He wasn’t big enough. He wasn’t fast enough. He wasn’t strong enough. Or so he was told.
And maybe they were right.
But what Mike Ribeiro may have lacked in physical attributes, he more than made up for in his will to make it to the NHL. Now, 1,000 games later, that strength is still driving him to capture hockey’s ultimate prize.
Not bad for the son of Portuguese immigrants, who grew up in Montreal where hockey was king, and the ins and outs of the game made much more sense than trying to complete his homework, all in French, when his parents weren’t able to help because of the language barrier.
"I was trying to just get through learning a new language by myself, do my homework by myself, but with hockey, I didn’t have to learn a language, I just had to learn x’s and o’s," Ribeiro said. "Every time I went to practices, I was listening and really focusing on what I had to do. It was easier for me to understand than going to school and trying to learn a new language by myself."
So hockey essentially became Ribeiro’s reading, writing and arithmetic, and like most boys growing up in the frozen Quebec winters, it was eat, sleep, hockey, repeat.
Ribeiro was never going to intimidate anyone with his size â he stands 6-feet tall and is 180 pounds today â and in the mid-to-late 90s, playing junior hockey against opponents who may have had a few inches and more than a few pounds on him was a concern, at least for those in charge.
"I didn’t have a lot of people believe in me," Ribeiro said. "Even through the years, I always finished as the top scorer of the league or of my team, but I was never fast. I was never big, I was never strong, and so a lot of people doubted me because of it."
Ribeiro knew he wasn’t all of those things, so he found a way to channel it into mental toughness that he says has guided him through every step of his career.
"I didn’t have all those qualities people told you that you needed to have, but I believed," Ribeiro said. "I learned the game, and I knew how to play and I believed in myself. I think that was the biggest skill that I had."
His numbers weren’t half bad, either. Ribeiro put up 32 goals and 89 points in 43 games in his final year of midget triple-A before skating two full seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 1997 to 1999. All he did there was post 125 points in the first season, then followed that up with a 167-point performance in 69 games.
Those numbers were enough for the Montreal Canadiens, Ribeiro’s childhood team, to take notice and select him in the second round, 45th overall, of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Then, on Oct. 2, 1999, Ribeiro was on the ice at the Bell Centre, dressed in the bleu, blanc et rouge, with the Toronto Maple Leafs on the other side.