It has become more and more common for hockey players to come out of University programs, but most of those players come from the American colleges who offer full scholarships to talented athletes. Many American colleges place high importance on athletic performance, some of which take hockey very seriously as a collegiate sport.
University hockey in Canada is nowhere near the same level, and rarely attracts top talent. This is because the CIAU does not allow for full scholarships given to athletes, so top hockey players who would rather go the college route than through junior hockey hope to impress American college scouts. Universities in Canada have hockey teams, but they are made up more of future chiropractors and engineers. These players are there for their studies and hockey is an extra curricular activity, whereas in many cases of top athletes in the States the athletic achievement in University is placed on an equal or sometimes greater level than the academic.
Mike Ridley was one of the few to attend a Canadian university and go on to enjoy a fine NHL career.
Born on July 8th, 1963 in Winnipeg, Ridley attended his hometown University of Manitoba rather than leaving home for a US college or for a Canadian junior hockey team. The move paid off well for Ridley. He was named the Canadian University Player of the year, an First All Star and a All-Canadian in 1984 and repeated his All Star and All-Canadian performance in 1985.
Despite his dominating play, Ridley was never drafted by a NHL team as scouts scoffed at the level of play in the CIAU. However the New York Rangers were smart enough to give this kid a look-see in their 1985 training camp. Ridley came into camp and impressed the Rangers so much that they not only signed him to a NHL contract, but he made the team and played a big role immediately.
In fact in Ridley's rookie season he led the New York Rangers in scoring with his 65 points (including 22 goals).
Mike was on pace for another fine season with 36 points in 38 games in 1986-87 when the Rangers surprisingly traded him along with Bob Crawford and Kelly Miller to Washington for Bobby Carpenter and a draft pick. Ridley was a quiet, hard working All-Canadian kid but the Rangers play in New York. When the opportunity arose for the Rangers to acquire Carpenter - Sports Illustrated's poster boy and the first American to score 50 goals in a season - they jumped at the opportunity. Carpenter would struggle much of his career offensively before reinventing himself as a defensive specialist. Ridley, and for that matter Miller, went on to enjoy fine seasons with the Washington Capitals.
Ridley relied more on hard work than natural talent. Despite lacking offensive flare, Ridley manage to squeeze out 547 points in 588 games with the Caps. A fine two way player, his best personal season came in 1988-89 when he scored 41 goals and 89 points.
Ridley was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a big 1994 draft day swap that saw the two teams exchange first round picks. Ridley, who rarely missed a handful of games in his NHL career, was starting to develop a chronic back problem. He would play in all 48 games of the lock-out shortened 1994-95 season, but often in pain. His offensive contributions were affected by his pain - just 10 goals.
The Leafs "dumped" the injured center in a July 1995 trade with Vancouver in exchange for Sergio Momesso. The Canucks had hoped his back would get better and had planned on taking advantage of Ridley's fine playmaking skills by putting him on their top line with Pavel Bure with another newcomer, Alexander Mogilny on the other wing.
The Canucks dream line never became a reality. Ridley's back limited him to 37 pain-filled games. He only registered 6 goals and 21 points.
Ridley's back held up for much of the 1996-97 season. He played in 75 games. He was a standout in the first half of the season but then his ailing back failed him again. Though he missed only 7 games, his play was effected by season's end.
The Canucks released Ridley after that. After more back treatment he returned to Winnipeg where he tried to skate with the Manitoba Moose of the IHL to test his back. He scored 4 points in 4 games but his back continued to bother him. Ridley finally admitted defeat in his battle with back pain.
Ridley was a tremendously underrated star for most of his NHL career. He scored 292 goals and 466 assists for 758 points in 866 NHL games. He added 28 goals and 78 points in 104 playoff appearances.