This one-on-one dual isn’t a pedal to the medal exchange, it’s a back and forth dance that can go for rounds on end before any significant blows are landed.
When the opportunity does present itself to connect on a stiff jab or a lethal upper cut, you punch with fury. Strike with enough force and it’s goodnight Gloria as the canvas gets a kiss from your opponent, all this made possible by waiting until the time was right to attack.
Rick Rypien learned this lesson at an early age from his father Wes, a Canadian Golden Gloves champion, and keeping the importance of fortitude in the back of his mind was what helped the Vancouver Canucks forward battle through the toughest stretch of his budding career.
Rypien is no stranger to injury, his flat-out Tasmanian devil style of play has led to a broken fibula, partially torn groin muscle and an injured finger and thumb, all within the last three seasons.
He started this season just trying to stay on the ice and after a handful of games everything was looking up for the 24-year-old, he had two goals and a decisive win over Brandon Prust in a scrap where he batted around the Calgary tough guy’s head like a piñata.
It was a whimsical start to the year reminiscent of his first NHL game where he scored his first goal on his first shot in the first period, one that came to a halt because of injury just as it did this season.
Rypien suffered a sports hernia just five games into the season and combined with a personal matter that he was forced to deal with, he sat out 70 games – some players go their entire careers without missing that many contests, let alone consecutively.
MAKING A COMEBACK
From an impact player to a distant memory, Rypien was all but forgotten this season and even when he ventured back to the arena and started skating on his own in March, it was thought to be a long shot that he would return this year.
Rypien’s a fighter in more ways than one so not too many people were surprised when the cat came back two games ago – they thought he was a goner, but he just couldn’t stay away.
“It took a lot to get back here, but you’ve got to be patient and just keep working at it and you’re going to get your chances, you’re going to get your shot,” said Rypien.
“I’m always in the mindset that if you keep working that eventually it’s going to pay off.”
Admittedly nervous before he hit the ice in Minnesota for the first time since Oct. 17, 2008, Rypien has shown no signs of rust, he’s the same old hybrid of sheer toughness, unmatched desire and blazing speed that he’s always been.
Under normal circumstances a fourth line player returning to the line-up isn’t headline news, but nothing about Rypien is normal and getting him back just in time for Vancouver’s playoff run is the same as the team getting a character player at the trade deadline.
“In our mind, he brings a lot of passion and a lot of energy to the game,” said Alain Vigneault.
“He’s a physical player and in playoff hockey it’s a physical game and it’s very demanding and you need depth.”
Rypien does more than provide that depth, he transforms Vancouver’s already gritty fourth-line into a trio of mad men, players who can radically alter the flow of the game with one menacing shift.
They can score, they can fight and they can defend; they can do it all.
“The playoffs are what it’s all about and I think my style and the way our line plays I think we can be very effective in the playoffs,” said Rypien, who will make his NHL post-season debut.
“When we’re on the same page and we’re physical and checking and we’re tough to play against and not just against their grinders, but also their skilled players.
“We’ve just got to be a presence on the ice and let them know we’re out there and be in their face and not let up by having a lot of energy.”
Two games into his return Rypien has already displayed the toughness he speaks of with pride; Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks the 5-foot-11, 170-pound lightweight went toe-to-toe with 6-foot-2, 215-pound brute Sheldon Brookbank without thinking twice.
“It was a good fight, there were a lot of punches thrown by both guys and he’s tough guy and it was good to get that out of the way,” said Rypien, who is now sporting a fresh shiner that would make his old man proud.
“I heard Brookbank’s got a nice one too.”
It’s that kind of fearless aggression that Rypien adds to the Canucks, the kind of fearless aggression teams need in the playoffs, the kind of aggression that blossoms out of patience.