Monday, March 28, 2016

Ryan Getzlaf ... a once in a lifetime player for Anaheim

By Larry Wigge

There's something about making a blind drop pass near the center ice that gets under the skin of Ryan Getzlaf.

He know he shouldn't do it and the next time around ... you know he won't do it again.

"He sure redeemed himself," explained coach Bruce Boudreau. "It was nice to see when you get there and redeem yourself like that."

After being sat for eight minutes in the third period following the turnover, Getzlaf finished the game of the Ducks fourth line.

"I was more upset with myself," Getzlaf said. "We're all accountable for what we do. I did my best to stay up on the bench and made sure the guys are ready and be sure I was ready when my turn came again."

Getzlaf said that he learned from the best ...

"Steve Yzerman learned in many ways over the years as captain of the Detroit Red Wings," he said. "There's something about making a blind pass there ..."

He laughed at himself and continued, "It's in the DNA. It's in the compete level."

You can imagine his surprise not only at the team's decision to draft him, but the fact that he dropped all the way to the No. 19 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. Getzlaf had been ranked by Central Scouting as the No. 5 overall pick in the star-studded 2003 draft. Yet, as each pick went by, he remained nervously in his seat.

With hindsight being 20/20, how much do you want to bet those 18 other general managers ahead of the Anaheim want a do-over?

So he can smile at Boudreau's message.

"I mean Bruce is an easy coach to be with," he said. "Me and Bruce talk on a daily basis and that makes me feel a little bit more comfortable."

The Regina, Alberta, native, shivers when you bring up the Game 7 loss to the Blackhawks or a terrible start this season.

Getzlaf had only one assist in the first eight games -- through October -- and the Ducks were just 1-5-2.

"I don't know ... there's something about losing a Game 7 feeling," Getzlaf said ... as an excuse for the slow start.

But ... you don't just take a premier player off the board.

Finally, after a 4-3 victory over Philadelphia on December 27 you become the player you were. Following a shootout victory over St. Louis on January he took off, the Ducks went 14-1-1 in January.

For the season, Getzlaf has scored 12 goals and 47 assists. But, of late, nine goals and 25 assists have come since that victory over the Blues. Only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and San Jose's Joe Thornton have more points.

That's a rare combination. A combination rarely seen so soon -- having been a big part of Anaheim's drive to the 2007 Stanley Cup over Ottawa, when he led the Ducks in scoring with 10 goals and 17 assists as a 21-year-old.

He's had 173 points during the past two regular seasons and was an All-Star each year. He ranked third in the league with 66 assists this season, setting a franchise record, and sixth with 91 points. He's only the third Duck in team history to surpass the 90-point plateau.

The Ducks made quantum leap from team on the rise to potential Stanley Cup champion, beating the Senators in the finals in 2007. And it started with the production Anaheim got from the rookie combination of Getzlaf and center Corey Perry. That line became a force when Dustin Penner, another rookie, joined them just before the playoffs.

Getzlaf has also won two gold medals with the Canadian Olympic team in 2010 and 2014.

Big and strong. Prototypical power forward, with fury and snarl packed into a 6-3, 213-pound frame. But Ryan Getzlaf isn't your ordinary in-your-face forward, he's also got the touch and patience of a diamond cutter.

That's a rare combination -- even for a 30-year-old player.

"All of the young guns —- Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin —- have great hands, but Getz has the best hands I've ever seen," said longtime Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne. "I haven't seen a more dominant player than Getzlaf in the league.

"He's unbelievable. I don't know if he knows himself how good he can be. "I don't see any reason why he can't be the best player in this league. He has all the tools. I think it's only a matter of time before he realizes it."

Captain Scott Niedermayer added, "Getzy's our go-to guy. He's just a horse. A thoroughbred. He's especially dangerous when we need him the most."

And together with linemates Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, Niedermayer said, "They're hard to handle for anyone anytime because they all have size, strength and a great drive."

Actually, the evolution of this prospect to premier player began several years ago, when Ryan Getzlaf was name captain of the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.

"I saw it the first time my team in Red Deer played against him," Canada’s World Junior Coach Brent Sutter told me a few years ago, before Getzlaf helped Canada to a second straight gold medal in the World games. "He's strong, young, hungry and driven. When you play against him, you know you're in for a challenge -- a good kind of challenge that's going to make your team better, because he's such a great leader."

The true character in Ryan Getzlaf came shortly thereafter, when Ryan's parents were divorced. Chris and Ryan learned to grow up a little quicker than most kids might be asked. But it's clear they are both well-adjusted and driven youngsters.

Make dinner? Yes, that was just one of those chores Ryan got because his parents, Steve and Susan both worked -- Steve for Ipso Steel and Susan for the Saskatchewan Phone Co.

Their father, Steve, had regulation hockey nets constructed out of steel at the plant where he worked, and the posts stood up to years of beating. With their dad, the boys added a protective wood frame around the hockey nets so they could fire pucks in the garage through the winters, but some shots managed to find the drywall. Puck-sized holes still mark the walls in the garage.

The gene pool was obvious for Ryan Getzlaf, who was coached by his dad for his first six or seven years in hockey. And Chris Getzlaf, well, he went on to be a slotback at the University of Regina.

A natural talent and supremely confident player and athlete, Ryan won a national peewee baseball championship for Saskatchewan in 1998, plays a mean game of volleyball, shoots in the mid-80s in golf and was a pretty fair slotback in football. But his affinity was always for hockey.

Joe Sakic was his favorite player.

"I like him a lot. I've had the chance to hang out with him at All-Star Games and that's big for me. The numbers he's put up, and the leadership he has provided, it's incredible. Another guy I look up to is Teemu Selanne."

Sakic and Selanne would point to Ryan Getzlaf as one of a kind -- power, teamwork, playmaking.

Getzlaf -- a once in a lifetime player.

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