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Ben Kuzma, CanWest News Service; Vancouver Province
Published: Monday, February 05, 2007

CALGARY - Rick Rypien remembers the deafening din in the Metrodome and the blur of bashing bodies. But what he remembered most as a wide-eyed eight-year-old was the sheer will of his cousin.

Mark Rypien directed the Washington Redskins to a 37-24 Super Bowl win over the Buffalo Bills at Minneapolis in 1992. The quarterback threw for two touchdowns and had nearly 300 yards in passing to earn MVP honours.

"He took the whole family down and there were about 50 of us and all I can really remember is the noise," recalled the Vancouver Canucks centre.

"We went down to the field after and saw him. So that was pretty special."

Fifteen years later, that experience has had a lasting effect on Rypien. He visits the Super Bowl hero for two weeks every summer in Spokane for family golfing and fishing excursions and it's obvious some of that professional football grit has rubbed off on the centre.

Not only has the feisty Rypien beat long odds to play in the bigs - the late bloomer wasn't drafted at the WHL and NHL levels - the Coleman, Alta. native will return within a week from a groin tear to wreak havoc on the opposition.

They should tighten their chin straps.

Rypien cites hard-hitting Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher as one of his favourites, which isn't surprising. At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Rypien is built more like a field-goal kicker, but the 22-year-old lays out licks like a linebacker and throws rapid punches like a pugilist.

"My dad and brother are pretty quiet guys but if you get them fired up at the right time they get going, so maybe I picked it up from them," said Rypien.

In just nine NHL regular-season games, Rypien has drawn plaudits for tenacity and toughness. He's had three bouts at the NHL level - his latest being a decision Colorado's Ian Laperriere on Dec. 2 - and 17 in the AHL and nobody can remember him losing one.

"He doesn't look that tough and guys take him for granted, but once he starts throwing punches they find out he's the real thing," said Canucks winger Alexandre Burrows. "But it's not only that. He really gets in on the forecheck and is a big energy guy for us."

This all started when the Manitoba Moose saw something in Rypien and signed the Regina Pats grad to a tryout deal before the 2004-05 playoffs. The Canucks were so impressed they came calling with a three-year deal the following November.

"I didn't want to quit playing and I felt I could get better every year," said Rypien. "I still haven't peaked out and that's driving me because it's going to be interesting to see how far I come along a few years from now."

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