and it is two former Montreal Canadiens and a first-time All-Star helping to lead the way in Big D. With a 40-28-5 record, the Stars are on a roll with a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games. They are winning when it matters most and making a strong push for the division title.

Loui Eriksson is having an outstanding season, leading the team with 68 points, but it is former Habs Mike Ribeiro (16 goals and 41 assists) and Michael Ryder (32 goals and 25 assists), along with 3rd year forward Jamie Benn (22 goals and 35 assists) that have caught my eye this year. The success of Ribeiro and Ryder has quietly gone under the radar for most hockey analysts, while Benn caught the attention of hockey fans around the league with his first invite to the NHL All-Star festivities this year in Ottawa.

For Montreal native Ribeiro, his success in the QMJHL as a junior player led to tremendous pressures to succeed in his hometown as a member of the Montreal Canadiens (he scored 67 goals and had 167 points with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL during the 1998-99 season). While he hit the 20-goal mark in the 2003-04 season, the media spotlight may have limited his opportunities to grow as a player. Once he arrived in Dallas after being traded in September of 2006, he became a solid contributor to their offence. In 453 regular season games as a Dallas Star, Ribeiro has been impressive, accumulating 401 points.

Ryder arrived in Montreal as a rookie scoring sensation - lighting the lamp 25 times in his first season (2003-04). The Bonavista, Newfoundland native followed that up with back-to-back 30 goal seasons with the Canadiens. Unfortunately, for the eighth round selection (216th overall) in the 1998 draft, his magic around the net disappeared in his fourth year, when he only scored 14 goals. He was not re-signed by the Habs and left as a free agent to become a member of the Boston Bruins in July of 2008. In 235 games as a Bruin, Ryder scored 63 goals and became a Stanley Cup champion in 2011. A free agent once again, he signed with the Dallas Stars and is powering their offence; reaching the 30-goal plateau for the third time in his career.

This brings us to first-time All-Star Jamie Benn. The 6’2 winger from Victoria, BC has become a solid overall player in his third year with the Stars. He has scored 22 goals in each season and set a new career high this year in assists (35 and counting) and total points. What may be most impressive about his season to date is that he has improved his play at both ends of the ice. After being a -5 in the plus/minus category last year, after last night’s game he is a +16 this season. He made his debut at the All-Star game after missing seven games due to an emergency appendectomy - and he won the Accuracy Shooting contest at the skills competition!

While it takes an entire team to achieve success in the NHL, the skills and abilities of Ribeiro, Ryder and Benn, three players that have taken three very different paths to Dallas, has led to a resurgence in Big D. With first place in the Pacific Division within reach, the Stars would be a tough opponent in the first round of the playoffs if they can hold on to the top spot in their division. It is going to be an exciting few weeks for the players and their fans!

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