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A fresh start

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
No one knows how to find the silver lining of a situation like Rick Rypien.

The feisty Canucks forward, who went undrafted after playing for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats but turned an amateur tryout with the Manitoba Moose into a contract in Vancouver, made his NHL debut on Dec. 21, 2005.

Five games later he suffered a broken fibula against the Minnesota Wild putting him on the shelf, a position he’d get comfortable with over the next four years.

The phoenix that rose from the ashes of his first of five injuries was that Alex Burrows was the Moose forward called up to skate in place of Rypien.

We all know that story by heart: Burrows burrowed himself into the Canucks line-up and hasn’t left since.

The road to becoming a regular in Vancouver has been a lot rockier for Rypien, especially this past season when he started the year with two goals in five games only to then suffer a sports hernia that sidelined him for 70 games.

The slugger that he is, Rypien battled his way back to appear in 17 games, including every playoff game, to finish the season.

An upside to his latest injury was that it gave Rypien a chance to prove he’s a fighter and that nothing was going to stop him from returning this year.

It’s that fire, passion and spark that prompted the Canucks to sign Rypien to a two-year contract on Wednesday.

For Rypien, who was set to become an unrestricted free-agent July 1, this contract is a fresh start, a new lease on a professional career plagued by injuries.

“The past is the past and I’m not even thinking about that stuff,” Rypien told as he ventured down the Trans-Canada highway back to his hometown of Coleman, AB.

“I’m always learning from those things that happened in the past and you carry that stuff over into what you’re doing now and I think the biggest thing is that it’s a new start for me and I’m looking forward to it for sure.”

The 25-year-old has appeared in only 41 games over four seasons with the Canucks and even though he’s been more of a mainstay in the press box than on the ice, Rypien’s presence has definitely been felt.

The impact his energy shifts, obliterating hits and highlight reel goals have on the Canucks is obvious. He’s simply one of those guys who can chameleon himself into any situation and provide Vancouver with what it is lacking.

“You want to be a spark whenever possible and contribute too and if you can have an effective fourth line that can shut down top lines and stuff like that, I think you’re going to get more ice time.

“Whenever you can be an all around player on a line like that and kill penalties and be relied on, I think that’s going to go a long way.”

This season was admittedly a rough one for Rypien and he is quick to shower his teammates, coaches and the Canucks organization with praise for helping him return to the line-up.

The drive to finally become the player everyone knows he can be is what has driven Rypien through the worst of times and when he was finally back in a Canucks sweater this season, he made the most of it.

It took him a few games to get back into the ebb and flow of everything, but he was his old self in the playoffs playing alongside Darcy Hordichuk and Ryan Johnson.

The trio routinely jump-started the Canucks in the post-season with an offensive or defensive shift that frustrated the opposition to its wits end.

The best example of this was in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinal in Chicago when Jonathan Toews and company had Vancouver up against the ropes ready to deliver a decapitating blow.

“We were stuck in our end there for a couple of minutes and I think the guys were pretty gassed,” recalled Rypien.

“Then Johnson blocked a shot and I got the puck. I didn’t have too much energy skating up the ice, but I heard Hordichuk coming in behind me and I knew he was just going to the net so I knew I had to get him the puck.”

How Rypien delivered the pass to Hordichuk was as unorthodox as it was cheer inducing – he performed a perfectly executed spin-o-rama that flustered the defence and set up Hordichuk for his first career playoff goal.

For Rypien, it was as nice as first career playoff assists get.

“Maybe it was a little bit of luck, maybe not, it looked pretty good either way,” he laughed.

“Guys tease me in practice all the time because I do that move quite a bit. I usually try to get a shot off though, I never pass it. I’m glad I did that time.”

If everything goes according to plan and he can get through the 2009-10 season injury free, expect to see more he-just-did-what? type plays from Rypien.

“Besides the fighting and the energy part, I want to do more of that and I think I can. Hopefully I can show more of that coming up here and I’m excited to do that.”

A summer of hard work and a few more breaks going his way and next season Rypien won’t have to find the silver lining in anything. For the first time in his career, everything will be golden.
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