The Ghost of Christmas Past: Ribeiro Returns

Tonight marks Mike Ribeiro's first game against his former mates, and no doubt the homecoming will make it a special night for him. He speaks with La Presse's Francois Gagnon about the event, and - showing some maturity? - keeps it fairly bland and generic: it's all about the team, my goal is to help us make the playoffs and contend for the cup, etc. I expected something more colourful.

He does take the opportunity to deny that he ever wanted out of Montreal, but admits that by the time he was traded, he had had enough of the scrutiny of the media and the pressure from the fans. But he chalks up most of the turmoil he went through with the Habs to the difficulties of dealing with fame at a young age: "J’étais jeune à Montréal", he shrugs. The move to Dallas has allowed him to live his life and concentrate on his game without distractions: " Il n’y a pas de médias, personne ne me reconnaît à l’épicerie. On a la pression de gagner, mais cette pression vient du vestiaire uniquement. Pas de l’extérieur" (There's no media, nobody stopping me at the grocery. There's pressure to win, but only in the dressing room, not outside).

There is a faint flash of the old Ribeiro when he's asked if he'd enjoy beating the team that traded him. He doesn't fully take the bait, but allows that "Je veux le gagner. Battre Montréal serait vraiment bien. Marquer un but en plus, ce serait encore mieux" (I want to win. Against Montreal it would be really nice. If I can score as well, that would be even better).

I feel like he was dying to say something more, something along the lines of, "Yeah, I'd love to stick it to the team, to Bob, to the fans, and to the whole city," but maybe that's just me. It would be easy to understand if he wanted some payback: as a home-town boy with a scorer's pedigree from the Q, he was saddled with expectations he never managed to live up to. His best season with the Habs, 65 points, wasn't nearly enough for fans desperate for a superstar, and he took plenty of heat from the papers, the radio, the TV, and especially from the stands. If he didn't take that personally and wouldn't like to rub the town's nose in it with a hat-trick, he's a better man than most of us. It's true that he brought some of the criticism on himself with his sometimes slack play, his mouth, and his behaviour downtown, but as he says, he was a younger man then, and made a young man's mistakes. This year, a little older and wiser, he's quietly putting together a career season, and his 18 goals and 36 points are more than any member of the Habs can boast. He's doing a lot to silence the critics who said he couldn't lead a team.

Still though, would the average Habs fan like to have Ribeiro back? Probably only if they could trade Janne Niinimaa, a total failure as a Hab, back for him. The truth is, he's not greatly missed. Nevertheless, his story remains a powerful cautionary tale of the pressures young, talented players face in the city of Montreal, and of the need to protect them from the fickle fans, the ravenous press ... and from themselves. Let's hope it's a lesson management has taken to heart as it nurtures one of the NHL's youngest teams.

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