Mike Ribeiro triumphs over alcohol and drug battle
Mike Ribeiro and his wife Tamara sat down for an interview with TVA Sports on Dec. 19, 2014. (TVA Sports/QMI Agency)
The rumours have followed Mike Ribeiro around since his career began.
A skilled playmaker, sure. But as he went from Montreal to Dallas to Washington to Phoenix, the word was always the same. Outside the rink, he partied a bit too hard, even for a professional athlete.
Ribeiro was, according to hockey fans who claimed to be in the know, trouble. What they didn’t know was the troubled background that Ribeiro was coming from.
“It wasn’t easy at home,” Ribeiro told TVA Sports, QMI Agency’s sister TV station. “There was a lot of violence. There was an impression that to succeed in getting out of poverty, I realized hockey was really the only way to get out, not just for me, but for my family. I could be a hero by helping them.”
That pressure led him to look for releases in inappropriate places. He started hitting Montreal’s bars at age 15.
“It was all I knew. Hockey, going out, hockey,” he said.
As he moved up the ranks, his nocturnal habits continued. Even after reaching the NHL with the Canadiens, he’d go out after games and drink. After a trade to Dallas after the 2006 season, it escalated. What was usually a social activity became something darker.
“Instead of one glass, I’d have three,” he said. “I did things I regret now. I was at the height of my career, but I was careless. I’d come home, I was a good father, I wasn’t the best husband, but I was living like a single guy.”
That behaviour cost him his marriage to wife Tamara in 2010. The couple remarried in 2013.
“I think that when I was really ready to get a divorce, I saw that he wasn’t ready to change his lifestyle,” Tamara told TVA Sports.
Even after Ribeiro promised to get help, she saw that he wasn’t ready to really get the help he needed.
It was last spring that he hit rock bottom. During the off-season, Ribeiro had his contract bought out by the Phoenix Coyotes. He was just a year into a four-year, $22 million contract. Even more troubling was that the team went public with their reasons for buying him out as general manager Don Maloney told the press there was “troubling behaviour.”
The public dismissal, unusual in the hockey world, seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of Ribeiro as a party animal whose dedication to the sport was suspect. What wasn’t made public was that at the time of the buyout, Ribeiro was going through his own version of hell.
“It was the first time I lifted my head and didn’t feel like going to work,” he said. “I started to drink, I smoked cigarettes, I did drugs. I didn’t know why I was still working. I didn’t have my kids or my family with me.”
At the urging of his agent Bob Perno, Ribeiro enrolled in the NHL’s substance abuse program. In rehab, he vowed that the drinking and drugs would not be the legacy he left behind for his three kids. He says that he is currently sober.
“I don’t want my kids to become what I became,” he said. “I don’t want to give them the same problems I had, to become an addict.”
This year, he has reclaimed his career. Signed to the Nashville Predators on a one-year contract, he trails only rookie Filip Forsberg in scoring with nine goals and 20 assists in 34 games. He credits Tamara with the revitalization, and with saving the family.
“Without her, I’d be in a bar today,” he said. “Or I’d be out of the NHL. It took 10 years to get to rehab, to take stock of my problems, before that I was too young, too immature to accept it.
“I’m out of the woods, but the woods are never far away,” he continued. “One bad day, one drink can be enough to get me in trouble. I won my Stanley Cup, but now I need to keep it.”