More than six years have passed since the Montreal Canadiens traded Mike Ribeiro to the Dallas Stars, yet, thanks largely to NHL scheduling quirks, Ribeiro has returned to his hometown as a visiting player only once.
Barring injury or suspension over the next 11 days, Ribeiro will return to Montreal twice more as a Washington Capital. The Capitals visit Montreal’s Bell Centre on Tuesday and again for a Hockey Night in Canada matchup on Saturday Apr. 20.
“I wouldn’t have minded to stay in Montreal,” Ribeiro recently told CSNWashington.com, “but there’s a lot of attention on you, a lot of negative attention and if you don’t win it’s probably worse there than anywhere else in the league.”
Ribeiro was drafted by Montreal in the second-round of the 1998 NHL Draft and spent the first eight years of his professional career with the Canadiens organization. Ribeiro made his NHL debut with Montreal as a scrawny 19-year-old with the weight of a hockey-mad city on his shoulders in Oct. 1999.
“It was nice obviously to play for them and to be drafted by them, but to be honest, I would have liked to have had a bigger role when I was there,” said Ribeiro who eventually led the Canadiens in scoring with 65 points in 81 games in 2003-04.
“In Montreal you have to win right away, especially back when I started, Montreal was interested in older free agents and trying to win right away and not playing their kids very much. In my first two or three years I was playing mostly on the fourth line or not playing very much and it was hard to produce, as a guy who was expected to produce, but only seeing [limited] minutes. So the first few years were hard.”
As the challenges mounted on the ice, so too did the criticism away from the rink. Ribeiro feels that he was unfairly criticized by fans and media alike, who he says “build up young players and then want to bring them down.
“But I learned from that,” the now 33-year-old father of three says of his experiences, both good and bad in Montreal. “I learned to deal with the media and to try to take the positives of what people say and not let the negative affect you. Going to Dallas, it was obviously a different market and you can just concentrate on your job and not worry about what people say about you.”
Ribeiro admits that as much as he tried to limit the distractions and tune out the criticism in Montreal, that was often easier said than done.
“No matter what, you’re still going to hear it. People are going to make sure that you hear it. Especially in Montreal, there’s French media, there’s English media and obviously in the media it’s all about who comes out with the best story and most of those stories are negative. That’s what people like.
“You have to be strong mentally not to let those things affect you and even if you don’t read the papers or listen to the radio, there’s always somebody around you, whether it’s a friend or a family [member] or a buddy who will mention it to you. So to get away from that I think was a good thing for me and I really got to focus on my game.”
Ribeiro would spend six years with the Stars, leading the team in scoring twice, and being named an NHL All-Star in 2007-08.
Due to limited inter-conference play during the regular-season though, the Stars made just two trips to Montreal during Ribeiro’s six years with the team. A knee injury kept the playmaking center from making the first of those trips in January 2010.
But when Ribeiro finally returned to the Bell Centre in February 2012, the showman made the most of hockey’s grandest stage. Ribeiro had a goal and was named the game’s first star in a 3-0 Dallas win.
Upon his being named the game’s first star, Ribeiro saluted and bowed to the crowd as only he could.