In February of 2010, a week before the Vancouver Olympics were to begin, Ryan Getzlaf sprained his left ankle in a game against the Los Angeles Kings and left the arena that night on crutches and in a walking boot.
A magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no meaningful damage, but it didn’t alter the fact the Anaheim Ducks centre was hobbling around, getting treatment virtually around the clock and doing everything humanly possible to receive medical clearance.
Getzlaf wanted to play that badly.
In the end, Canada kept him on the roster – and Getzlaf ended up as an integral part of the team that won the gold medal.
Getzlaf’s urgency to play was great and now, some four years later, it hasn’t waned at all. Canada is so deep at centre that after they pencilled in Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews into the top two slots, it was a wide-open competition right down the line.
Accordingly, Getzlaf, 28, took nothing for granted this year, and his inspired play through the first three months of the NHL season has left no doubt he deserves a spot on the team.
Despite missing three games with an upper-body injury – and getting bounced into the boards dangerously by Detroit Red Wings blueliner Kyle Quincey this past Tuesday – the Regina native is No. 4 in the overall NHL scoring race and the second-highest ranked Canadian behind Crosby.
Moreover, he is producing goals at the highest rate of his career. Through his first 33 games of the season, Getzlaf had 16 goals, which is close to a 40-goal pace. Getzlaf has never scored more than 25.
According to Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, Getzlaf’s increased goal-scoring is attributable to a “lot of different things. If you look at how many shots he’s had in the past … compared to how many shots he has now, I’ll bet it’s up. And you can’t score unless you shoot the puck.”
Brian Hayward, the former NHL goalie-turned-TV analyst on Ducks broadcasts, says there’s been a noticeable change in Getzlaf’s mindset.
“He would be a guy who’d have a 2-on-0 and stickhandle it right into the goal crease, deke the goalie out and then look for [linemate] Corey Perry,” Hayward said. “It’s a different mindset. He’s shooting it a lot more. I think, with [Boudreau] on the power play, too, he is encouraged to shoot. A lot of times, he’s on the point, but even if he’s on the half wall, [Boudreau] is encouraging everybody to shoot the puck a lot more.”
“I’m not consciously doing anything differently,” Getzlaf said in an interview prior to the 24-7-5 team leaving on a road trip that takes it to New Jersey on Friday. “It’s just certain situations call for it. I think, on the power play, I’ve been shooting a little bit more than in the past. I think that might have had to do with our early-season struggles and simplifying things a little bit. Other than that, things are just going well.”
According to Hayward, playing with Dustin Penner again on a line that was integral to the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup championship has helped Getzlaf, too.
“Penner is a guy, on the cycle down low, who recovers more pucks and gets the puck to Getzlaf in scoring position,” Hayward said. “That big body is also a contributing factor.”
Penner left Anaheim as a free agent following that championship season. After three up-and-down years with the Edmonton Oilers, Penner was traded to the Kings, where his goal-scoring completely fell off the map (just nine in 117 games over three years). But coming back to Anaheim, where Getzlaf has pushed him to work harder and be better, has gotten Penner’s career back on track.
According to Penner, Getzlaf always had leadership skills, but in the six years since they last played together, he has seen an evolution, on and off the ice.
“He’s grown up tremendously personally and professionally,” Penner said. “Sometimes, you have captains on your team that aren’t very vocal and won’t in a positive way call out your own teammates. He’ll do that, but when Getzy’s calling you out, whether it’s me [or Perry], you know he’s doing it because he wants to win so badly. It’s not selfishness on his part. It’s selfishness from a team perspective.”
It is a development Hayward says he witnessed earlier this season, when he got a chance to call a game between the benches and saw first-hand how Getzlaf interacted with his teammates.
“It kind of blew me away how good he was with the young players,” Hayward said. “He would get in their faces, in a really constructive way, and would say, ‘Look, we need you guys, you’ve got to pick this up, we have to win this game.’ I would never have believed this would come from Ryan a year or two ago.”
For his part, Getzlaf says he’s trying to keep questions about the 2014 Olympics on the back burner, with the official announcement less than three weeks away.
“It’s always around,” he said. “Everybody wants to talk about it all the time. I’ve kinda just taken the approach this season, if our team was doing well at that time, then that means I’m doing my job – and there’s a likelihood I’ll be part of that team. That’s, obviously, been my focus since the start of the year – pushing our team to where it needs to be. So far, we’ve done a good job of that.”
Because even after winning once, winning again in Sochi in February would matter just as much.
“Oh, yeah,” Getzlaf said. “There’s no greater feeling than playing for your country. I’ve been lucky enough to do it plenty of times in the past. This one would still mean the world to me – to be part of that group.
“"I think as an athlete and a player, you want to be at a top level, and that’s a team you want to be part of.”
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