Mike Rupp scored twice for the New York Rangers at the Winter Classic, tripling his goal total for the season. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
With Kevin Kennedy
I played in a house league in Cleveland, Ohio until I went to high school. Hockey was growing in Cleveland at the time and it was a lot of fun. I remember that every other year I was the younger age so that season was always tough, but the next season I knew I’d be older and still playing in the same division. I remember every other year would be my year.
I got into hockey because my neighbor was playing and I’d see him outside with a tennis ball and a stick shooting at the garage. Up until that moment, I don’t think I even knew what hockey was. I just started going over there and he’d give me a stick and we’d start playing around and then I told my mom and dad that I wanted to play hockey and so they signed me up for Learn to Skate and it kind of went from there.
I think I was more interested because none of my other friends were doing it and it was something different. I was also able to pick it up pretty quick so that helped as well.
I really started to appreciate hockey when I made the AAA team and we started to travel. I remember we’d go up to Michigan, Buffalo and even Toronto and I thought that was awesome.
We went to a tournament once in Windsor, Ont., and at the time I was one of the better players on my team. But I saw players at that tournament my age who were much better than me. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I have a lot to do if I want to make the NHL.’
As a kid, that’s hard to handle because you really want to be the best, so that was a reality check for me and that’s when I started to take hockey more seriously.
When I was in high school I had a great coach named Bob Whidden. He was a goalie in the WHA for the Cleveland Crusaders back in the day. One day he asked me what I wanted to do with hockey. I said I wanted to play in the NHL and he told me if that was true I had to leave Cleveland. I was in Grade 11 and that was a wakeup call for me.
Bob had a connection with Bobby Orr and he flew in to Cleveland to watch one of my high school games. I signed with his agency and went to the Ontario League soon after.
As a kid I played all kinds of sports. I didn’t play hockey all year-round. I played baseball in the summer and basketball at the same time as hockey in the winter. I think playing different sports helped me.
I knew a lot of kids who played 365 days a year and they ended up not enjoying it and burning out. Even today I don’t skate over the summer. I stay fit and I work out, but I try and stay away from the rink for about two months. When training camp comes around I’m hungry to get back on the ice.
I also think that, if you just play hockey, you lose some athleticism that you can gain from playing other sports. It’s easy to become a one-sport robot, so in the summer I play a lot of basketball and throw the football around as well. Some guys in the NHL can’t even kick a soccer ball or dribble a basketball.
I want to be an athlete not just a hockey player.