Warren Rychel was 25 years old when he was signed as a free agent by the LA Kings in September of 1992. He was playing in the minor leagues at the time, after having only a few games of experience in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.
At the time, his knowledge of the Kings was limited.
“I really didn’t know much because I was in the minor leagues. I knew the best guys they had, the Triple Crown Line,” says Rychel, who is currently part owner of the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
For Rychel, the opportunity with the Kings was one he couldn’t let slip away.
“I had nothing left, that was kind of my last kick at the can to make the NHL and I was fortunate enough to make the team,” Rychel says. “I was focused to take care of the business at hand right out of training camp, but it was pretty surreal to see how things went with this high profile team, we had our own plane. It was surreal to come from the minor leagues to that.”
Rychel came into a Kings locker room with names like Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille, and Rob Blake, among others.
“To get in there with these guys was pretty incredible. These guys were all great guys and they welcomed me with open arms and it was quite a first year there,” recalls Rychel, who played in 70 games during the ’92-93 season. “It was incredible to come and see how these guys let you in their inner circle.”
Known primarily as an enforcer in the NHL, Rychel took pride in his role on the team.
“There are good, skilled players on every team,” says Rychel, who racked up 655 penalty minutes in just over two seasons with the Kings. “You had to understand your role in the NHL and I had to problem doing that. I wanted to play in the NHL and I wanted to stay in the NHL, and it wasn’t hard to do that for guys like Wayne, Jari, Tomas Sandstrom, everybody like that.”
Rychel wasn’t alone though, in his role of protector. Veteran Marty McSorley was the longtime ‘tough guy’ on the Kings roster, and he proved to be a mentor of sorts for the up-and-coming Rychel
“Marty helped me a lot my first couple years – he was the heavyweight and I was kind of the middleweight, so it was good,” Rychel says of the dynamic between McSorley and himself.
To this day, Rychel still keeps in touch with McSorley and guys from his days with the Kings, like Kelly Hrudey, and Tony Granato, who have both remained in hockey. Rychel, who was popular amongst his teammates, actually returned to Los Angeles for the jersey retirement ceremonies of Gretzky and Blake.
There are plenty of memories for the Kings team that reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, and Rychel is quick to admit that season had an impact on everyone in that locker room.
“I just remember the fans – during the ’93 run the fans going crazy in the Final. Even though it’s a big town, everyone knew who you were – we kind of put LA on the map, going to the Final,” Rychel recalls.
One of the more comical stories Rychel maintains from his days as a King was the time non-English-speaking teammate, Alex Zhitnik, got pulled over by the police.
“He had a brand new car, didn’t even have a license, and he showed [the officer] his hockey card. That was funny,” says Rychel, who particularly enjoyed the practical jokes and camaraderie that was shared with his teammates.
Rychel has remained in the hockey industry, and being involved in Junior hockey, he has been able to watch the growth of hockey in LA from afar.
“The biggest thing is the arenas took off. In ’92-’93 a lot of parents put their kids in hockey, and a lot of arenas opened up,” observes Rychel. “The kids from LA are really good, and when they put their minds to it, they really do it. A lot of these kids coming out of California now are great players, so the biggest thing is the arenas went up and Wayne had a lot to do with that. Getting the excitement of hockey there, now kids are from LA playing in the NHL.”
Fond and grateful for his experience with the Kings organization, Rychel is happy to see the recent success the Kings have enjoyed.
“It’s good to see, as far as the Kings success goes, they deserve it. They’ve done a lot, the management team has done well there and it’s pretty cool to see,” says Rychel, who eventually went on to win a Stanly Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
Now, in addition to managing the Spitfires, Rychel is able to watch is own son, Kerby, try to follow in his own footsteps. Kerby, who was born in Los Angeles, is currently in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization.
It is true what they say: like father, like son. And for the Rychel family, that’s a good thing.