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With a vengeance

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Rick Rypien doesn’t have an off switch.

Since he made his NHL debut with the Canucks midway through the 2005-06 season, fans have become accustomed to his intensely raucous play; the rabble-rouser dominates his way around the ice with speed and intensity typically reserved for rabid hyenas.

Up until this year, that led to a stunted career for Rypien.

Numerous personal and franchise milestones has made this one of the most exciting seasons in Canucks history and one mark that hasn’t gotten much press is Rypien’s games played.

Despite being a healthy scratch in two of the past three outings because of the logjam of forwards bidding for time on the bottom two lines, Rypien has played 68 games this year, the highest total of his career.

Injuries have been as much a part of the 25-year-old’s game as thunderous punches; he missed significant time in each of his first four seasons while on the shelf and last season alone Rypien was absent from 70 contests with a sports hernia.

No doctors or rehab for Rypien this time around. Good riddance to them both.

“I don’t know if anyone else has been paying attention to it, but I have,” said Rypien, whose former record for games played was 65 from the 2003-04 season with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.

“From junior until now it’s the most I’ve played in a season and it’s a pretty good feeling. It was a goal this year to stay healthy and play as many games as I could and I think for the most part I’ve done that. To have that one full season under your belt is a really good feeling.”

With more games this season than in his first four combined, Rypien has set new career highs in points (3-4-7), game-winners (1), penalty minutes (119) and shots (58), while averaging the second lowest minutes on the Canucks at 7:14.

Rypien’s ice time is the most puzzling stat of the bunch - how does mighty mouse make himself so noticeable, deliver so much pain and generate so much excitement and energy when he spends as much time on the ice as the anthem singer?

By making the most of every second, that’s how. And that used to involve an almost reckless approach to each hit, fight and loose puck, but not any more. Rypien has finally found a happy place with his game where savage and sensibility intersect.

“I’ve just grown and matured as a player and been taking better care of myself on the ice, I’ve learned too that you don’t have to go 110 per cent in all areas of the ice.

“I’ve approached things a little differently on the ice, but I didn’t want to change too much in terms of the way I play. Better management off the ice in terms of helping my body recover quicker was important too, and I think that helped me be more in control.”

Although Rypien pointed out that after all the injuries he’s endured, “there’s not much left for me to hurt,” he isn’t chancing anything. Fighting anyone, anytime, anywhere is still on the agenda - he’ll back up his talk like few others - but Rypien isn’t about to resemble his Tasmanian devil self of season’s past.

Confidence has a funny way of working like that, a little self esteem from a different approach to something you’ve done forever and all of the sudden it’s out with the old and in with the new.

“I’ve shown myself that I could play and that I have a spot in this league. Having that many games under your belt is good for me, but at the same time I want to keep getting better. Confidence is big and every year after this I want to keep building off of it.”

Tenacity and consistent play will determine where Rypien factors into the lineup come playoffs. For a guy who has made a career of performing rough nosed intangibles like hitting, fighting, forechecking and shot blocking to perfection, the playoffs is when his heart and drive matter most.

He recognizes that and is ready to straddle the line between new Rypien and old Rypien.

Sounds like a recipe for success.

“Come playoffs everything is more important and that’s what our line feeds off of is ramping our games up to bring even more energy because every shift is a big shift and that’s what makes it exciting.”

Rypien realizing that although he doesn’t have an off switch, his dimmer works just fine, is equally exciting.

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