For now, at least, Lethbridge is home for Derek Ryckman.
And the Red Deer native is glad to be home.
After opening the season with eight straight road games due to renovations at their own facility, Ryckman and his Lethbridge Hurricanes teammates will — finally — play in front of their own fans tonight at the Enmax Centre.
“It’s definitely a relief to be home. We were practising at an old minor hockey rink in Lethbridge and just got back into Enmax this week,” said Ryckman.
The Hurricanes enter tonight’s meeting with the Edmonton Oil Kings riding a two-game winning streak, courtesy of 5-2 and 9-2 victories at Prince George last weekend. On a negative note, the back-to-back triumphs were the first two of the season for the ‘Canes, who took a 0-6-0-0 record into Prince George.
“Winning the last two games was a real confidence builder for everyone on our team, it was huge to get the monkey off our backs. Guys like Carter (Ashton) and (Carter) Bancks started to get their points, like we expected they would, so the wins were good for everyone.”
Ryckman, a sixth-round selection of the Hurricanes in the 2007 bantam draft, is in his second season with Lethbridge after arriving basically a year ahead of schedule.
After playing the 2007-08 season with the under-16 Red Deer IROC Chiefs, the six-foot-three defenceman attended the spring camp of the Drumheller Dragons and signed with the Alberta Junior Hockey League team. He returned to the Dragons’ main camp in August before registering for the Hurricanes’ camp a week later.
“I was thinking that if I didn’t make it in Lethbridge last year, I would go play in Drumheller,” said Ryckman. “They (Hurricanes) told me right off the start that I wasn’t in the race to make the team last year, but for sure I’d be there the following season. But I came into camp with a positive attitude and beat out the other 16-year-olds who were supposed to be ahead of me.”
All along, Ryckman was committed to playing in the WHL.
“I knew Lethbridge wanted to sign me and play me in exhibition games,” he said. “It was a decision that my mother and I had made. I thought the WHL was the better way to go for me in making it to the next level.”
Ryckman, who is pointless with 21 minutes in penalties in eight games this season, admitted that he’s anything but a flashy rearguard.
“I’m definitely a stay-at-home defenceman who takes pride in making a good first pass and being strong one-on-one,” he offered.
Personal facts aside, Ryckman is now solely focused on helping his team continue to battle back from a slow start.
The rangy defenceman suggested that the Hurricanes are better than their record would indicate. The team certainly didn’t look like a cellar-dwellar during the majority of a 4-2 loss to the Rebels on Sept. 25 at the Centrium, a game in which the visitors held a 37-27 advantage in shots.
“The game in Red Deer was the first time all the players we have now were together for the first time. We hadn’t even practised together prior to that game,” said Ryckman. “Players had to get used to their linemates. We did play well that game but we were struggling with chemistry and the players didn’t know all of their defensive-zone positions and stuff like that. Mental breakdowns really killed us that game, although we did work very hard.”
Ryckman felt the Hurricanes certainly deserved to snap their losing streak two days prior to their first victory at Prince George, referring to a 5-3 loss at Kamloops where Lethbridge outshot the Blazers 40-26.
“We played a good game in Kamloops but they (Blazers) took advantage of another couple of breakdowns off the rush in the D-zone. People were still confused, but it’s definitely coming along now,” said Ryckman.
The 17-year-old is excited about the Hurricanes’ potential under the guidance of new head coach/GM Rich Preston, who was hired after serving as an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks over the past 17 years.
“He has a wealth of NHL coaching experience and he’s also played a lot of games in the NHL (580 games with Chicago and New Jersey),” said Ryckman.
Preston was also the head coach with the Regina Pats for two seasons in the mid ‘90s.
“He does have a lot of knowledge and he’s definitely good with the younger guys. He communicates well, on and off the ice,” said Ryckman. “He has a calm demeanour.”