By Justin Skelnik | Photos by Ross Dettman
When Chicago Wolves center Ryan Garbutt entered the professional hockey ranks with the Central Hockey League’s Corpus Christi Ice Rays last year, he hoped his stay in Texas would be a short one. He had visions of playing in the American Hockey League and ultimately the National Hockey League one day. The best way he knew to get there was to follow one simple motto – play every game as if it was his last.
“It was good to get my feet wet playing pro hockey in a league where I got to play a lot,” Garbutt said. “I played every game and I enjoyed being down south in the nice weather but I wanted to do everything I could to get out of that league, so I just tried to mentally and physically play
every game like it was my last.”
Even though the CHL isn’t as high in the pro ranks as the AHL, Garbutt still enjoyed playing pro hockey rather than using the Economics and Sociology degrees he had earned while he played college hockey at Brown University.
“I kept in touch with a lot of guys I played with after graduation,” Garbutt said. “There were a handful of guys I played with at Brown who went on to play pro, including myself, but all the other guys who went on to work still wish they were playing hockey.”
Garbutt shared third on Corpus Christi with 22 goals and ranked sixth on the team with 50 points in 64 games as a rookie last year. Those stats, along with a glowing recommendation from his head coach and from Jeff Pyle, the head coach of the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, earned him an invite from Wolves General Manager Wendell Young to Chicago’s training camp this past September.
“Jeff Pyle from Gwinnett found him and he lived up to his billing,” Young said. “Jeff spoke highly about him and his coach from last year gave him rave reviews. He came to camp and impressed us.”
Garbutt was cut from the team’s roster at the end of training camp and immediately signed with Gwinnett. However, he didn’t let the setback hinder his performance and excelled in his first 10 games with the Gladiators. He ranked first in the ECHL with 10 goals and shared second in the league with 17 points after 10 games and found himself back in Chicago on a Professional Tryout Contract on Nov. 10.
“I stayed positive when I got cut from the Wolves training camp and played in Gwinnett,” Garbutt said. “I just knew I wanted to work hard to get back up but it didn’t really weigh on my mind too much.
“I wanted to do well while I was down there and help out Gwinnett as much as I could. It ended up being a short stay with them and I have been fortunate to stick with the Wolves since I got here.”
Even though Garbutt was playing with the Wolves in the AHL, he knew that he had to perform in order to stay and that if he didn’t impress, he would soon find himself back in Gwinnett.
“When I first got to Chicago, I told myself that I had to continue to play every game like it was my last in order to stay here,” Garbutt said. “I couldn’t take even one shift off. I had to go hard every single shift to prove myself and prove that I wanted to play in the AHL and show that I belonged.”
Garbutt notched six goals and 10 points in his first 20 games with the Wolves. His stats, along with other attributes, led Young to sign the 25-year-old forward to a Standard Player’s Contract on Dec. 21.
“Ryan is a very aggressive player that can score goals,” Young said. “He added a lot to our lineup with his hitting and filled a lot of gaps when he got here. He is also very conscious without the puck.
“He got what he deserved when we signed him to a Standard Player’s Contract because of his play and he has been a regular fixture in our lineup because of his contributions.”
Garbutt’s consciousness on the ice is something that he is proud of and attributes to having been a late bloomer in terms of height as a kid. From age 10 to 16, he was always the smallest player on his hockey team. At 16, Garbutt measured just 5 feet 2 inches tall, and by the time he turned 17, he shot up to 5 feet 10 inches, before filling out at 6 foot 1 inch at the age of 18. He credits his small stature growing up with making him the player he is today.
“I think that being a smaller hockey player definitely helped shape me into what I am today,” Garbutt said. “When I was smaller, I learned to see the ice a little bit better and I had to be more crafty and I think that is why I play with an edge. When I was smaller, I didn’t let the bigger players take advantage of me and now sometimes I don’t know my own strength when I am playing against bigger players.”
Garbutt’s playing style has served him well in the AHL so far. As of Feb. 10, he paced Wolves rookies and ranked eighth overall on Chicago with 22 points (13G, 9A) in 42 games. But he is also doing the little things besides scoring, like sticking up for teammates, as evidenced by his three fighting majors.
“I just want to do whatever is going to help the team the most,” Garbutt said. “If I have to stick up for guys, I don’t mind dropping the gloves. But other than that, I am just trying to do whatever the coach asks me and be a physical player and try to put up some numbers offensively for the team.”
With just under two months left in the season, Garbutt isn’t looking ahead to where this season may lead him next year, but is looking at trying to get the Wolves into the playoffs for the 15th time in the team’s 17-year history.
“Hopefully, if we can win two out of every three games, we should be in a good position to make the playoffs,” Garbutt said. “I just want to keep playing the role I am now and hopefully the team can get on a roll .
“As for the future, I can’t worry about what I can’t control. If I just continue to work hard, things will continue to go well for me like they have been this year.”
Ryan Garbutt Plays As If Every Game Could Be His Last.
By Justin Skelnik | Photos by Ross Dettman