BOSTON (LGS) — Admittedly, Michael Ryan's career was at a crossroads at the end of last season. The speedy winger had proven himself with a breakout season in Rochester with a career high 51 points in 50 games. The Boston native also made his NHL debut on November 22nd, 2006 in a 7-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He would go on to play in 19 games with the Buffalo Sabres recording three goals and two assists while averaging over 13 minutes per game.
Despite his production with the Amerks, Ryan was still not sure where he stood in the plans of the Sabres.
"I knew that there was a chance of either staying or leaving but I didn't know for certain what would happen," Ryan said in an interview with LGS. "The bigger name guys were a priority and I understood that."
Ryan was finally able to secure his immediate future when he signed a one-year, $475,000 deal on July 5th. The deal is a one-way contract meaning he will make the same amount whether he is in Buffalo or Rochester. And if all goes to plan, Ryan will remain in Buffalo for good.
"I had to look for better opportunities for myself but Darcy (Regier) made it clear to me that the Sabres wanted me to come back," said Ryan "The situation was everything I was looking for. I have a great relationship with Lindy (Ruff) and Darcy so it was the right fit to go back."
Ryan also mentioned that his relationships with several current Sabres' players also helped.
"Ryan Miller is a very good friend of mine and I've played with nine of the guys in Rochester for at least a year," added Ryan. "Pommers, Roy, Goose and I were tight in Rochester. I feel comfortable with all of the guys and a lot of them called me once I re-signed to congratulate me and to tell me they were happy that I was back."
As an Unrestricted Free Agent, Ryan did have discussions with several clubs. He politely declined our question as to what teams expressed interest in him.
Ryan will now head to training camp in September with a realistic shot at making the Sabres' opening night lineup and he's extremely excited about the opportunity.
"I don't expect to start this year in Rochester as I have the mindset of starting in Buffalo. I spoke with Lindy when I signed and he said that he was 'happy to have me back' and told me that I would have an opportunity and it is my job to earn minutes."
Ryan recalls his first NHL goal
After his three-game debut in late November, Ryan finally had a chance to remain in Buffalo for a longer period when the Sabres suffered slew of injuries this past February. He scored his first two goals against the Montreal Canadians on March 1st in Buffalo's 8-5 victory at HSBC Arena.
"My first game against Toronto was a blur, everything went by so fast and I just wanted to get it under my belt."
Not surprisingly, Ryan remembers almost every detail of his first two NHL goals.
"The first goal was a tap in on an Adam Mair pass from the corner. It was a bit more special that Mair had the assist on the goal because we played together for most of my first few games up there," said Ryan. "It was also special to score against Montreal — growing up in Boston as a Bruins fan, they were always a big rival.
"The first goal is the reason why you don't take things for granted and why you work hard. It was nice to get it because I had so many opportunities. It was a relief to get it out of the way."
His second goal came shorthanded off a Jochen Hecht pass.
"It was a saucer pass over a stick," recalled Ryan. "To score two goals in one game was pretty special."
The puck used to score his first goal was taken out of play and sent to the Sabres' bench for safekeeping. So safe have the Sabres are still keeping it as Ryan has yet to see it.
"I still haven't got it," Ryan said with a laugh. "I didn't think anything of it, then a few weeks went by and I asked where it was and I was told that 'it would be taken care of.' I believe that they get it framed for you so I'll probably get it when I get to training camp."
Drury, Briere will be missed
During our conversation, Ryan also spoke about the departures of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. While he admits that losing the co-captains was disappointing, he is not ready to go the route of Chicken Little and say, "the sky is falling."
"It's sad to see them go. I have known Chris from the time we spent together in Boston," said Ryan who attended BC High and Northeastern University when Drury was at Boston University. "He helped me out a lot when I got up (to Buffalo). He and his wife Rory had me to their house for Thanksgiving so it is sad to see him go.
"I didn't know Danny too well but you really can't blame management for what happened. There were a lot of factors that went into the players' decisions. They've both earned the right (to take advantage of the free agent market).
"Our team is too competitive to worry about that situation. We have a lot of guys who are going to be all-stars and the fans need to focus on the young stars on the team — guys like Milsy (Miller), Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy. Lindy said to me when I resigned that, 'We're going to be a damn good team next year.'"
Spending the summer in Beantown
Ryan resumed training for the upcoming season a few days after returning to Boston after the Sabres were eliminated against Ottawa. Between workouts, Ryan has spent time following his beloved Red Sox.
"I've been to about 12 or 13 games so far. I live about 15 minutes from Fenway Park so I make it down there as many times as I can."
It is interesting to note that after serving as one of the alternate captains on last year's Amerks' squad, his favorite player is Jason Varitek who is the captain of the Red Sox. There are similarities between the two athletes. Both give 100% effort each time they take the field/ice and both are known as great "team guys."
"Varitek is the ultimate professional. He's a great team guy and is the man behind the scenes," Ryan said. "Off course, guys like (David) Ortiz are great and it's been fun to watch the young guys like (Dustin) Pedroia chip in."
One will only be able to watch how the rest of the season works out for the Red Sox and in the same regard for the Sabres. Ryan is confident that the Sabres fate will be similar to how the Sox season has been thus far.
"You want to be on the best team possible and you better believe that we'll be a good team."