Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill remembers the day this past off-season when his new head coach, Lindy Ruff, called prospect Ryan Garbutt to talk about training camp.
“Yeah, Lindy called Ryan and spent more time on the phone with his dad,: said Nill with a grin. “”Apparently Ryan’s dad played with Lindy in junior in Lethbridge and they were talking about old times. There seems to be a special relationship between Lindy and Ryan and you can sit. Ryan is really turning into a solid NHL player.”
Ryan Garbutt is 28 and he’s in his second full season in the NHL. It’s safe to say he’s a late bloomer.
He’s also not a quitter. After all, there was a time in Garbutt’s career when most 24-year-old hockey players would start thinking about selling insurance or becoming a golf pro. There were no calls, he was looking at a season in the Central League and the NHL was nothing more than something he read about on-line every morning.
But Garbutt persevered.
“Yeah, I’d just graduated from Brown and hadn’t been drafted and was looking to break into pro hockey,” Garbutt said, after playing an outstanding game in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets in mid-October.
“I had a great coach with the Winnipeg (South) Blues, Ken Pearson, and I had a lot of college teams watch me when I played there. Then I spent four years at Brown and met a lot of great people. I had fun playing (college) hockey and from there Jeff Pyle picked me up in the Central League, (Pyle went on to become the head coach of the Texas Stars of the AHL), and he gave me a shot.
“Before that I was with the Atlanta Thrashers organization so I know a lot of the guys in that other dressing room (the Jets) and that’s pretty cool. There are a great bunch of guys in that locker room, but it was definitely fun to beat them tonight.”
Garbutt, who had 47 goals and 34 assists to go with 303 penalty minutes in 63 games in his final season with the Blues in 2004-05, didn’t make it to the scoresheet against the Jets, but he had two shots, four hits and a blocked shot. He played almost 13 minutes and almost got into a scrap late in the game with a couple of Jets.
He’s certainly not afraid to engage the opposition, even if he knows them and, in the case of the Jets, sincerely likes a lot of them. Of course, when he graduated from Brown, he had no place to go and ended up playing with the Corpus Christi (Texas) Icerays of the Central League in 2009-10 and then moved up to the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL in 2010-11 before Pyle gave him a shot in Texas early that season. When you’re a guy like undrafted Ryan Garbutt, liking your opponents can only go so far. Especially when you’ve worked so hard to get to the NHL.
“Yeah, it’s been a lot of hard work but I’m enjoying every day, especially playing for this team,” Garbutt said bluntly. “It’s a team with so much high-end skill and a lot of these guys work hard, too. I’m enjoying every minute of it, especially considering how hard I worked to get here.”
Nill, who played for the Jets in the mid-to-late 1980s has been thrilled with the play of both Garbutt and another Winnipegger, Cody Eakin. Nill said in Winnipeg that he thought the Dallas game against Washington this season – the second Stars game of the year – was the best game Garbutt has played as an NHLer.
“Well, it was sure great to get our first game out of the way,” Garbutt said with a shrug. “It’s always nerve-wracking when you have new coaches and teammates coming in. You want to play your best for them. I was definitely fired up for the first few games. Pre-season is a bit of a grind, but that game against Washington, I was playing with a couple of really good players with speed on my line – (Antoine) Roussel and (Rich) Peverley – and it was fun to get that game under my belt.
“Since I got here, I’ve just tried to work as hard as I could,” he added. “I was called up a couple of years ago to bring in some work ethic. I’m trying to do the same things, but I’m also trying to get better every day. I want to chip in offensively wherever I can and play good defense, as well. We have a great coach in Lindy Ruff and all the guys are buying into the system.”
For a guy who was essentially written off at 24, it’s been quite a ride for Ryan Garbutt. However, there have been two things that have brought him to where he is today – a passion and desire to play professional hockey and good old-fashioned hard work.
“Yeah, just plain old hard work,” he said. “And I’ve been fortunate that I’ve also had lots of great guys to train with in Winnipeg in the summer and a great trainer in Richard Burr at Richard Burr Fitness at Empress and Wellington. Richard’s been great for me. It’s not a job when you go in to train every day and you love it.”
It’s also been pretty nice to have family in your corner and friends to come home to every summer.
“I’ve been really lucky to have my parents full support the whole time,” he said. “My dad was a goalie who played with Lindy and with Butch Eakin, Cody Eakin’s dad. Cody and I met two summers ago, started training together just when he got traded (from Washington to Dallas) and we now spend our summers working out together.
“The great thing about Winnipeg in the summer is that there are so many good hockey players here, it’s just so easy to find guys to work out with. And because it’s Winnipeg, there is always available ice. Because you can always find ice, skating in the off-season is pretty easy to do here. It’s a great place to spend the summer because it’s just a great hockey town.”