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Rychel savoring first NHL experience

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Kerby Rychel said he doesn’t remember much from his father Warren’s playing days in the NHL.

There is, however, one memory that sticks out from when his dad played for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (as we know, the “mighty” has since been removed the name).

Rychel, a toddler when Warren played in Anaheim, wasn’t a fan of the goal celebration at The Pond.

“I remember in Anaheim was that when they scored, the big duck would come down (from the rafters),” Rychel said. “I’d always cry.”

The only crying last weekend would have been tears of joy, but there was nothing but pride in the Rychel family as Kerby made his NHL debut on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. Rychel, one of the Blue Jackets’ three first-round picks in the 2013 NHL Draft, skated in the Jackets’ top six alongside Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson and nearly scored a goal on his first shift.

And thankfully for Rychel, that first shift came very early in the game. He had a lot of time to think about his first game when a long day began before dawn at the Bradley Airport in Hartford, catching an early flight to Detroit and then connecting to Nashville to meet the team.

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Were there nerves? Yes.

The anticipation? It was overwhelming.

So it was part excitement and part relief when Rychel, Jenner and Atkinson hopped over the boards for the second shift of Saturday’s game. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards liked the energy and aggressiveness in Rychel’s game during 10:36 of ice time, so much that he kept him in the lineup Monday without much hesitation.

“You’re sitting on the bench waiting to get out there and obviously there are some nerves, for sure, but once you get out there it’s such a good feeling and not something I’ll forget anytime soon,” Rychel said. “It wasn’t too bad. I was second up after the first shift, so thankfully there weren’t any penalties or anything, otherwise it might have felt like I was (sitting and waiting) forever.”

That game did not end favorably for the Blue Jackets, who yielded the game-winning goal to Nashville’s Colin Wilson with 2:12 remaining, but they have another chance to get back in the win column tonight against the Florida Panthers. The line of Rychel-Jenner-Atkinson will remain intact to start the game, and it’s no secret they’ll be looked on to create a buzz in the early going.

“Yeah, it’ll be really cool,” Rychel said. “This is such a fun atmosphere to play in and your first home game in the NHL is something special, too. I’m really looking forward to it.

“They’re both really good players and they helped out a lot, and made things easier for me with it being my first NHL game. Tonight, hopefully we can build on what we did during the last game and keep getting better as a line.”

Rychel was asked about his familiarity with Jenner from their junior hockey days, when Rychel played for Windsor and Jenner for rival Oshawa. Rychel jokingly said “to be honest, I hated him” when describing the games between the two teams, but said there was always a mutual respect between them no matter how heated the moment.

Times have changed since then and not only are they both part of the same organization, but they’re now line mates. Since Rychel was drafted in 2013, Jenner has been there to offer advice and also just to talk as Rychel starts life as a professional hockey player.

“(Jenner) has helped me out a lot, showed me around the city and helped me out since my first development camp,” Rychel said. “We’d always battle (in junior). I guess there was a little rivalry. He wasn’t my best friend on the ice, that’s for sure.

“But any time you become teammates with someone, you put all of that in the past. The way he plays the game is something I try to implement into mine.”

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