On the night of September 22 2008, I had the privilege of attending the Canadiens' first preseason game of the 2008-09 season, against the rival Boston Bruins at Halifax’s Metro Centre, 20 minutes from my home in Lower Sackville.
This was a big treat for a long-time Canadiens fan like me, who has been lucky enough to watch every game on TV. Unfortunately, I was in for the thumping of a life time, as the Habs were pounded 8-3.
But after the game, the score was hardly on my mind.
Late in the game, I had spotted a large group of men in expensive suits seated in the upper bowl, one section away from where I was seated. Some were watching the game, others were typing vigorously away on their blackberries, and some were just staring off blankly or joking around with friends. This is the first sign of healthy scratches for a sports team.
Knowing that the Canadiens scratches had stayed in Montreal for the night, I looked for the first sign of Bruins, and I found one. A 6’9” Zdeno Chara had his massive legs sprawled across the row of seats in front of him.
I quickly became excited by the fact that the entire Boston squad was just a section away from me. Then I spotted Michael Ryder, who was somewhat off by himself against the far wall. I figured “Hey what the hell?” and armed with my sharpie and wearing my red Canadiens jersey, I headed off to the other section.
Now yes I realize that Ryder is no longer a part of the Canadiens roster and has long since joined the Bruins—but when you live in Nova Scotia, your chances of run-ins with NHL-caliber players are slim to none.
As I approached him, I waited for a couple of Bruins fans whose backs he was signing. When they verged off, I asked if he indeed was Michael Ryder—despite the fact that I clearly knew he was. He said he was, and I introduced myself and asked if he would sign my Canadiens jersey.
He laughed and asked why I would want him to sign that. I explained myself as I sat next to him. Eventually, he said he would not sign the Canadiens jersey, unless it was his name and number, or a Bruins jersey. I never did get a reason from him other than that he didn’t play for them anymore, but I clearly assumed it was because he wanted to put the Habs behind him—way behind him.
Upon leaving, I shook his hand and wished him a good season, and he thanked me. I fully understood his reason for not autographing the jersey. As I walked away, I forgot all about the brutal score, and instead thought about how cool it was to have my first conversation with a NHL player.
I will always remember that moment, despite that it probably left his mind 10 minutes after I left. I’ll always be keeping an eye on how he does this upcoming season, as I always do with past Canadiens players, and when I wished him luck I truly meant it.
But as I watch him in the Bruins line up against the Habs this up coming season, there will always be a tiny part of me who just wants to see him getting flattened by one of the Canadiens.
Good luck this season Mike—you and the Bruins are going to need it! : ) : P