By Jeff Paterson
His name is Rick Rypien. But for far too long in his short National Hockey League career, he's been more like Rick Rehabbin'.
From a broken leg a year ago to a broken finger at the start of this season to the torn groin he suffered in December which currently has him out of action, Rypien has seen enough of the Canucks medical room and gym to last a lifetime.
But now, the 22-year-old Coleman, Alberta native can see something else - the light at the end of the tunnel.
He's been back on skates a few times in the past couple of weeks and after the All-Star break ramped up his rehabilitation with a 35-minute on ice-session with Canucks strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi before the rest of the Canucks practiced at GM Place.
"It's good to be back on the ice. That makes a big difference. I'm just happy to be back out there and want to do whatever I can to get back as soon as I can," Rypien tells Canucks.com. "Originally they were telling me 10-12 weeks and I think I'm working on week seven, so to be on the ice at this point, I think I'm pretty lucky."
And returning to the ice is a welcome change from the countless hours Rypien has spent recently doing dryland training to help the recovery process.
"The gym has gone good. I'm doing pretty much everything in the gym, but you do get sick of it after a while," he says with a laugh. "But that's what you've got to do, so you just keep plugging away." PLUGGING AWAY
And plugging away aptly describes Rick Rypien's rise through the hockey ranks. Undrafted after four seasons with the Regina Pats, Rypien joined the Manitoba Moose on a pro-tryout basis at the end of the 2004-05 season and impressed enough in his brief stint there to earn a contract. Half a season later, halfway through his first full season as a pro, he was called-up by the Canucks and scored in his NHL debut banging home a rebound in a game against Edmonton on December 21, 2005.
Unfortunately that remains his NHL highlight because he simply hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to contribute on a regular basis. Just four games after that memorable debut, Rypien broke his leg in a New Year's Eve game in Minnesota.
Then after a sensational prospects camp and a strong main camp last September, Rypien had earned a spot on the big club to start the season. The only problem was he injured his hand in a preseason fight against Anaheim and was forced to start the year in Manitoba.
When he got the call from the Canucks for a December 2nd game versus Colorado, Rypien wasted no time doing what was expected of him. He stapled the Avs' Brett Clark to the end boards with a big hit on the game's first shift and then gamely answered the bell when Colorado's Ian Laperriere came calling.
Rypien, when healthy, is an energy guy. Despite a relatively small-stature (5'11" and 170 pounds), he plays a big man's game fearlessly forechecking and hitting anything that gets in his way.
Unfortunately, that robust style seems to have taken its toll on Rypien. And near the end of the first period of his second game of this season with the Canucks, Rypien suffered a partial tear of the right groin. That was the last time he had seen the ice until the recent rehab sessions.
"I got back on the ice last week and started skating again, not every day, but just gradually building up to it. So far that's going good and we'll just see what the doctors have to say from here. My guess is it could still be a week to two weeks, but I have to see what the doctor says," he says. "It's about getting the strength back and the range of motion and trying to be pain-free. And for the most part is and has been pain-free, but there's still a couple things that you normally shouldn't feel when you skate that I have to get over. It is a slow process, but every day feels like it's coming around. So it's good."
Rick Rypien knows that it's never a good thing to have suffered almost as many injuries in the NHL (3) as games played in the world's best league (7). But he's trying to take it all in stride and not get frustrated by the fact his career has hit a few speed bumps in its early stages.
"I don't think it's any easier (to go through injuries), that's for sure. I think this is more frustrating than the last one and it's definitely harder too. Even last year, I thought 'get that one out of the way and that was it'. And then with the hand at the start of the year and I thought that was the last one and then this one came along," he says. "So it's been a bad run of injuries but you can't predict when they're going to happen and you have to make the most of your time off so it's a quicker recovery and you're ready to go when you come back." SAME OLD RYP
And now, although no firm date has been set, Rypien can at least sense an imminent return to the game he loves. And he vows that when he steps back onto the ice, he'll play the same rambunctious style he always has. That's what got him to the NHL and he knows that is what's going to keep him in the league.
"Nothing is going to change from my end. I'll go out there and do the same things and play the same game and I think the way I play, injuries are bound to happen," he adds. "But let's just hope it's not for a while again." As for how the Canucks will use Rypien when he's cleared to play, that remains very much up in the air.
"I'm not too sure really what's going to happen," he says. "But like anything, for me, it's almost like starting over and I've got to go out and prove myself again. If that's the case, then I'll approach it with that attitude and see what happens from there."
"Ryp's just been back on skates in the last week here and he's probably two weeks to a month away from returning, so we'll just have to see where we are personnel-wise and make the best decision for the organization," says Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault.
And Rick Rypien is hoping the best thing for the organization is having him around for the stretch drive and then a long run into the playoffs.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com