Alright, that is a bit of a stretch. But the Atlanta Flames drafted Ribble 58th overall in the 1974 NHL draft. That draft pick was acquired from the New York Islanders to help settle the 1973 controversy over the pro basketball rights to Julius Erving. Dr J had been property of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks before joining the ABA's New York Nets, which were owned by N.Y. Islanders owner Roy Boe.
This, of course, led to headlines asking "Can Ribble Dribble?"
NHL defensemen with that imposing size face certain expectations. Ribble provided exactly what was needed.
|No one ever told me to fight, but I think it was expected of me," Ribble said. "I've always been one of the bigger guys wherever I've played and I felt this was what I was supposed to do."
Not that Ribble had to fight all that much, especially at the NHL level. His reputation preceded him.
"Maybe it was the reputation I had," Ribble pondered. "But it's different in the NHL. Guys take a clean check and don't have the stick up all the time. In the minors there's a bunch of stupids and they always have their stick up. I've always played the body hard, and guys up here can take it. in the minors it wasn't that way."|
Ribble was one of Flames' coach Fred Creighton's favorite players. He admired the gritty style Ribble played with.
But Ribble constantly had to work on his game in order to stay in the NHL. His skating style, choppy and labored, was best described as awkward. He offered little in terms of offense. But he learned to play within his limitations and to read the play better.
"Confidence was the biggest thing," Ribbled determined. "I heard the boos last season and they bothered me. I'd try to do too much, and by doing I'd get myself out of position and wham, they'd get a goal. It was a frustrating time. The harder you try, the worse you do.
"Now we have confidence in each other and everyone isn't trying to do everyone else's job. We play our own position and our own game and things have worked out well."
Well indeed. He would be well travelled in his NHL career, playing for Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, Toronto and then returning to the Flames, now located in Calgary. He totaled 349 games in his career, scoring 19 goals and 79 points. He also participated in the 1978 World Hockey Championships.
Not bad for a kid who did not start playing organized hockey until he was fourteen years old. He played a lot more baseball as a youth, only playing hockey one the frozen marshes near his home in Leamington, Ontario in the winters.
"I wasn't what you would call an exceptional prospect," Ribble said honestly. I was glad to be picked by Atlanta. Being an expansion team, I thought I'd get a better chance to play sooner."
Playing for an expansion team in the deep American south was certainly an experience for Ribble.
“What you’d see there were people who didn’t really know the rules of the game. So you just have to go along with it. They’d clap on an icing and things like that. It was new for them. It was an all new experience for me, too. I’d never really been anywhere. I grew up in a small town in Canada and had spent a couple of years in the minors. It was nice to go to a big city.”
Atlanta traded Ribble, Tom Lysiak, Greg Fox, Harold Phillipoff and Miles Zaharko to Chicago in exchange for Ivan Boldirev, Phil Russell and Darcy Rota on March 13, 1979. The eight-player deal was the largest (in terms of players involved) in NHL history to that point.
"Bobby Orr was an assistant coach when I first got traded there, and he picked me up at the airport. I was impressed. He told me that I was a big part of that trade because he liked the way I took the body. That’s what he told me. And he’s still a good friend.”
Ribble's stay in Chicago was short. He would be moved to Toronto in 1979-80, only to be traded again, to Washington, later in the same season.
“I went to Chicago, finished the year. The next year I broke my thumb and I broke my nose in training camp. When I was ready to go back in the lineup, there wasn’t any room for me. They put me in, and they wouldn’t put me in. It was tough. So I just told Pulford I said, ‘If you can trade me, trade me.’
“He showcased me for some reason in Toronto, and I got a goal and I think I was the first or second star. Toronto was trying to get rid of some of their fools, so I got traded to Toronto. When I got to Toronto, it was so nice to play for the Leafs. You grow up watching the Leafs, but there was so much turmoil going on with [Harold] Ballard. It was like the players against the ownership. I had never seen that before. Every place I played, you respected the coaches and you respected the owner. That wasn’t going on in Toronto. I played there 31 days before I got traded, and it was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was good to get out of there.
“It was good to have played for the Leafs, but at that time it was good to come to Washington because Washington wanted me.”
"We had some pretty good players, really. We had Mike Gartner and Dennis Maruk. We did have some good players."
After finishing his career in Calgary and then the minor leagues, Ribble returned to Leamington after his playing days were over. He worked for the local natural gas company.