It's normal for any young hockey player to be closely scrutinized when his father happens to coach his team. But that tension can be magnified if your dad is a Stanley Cup winner who serves as owner, vice president and general manager of that team. For Windsor Spitfires forward Kerby Rychel, whose father Warren owns and runs the Ontario Hockey League club, it's an arrangement that seems to be working out.
"It's good," said Kerby, who had a team-best 41 goals last season. "He's helped me out, telling me how to be a good person and good leader, teaching me to have good habits on and off the ice. I wouldn't be here today without him. It's huge. You can always turn to him for advice. He helps me out a lot."
Ranked an A-list prospect by NHL Central Scouting on its preliminary players-to-watch list, Rychel hopes to be taken in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. It would be a significant achievement for Rychel, whose father was passed over twice in the draft before working his way through the International Hockey League to the National Hockey League, where he forged a 406-game career spread across nine seasons with five teams, including a spot on the 1996 Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
"It's just one of those things where he's done all the work to put himself in that position," Warren Rychel said of his son. "It would be pretty neat. I'm sure we'll be there as a family."
The path to the 2013 draft hasn't always been smooth for the Rychels, as Kerby's OHL career started with some controversy. Windsor led the Barrie Colts 2-0 in the 2010 league final when Barrie selected Kerby with its first-round pick in the 2010 OHL Draft. This came after Warren Rychel had sent a note to the rest of the league stating that he planned on drafting Kerby in the second round -- a common request in the league.
In the midst of Rychel-gate, Windsor beat Barrie on the way to its second straight Memorial Cup. Weeks later, before ever suiting up for Barrie, the Colts traded Kerby to Mississauga, which subsequently dealt him to Windsor in January 2011.
By then, the younger Rychel was no stranger to the Spitfires. At age 13, Kerby was spending all his spare time around a powerhouse OHL club that saw five of its players taken in the first round of NHL drafts between 2008 and 2010. Even this summer, following the team's first losing season in five years, the Spitfires had four players picked in the 2012 draft. It's an impressive legacy that helped the younger Rychel get to this point.
"It was definitely cool," Kerby said. "They had so many good players. It was cool to follow them around and see how they prepare for games and practice. They won back-to-back Memorial Cups. They know how to win. It's good to implement that in my game."
Through Kerby Rychel's journey to next summer's draft, his dad has been the most consistent force. Warren Rychel has been there to share a father's wisdom and experience, and as a team owner and general manager, he's been all business with the potential first-rounder.
"I've always been tough on him," Warren said. "We don't pull any punches. We tell them what exactly is expected. I've been telling Kerby that since he's 8. I've been hard on him to play the right way. He's been around here. He practiced with us when he was younger. He saw those Memorial Cup teams. He saw what skill and hard work can do. A lot of guys have gone on [to the NHL]."
With an additional year of development, Kerby Rychel could add his name to that list of Spitfires who have moved on to the next level. And this time, his father definitely won't need to remind him of the stakes.
"He knows it's a big year. There's no hiding it," Warren said. "I think he just needs to go out and enjoy the game, and let the chips fall where they may."
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