After a seven-year NHL career in which he played on a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado in 1996 before becoming part-owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires, Warren Rychel has plenty of reasons to root for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Rychel played his first two NHL seasons in Los Angeles, making it to the Final with the Kings in 1993, and helped to groom current Kings players Jordan Nolan and Andrei Loktionov at Windsor. As if that wasn't enough, Rychel's first pro hockey coach was current Kings coach Darryl Sutter. The two won a Turner Cup together with the International Hockey League's Indianapolis Ice in 1990.
But Rychel's relationship with current Devils rookie and former Spitfire Adam Henrique makes it impossible for him to pick a favorite in this year's Final.
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"He's arguably the best two-way player around," Rychel said of Henrique, who spent all four seasons of his junior career in Windsor, helping the Spitfires win back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010. "In junior, he did everything we asked him. He's playing well, so I'm kind of torn."
Henrique's strong rookie season, in which he was nominated for the Calder Trophy before scoring series-clinching overtime goals against the Panthers and Rangers, can be at least partially attributed to his work with Rychel and the Spitfires.
After five years as a scout with the Phoenix Coyotes, Rychel purchased part of the Spitfires in 2006 and was quickly installed as the team's vice president and general manager. That summer, in his first draft with the team, he keenly eyed a 16-year-old Henrique in a talent pool that included players like Steven Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto, Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Bogosian, getting the teenage center in the second round of the OHL priority selection.
"Warren came to my house. That was the first time I met him, heading into the draft. It was a pretty cool experience for me and my family," Henrique told NHL.com. "And I guess for them, too -- it was their first year of ownership. We were really a family there. They're a big reason why we had success there, why a lot of those guys are playing in the NHL now."
To say those Spitfire teams had success would be an understatement. Led by stars Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis, Windsor became the first team in more than a decade to win consecutive Memorial Cup championships and just the third club to do so since the tournament was expanded to four teams in 1983. While Hall was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft and other Windsor teammates like Ellis, Cam Fowler, Josh Bailey, and Greg Nemisz were first-round picks, Henrique fell to the third round before being picked by the Devils in 2008.
Getting picked lower than a lot of his teammates didn't bother Henrique.
"It was a huge honor to hear my name over the speaker, especially coming to New Jersey. [Windsor assistant coach] D.J. Smith told me where I was going. He picked the exact number that morning," Henrique said. "It's really hats off to the ownership and the coaching staff there to have that many guys drafted. It's because of the way our development progressed there in Windsor."
Henrique was thrilled to be selected by the Devils, but Rychel found his star center's fall at the draft absolutely stupefying.
"It's hard to believe he was only a third-round pick. He's maybe the best two-way young player in the League," said Rychel, who immediately had Henrique work with Windsor's training staff to gain some muscle to prepare for the transition to the NHL. "I think Henny in those two years [after being drafted] really learned. You've seen how many guys got drafted ahead of him, 60 guys. I'd say 90 percent of those 60 guys haven't developed like this kid, because he's a winner and he does the right things."
As he plays in the Stanley Cup Final, Henrique still appreciates Rychel's mentoring -- even the countless stories about winning the Cup.
"I think he told us enough stories about it [winning the Cup] in the four years we were there. It's always great to hear those stories," Henrique said. "Obviously Warren won a Cup, and just to hear the experience he had, it's what all the guys want the opportunity to do."