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Ryan Callahan Quickly Establishing Himself in Tampa Bay

03/18/2014, 4:45pm EDT
By Greg Auman - Special to USAHockey.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- It has been a dizzying month for Ryan Callahan, who has been to Russia and back with the U.S. Olympic Team and now finds himself settling into a new home after being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“It’s my first time being traded, so I didn’t know what to expect, coming into a new room,” Callahan said Monday, preparing for a home game against Vancouver. “It’s been a pretty smooth transition for me. The guys here have taken me in, and the organization made sure not only me but my family was taken care of.”

Callahan, 28, was the New York Rangers’ captain, but with free agency ahead, the team traded him to Tampa for Lightning captain Martin St. Louis, 38, and draft picks. Callahan isn’t the captain now in Tampa — that honor goes to 24-year-old Steven Stamkos — but he’s quickly establishing himself a team leader with his work ethic and play on the ice.

“Fearless,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Monday. “It’s remarkable — he’s not the biggest guy on our team — for him to play the way he does. There’s nobody that steps on the ice for the opposition that strikes fear in him at all.”

Cooper has only had Callahan for six games, but he’s come to appreciate the tiny details that are important to the player, both on the ice and in his preparation.

“He seems to do everything right. He doesn’t cheat the game,” Cooper said. “He’ll skate that extra two strides to angle you off. If there’s any paint on the ice, he likes to go where it is. To be honest, you win with those guys. To have whatever that gene is, he has it. It’s probably something we’ve lacked.”

To find toughness in a 5-foot-11, 190-pound winger is to inspire the same on the rest of the team. Goalie Ben Bishop, as insulated by pads as anyone on the ice, sees the selfless play that has Callahan stopping shots with his body before they ever get to the crease.

“Sometimes it’s scary,” Bishop said. “He’ll get in front of any shot. He’s kind of known for his shot-blocking, his fearlessness. Sometimes you wonder if he’s crazy, and that’s coming from a goalie. I played against him in the playoffs when I was in Ottawa, and he probably blocked 40 shots himself in seven games. Guys feed off this stuff, and with a lot of young guys in this locker room, they see a guy like that who’s proven himself and he’s still diving at pucks. They look up to that.”

The same Olympic Winter Games that Callahan played in last month also set in motion the circumstances that led to his trade to Tampa Bay. It was the friction between St. Louis and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman over the player initially not making the Canadian team (he would later replace an injured Stamkos) that led to his ultimately seeking a change of scenery after 13 seasons with the Lightning.

How long Callahan will stay in Tampa remains to be seen — he has quickly been embraced by his teammates and new coaches as they prepare for a playoff run. Living in Florida and playing away from the circus of the New York media could be a welcome change for Callahan, and the team’s postseason success could play a role in how well entrenched he is with the Lightning. His best NHL season — 29 goals in 2011-12 — was also his best playoff run, as the Rangers made the Eastern Conference finals before losing to New Jersey.

Callahan, a native of Rochester, N.Y., played in six games for Team USA in Sochi, Russia, tallying one assist, as he did in Vancouver four years earlier as part of the silver-medal-winning team. The team’s disappointing showing in Sochi didn’t keep him from enjoying the Olympic experience in his third stint with the national team, going back to the 2005 World Junior Championship in North Dakota and Minnesota.

“Just the chance to represent your country, it’s a special feeling,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words how much that means to me. It wasn’t the finish we wanted, but we had a pretty good tournament. We were one goal away from going to the gold-medal game. The biggest thing I take away is just having an opportunity to play for your country. It was just as exciting as it was the first time.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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