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Mike Ribeiro is a centreman who plays for the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. Wearing #71, he is an offensively talented young forward who has finally raised his all-around play to the level the Habs were hoping for since he was drafted in 1998. He is currently in his third full season with the team.

Ribeiro was born on February 10, 1980, to Portuguese immigrants living in Montreal. Growing up in The Plateau district, he dreamed (as many young Montrealers do) of one day wearing the colours of the Habs, le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge (Red-White-Blue). After excelling for the Quebec Triple-A junior hockey team Montreal-Bourassa as a fifteen and sixteen year-old, he was drafted by the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)'s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

It was here that Ribeiro started to display his incredible offensive instincts. His first season as a Husky, 1997-98, would finish with totals of 125 points in 67 games, good enough for the Michel Bergeron Trophy as best rookie in the league. He was also named to the league's second all-star team. During the NHL Draft in June 1998 he was selected by the Canadiens as their second choice, 45th overall. Teams were unsure if his small stature would stand up to the NHL style game. The next year would top the first, as he would score 67 goals and 100 assists for an amazing 167 points. This would net him the Jean Beliveau Trophy as leading scorer in the QMJHL and honours as the leading scorer of the Canadian Hockey League (QMJHL, WHL and OHL combined) as well as first all-star team selections in both leagues. He also saw action at the end of the year with Fredericton, the Canadiens' farm team at the time.

The 1999-00 season was an up and down one for the young player. He surprisingly made the Habs out of training camp, however he struggled with consistency and limited ice time and managed just 2 points in 19 games. He ended the season back in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts, where he again performed well, especially in the playoffs. The next year found Mike with the Quebec Citadelles (ex-Fredericton Canadiens) farm team. He played relatively well for a 20 year-old, scoring 66 points in 74 games. He was only called up for a cup of coffee once with the big team, playing two games for them and escaping notice.

Rumblings began to be heard that Ribeiro was to small to play in the NHL; he was six feet tall (1.8 meters) but weighed barely 165 pounds (74 kilograms) soaking wet. His defensive game was also questioned. He began the 2001-02 season in Montreal out of camp, however he was assigned early in the year back to Quebec. This would be a difficult season for Ribeiro, as he was recalled and sent down two more times before ending the year in la vieille capitale. He did get to appear in the NHL Young Stars game, a showcase for new talent. The 2002-03 season would be a more promising season for the young forward. While he had a tough time getting enough ice time to show off his skills, he still managed to stay with the team throughout the year (except for a three game stint with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens' new farm team). He posted a decent 17 points in 52 games, not bad considering he spent most of the season on the fourth line.

Many analysts and fans predicted the 2003-04 season to be a make or break year for the 23 year-old. Either he would have to grab the second-line center duties from Yanic Perreault or he would become part of the long list of failed Habs draft picks. He did work at bulking up - to 175 pounds (79 kilograms) over the offseason. Ultimately, it would be an injury to Saku Koivu that would open the door for Ribeiro. A strong camp led to him centering the first line while Koivu recovered, and he played well with winger Richard Zednik after a period of adjustment. When Koivu was ready to return, Ribeiro had used his opportunity to ensure his place on the second line, as well as the first power play unit. Even his defensive play has been markedly improved, thanks in large part to coach Claude Julien. He ended the season with 20 goals and 45 assists, good for 65 points, and led the Canadiens in scoring. Ribeiro struggled during the Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring only three points in 11 games.

Mike Ribeiro has become a fan favourite, as Montrealers who play well for the Habs tend to do. The young Portuguese-Canadian has made it - the only question is how high his ceiling is.


Sources:
http://www.tsn.ca (Canada's The Sports Network website)
http://www.hockeydb.com (The Internet Hockey Database)
http://www.canadiens.com (The Montreal Canadiens' official website)
http://habsrus.proboards4.com (The HabsRUs message boards, where you might find me from time to time.)

Updated July 22, 2004

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