Friday, May 25, 2012

Callahan won't Predict a win, but he'll play to win all night

By Larry Wigge

The captain's 'C' he wears on his chest is very important to Ryan Callahan.

Callahan would do just about anything to win one for the New York Rangers ... except guarantee a Game 6 victory the way Mark Messier did for the Rangers in 1993.

"No," he said. "Not in my nature."

His performance in the last game seemed to mirror that of New Jersey captain Zach Parise in Game 4, when he scored two goals and added an assist in the 4-1 Devils victory.

Callahan scored one goal, hit the goalpost with another close call, had two shots and six hits by the Rangers lost 5-3 to fall three games to two in the Eastern Conference finals matchup. 

"I felt good last night," Callahan explained. "I was strong on the forecheck, which I have to be. And as a line I thought we were holding onto pucks.

"We've just got to win one game. We've been in this situation in the Ottawa series. We've just got to win one road game."

Coach John Tortorella know he will get a supreme effort from his captain.

"He did all the things you need to do as a leader to try and get us a win, right to the bitter end," Tortorella said. "He'll do the same thing next game."

The Rochester, N.Y., native, is not of the flamboyant ilk as Messier, he'll put the Rangers on his back and block shots and do anything within reason to win. He became known for his willingness to throw his body at opponents with reckless abandon. If there was a shot that needed blocking, Callahan was happy to throw whatever body part was available in front of it.

It was just a day after he watched boyhood friend Stephen Gionta play unlikely hero in Game 5. For years they played for the Stanley Cup finals on the cul-da-sac in Grapeview Circle outside of Mike and Donna Callahan's house in North Greece, N.Y.

"Now we're on the big stage," said Callahan. "It's exciting. You get a chance to play on this stage, against one of your best friends growing up ... I'm happy. It's pretty special."

Said Gionta, "Something we've dreamed of is actually coming true."

"They’ve beaten the heck out of each other many, many times," said Sam Gionta, Stephen's father, "besides wrecking Mike's garage and house."

Callahan's garage and house aside it was a good place the play for the twosome.

It was five miles, door to door, from the Callahan house.

"We grew up together and we spent so much time together," Callahan said. "We were going out on the lake at his house or we were swimming in our pool."

When they weren't playing ball hockey or knee hockey or real hockey, that is. They were teammates for several years in Rochester Youth Hockey, but they could never get too much of the game.

The pick-up games in the driveway or on the street were highlights of many summer and winter days 15 and 20 years ago. The Callahan garage was the loser.

Oh, but the fun they had trying to one-up the other with the puck.

"Of course I outscored him," Callahan joked.

Those ball-hockey games were intense, too. You'd have thought they really were playing for the Stanley Cup.

In his first season as captain of the Rangers, Callahan has been outstanding -- posting 29 goals and 25 assists during the regular season and another five goals and four assists in 19 playoff games.

"I think I had a pretty tough road to get here," Callahan explained. "Size-wise, everybody thought I was too small for the style of game I play. In my first NHL camp, I didn't play in the Blue-White Game at the end of that camp. I was one of five kids who got sent right down to Hartford and didn't play in that game."

He's too small now at 5-10, 185 pounds for the style of game he plays. He'll throw his body in front of a shot. He's fiery. He's competitive. He loves to hit.

"I feel like I'm a guy who crashes and bangs and hits a lot," Callahan continues. "I love contact.

"Sceptics? I just used it as motivation more than anything. I don't think I do anymore. I hope I've shut up all my critics." 

He grew up a Buffalo Sabres fan. Pat LaFontaine was his favorite player. He was until ...

"I'd say my biggest hockey inspiration would probably be Brian Gionta," he said. "Our families are pretty close. Just looking up to him and seeing everything he's done really inspires me."

Most Painful Moment: "When I was younger, actually got cut from travel team, that was pretty painful when I was 14."

That was Callahan's reputation in the NHL -- a player who was hard-working, a leader, someone who would do whatever it took to win. He deserves all the credit for being a self-made star. Most of his points came from his drive and determination in going to prime scoring areas in the offensive zone. He will not be intimidated when confronted in a tough, physical game.

A lot of kids in hockey turn out to prove people wrong, but few have come as far as Ryan.

He didn't go through the draft unpicked like Gionta. The Rangers drafted Callahan in the fourth round that year, with the 127th overall pick, in the 2004 Entry Draft as he continued to be undervalued.

"I was with another team at the time," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' player personnel director, who was with the Islanders. "Me and the scouts around the league, we'd watch Callahan's play skyrocket and take comfort in knowing that we all blew it."

"We've all had our hits and misses," Clark continued. "I'm telling you, I didn't draft Ryan Callahan, but his is the name that always comes up. Everyone marvels at what he's accomplished. He's listed at 5-foot-11, but he plays like he's 6-3."

Said Tortorella, "He is a huge piece to everything we do. He is our identity. Offensively and defensively, I look up and down the bench for him."

Looking for a guarantee. Looking for a promise that the Rangers will win. You won't find in coming from Ryan Callahan.

But .... looking for a win the right way ... stay tuned.

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