Dallas Stars forward Mike Ribeiro skates with the puck in an NHL hockey game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 11, in Dallas. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Matt Slocum
DALLAS - Mike Ribeiro fulfilled only part of his dream playing for the hometown Montreal Canadiens.
Ribeiro put on that storied sweater for parts of six seasons, but things didn't turn out exactly as he envisioned.
Since being traded to Dallas at the start of last season, far from the hockey spotlight in Canada, the 28-year-old Ribeiro has become the new Mike.
As a hometown player in Montreal, overwhelming expectations and pressures followed him on and off the ice. And he didn't help produce a Stanley Cup.
"You don't realize when you're there that much, there's a lot of pressure. And, if you're from there, even more pressure," Ribeiro said. "At some point, you need to focus on your career, and I think it was a good move now that I'm here."
Ribeiro is now an all-star averaging more than a point a game (67 points in 64 games) for Pacific Division-leading Dallas. That is nearly double his scoring pace in Montreal (0.55 points), and already more than the team-high 59 points he had in his Stars debut last season.
"We have great fan support here, but it's not an everyday thing where the paparazzi is following you like they may in Montreal," said Stars captain Brenden Morrow, one of Ribeiro's wingers on the top line. "In Canada, they take their hockey like a religion."
With his offensive prowess and a US$25-million, five-year contract extension through the 2012-13 season, Ribeiro is starting to emerge as the new face of the Stars franchise. That is a role held almost solely by Mike Modano, the highest-scoring U.S.-born player and only player left who moved with the team from Minnesota 15 years ago.
"When I played with him, I knew he could definitely dominate the game at times and now he's figured it out," said Montreal right wing Michael Ryder. "I guess there's not as much pressure on him and he's just playing and having fun."
And he's finally flourishing into the kind of player the Canadiens envisioned when they drafted him 45th overall in 1998.
Ribeiro made his NHL debut with one goal in 19 games in 1999-00, and appeared in only two games in 2000-01. That was during the same three-year stretch when he scored 341 points (125 goals, 216 assists) in 159 games in the Quebec Major Junior League.
His best season for the Canadiens was 2003-04, when he had 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) while getting extended playing time because captain Saku Koivu missed 79 games because of health reasons. Ribeiro slipped to 51 points (16 goals) after the yearlong NHL lockout, then got traded the weekend before the 2006-07 opener.
With Jose Theodore and Pierre Dagenais in Montreal, Ribeiro was part of a cliquish trio often referred to as the "Three Amigos." They were close teammates also known for their affinity for the nightlife.
General manager Bob Gainey, who built Dallas' Stanley Cup championship team in 1999 before returning to Montreal, had already traded Theodore and sent Dagenais back to the minors when Ribeiro followed them out of Montreal.
"I think (Gainey) just thought it would be better for me to come here and focus on my work and my family only," said Ribeiro, who has a wife and three young children.
Ribeiro, who lists malls among his favourite things in the Dallas area, can go shopping without being followed by cameras or getting much of a second glance when he walks through the stores.
"In Dallas, a hockey player is only a hockey player," said Patrice Brisebois, a Montreal native back with the Canadiens after two seasons in Colorado.
Brisebois was part of Montreal's last Stanley Cup championship in 1993 during his initial 14-year stint with the hometown team.
"When (Ribeiro) got traded, he realized he had another chance to prove how much talent he has," Brisebois said. "He took it as a wakeup call, a chance to really prove what kind of player he is."
Stars coach Dave Tippett attributes Ribeiro's success in Dallas to his work ethic, something that came into question at times in Montreal.
"He's always had the skill level. You add the surroundings, he's comfortable here and putting the energy on the ice," Tippett said. "You get out of that atmosphere that maybe there is no outside pressure, you take that extra energy and put it into the game."
Ribeiro has been working hard away from the puck. In the first 24 games in 2008, Ribeiro had 21 assists and three goals.
Ribeiro had eight multipoint games in that stretch, the first coming Jan. 7, the same day he signed his new contract.
"When he signed the contract, the first statement he made was 'Hey I'm not going to let this team down.' You've got to love that attitude," co-general manager Les Jackson said. "He's going to take responsibility for his game and he wants to win and we see him as a big part of our team."
Along with Morrow, captain Ribeiro is already in his eighth season and also signed through 2012-13.
The feeling of never being able to do enough in Montreal and the unfulfilled expectations of the hometown boy are still fresh in his mind.
"Last year, when I came back home, they were saying 'Hey, you had a great year.' And if I was there, they would probably say, 'Yeah, you could have done more.' So it's never enough," Ribeiro said. "But I enjoyed myself there. It was a great life experience."
The rest of Ribeiro's dream hasn't changed: He still wants to hoist the Stanley Cup. The only difference, instead of trying to help the Canadiens win their 25th championship, he will try to get No. 2 for Dallas.
AP freelance writer Sean Farrell in Montreal contributed to this report.