TORONTO- Ryan Rupert enjoys stirring up a little trouble once he gets out on the ice.
In 63 games last season with the OHL’s London Knights, the 2012 sixth-round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored 17 goals, 48 points and a team high 120 penalty minutes.
Seven fighting majors, a check-to-the-head major and a slashing major factored into those figures with the slash serious enough for league discipline.
In November, after a 4-3 loss to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, forward Nick Cousins celebrated the victory with a taunting gesture. Rupert took liberty and two-handed Cousins in the mid-section and followed it up by jumping him to the ice. The slash led to benches clearing, six fighting majors and a five-game suspension for Rupert. Cousins also received a two-game ban for his antics.
“I’ve always grown up with that agitator in me,” said Rupert. “I always had a bunch of penalty minutes and some fights once in a while.”
The 18-year-olds not as big as most of the other players on the ice, listed at a favorable 5’10 180 pounds, but that has never stopped him from getting involved in any sort of altercation.
“Being smaller, I have to show I’m not scared of anything so you have to play tough every game,” he said. “Play the body every shift and be a pest.”
Rupert, who is from Grand Bend, Ontario played Junior “B” with the Lambton Shore Predators before joining the Knights midway through the 2010-11 season as a 16-year-old. His Predators club used to be known as the Petrolia Jets until 2007 and a Jets alumni and Petrolia native is Rupert’s coach in London; former NHL super pest Dale Hunter.
“There are a lot of similarities,” said Rupert about his and Hunter’s playing style. “He’s a gritty hockey player, one of the tough guys and top four in penalty minutes all time. That’s what I model my game after.”
In 1407 NHL games, Hunter scored 1020 points and retired second all-time in penalty minutes with 3563.
Serving as London’s bench boss, and co-owner, Hunter’s ways are surely rubbing off on Rupert, especially considering Rupert has spent most of his time in London living at Hunter’s house.
Rupert, along with twin brother Matt, tried living in a billet when they joined the Knights but it didn’t work out and their coach eventually took them both in.
The Ruperts resided with Hunter and his family seven days a week during the season. Hunter would cook for them, teach them skills outside the rink and even after accepting an NHL coaching job with the Washington Capitals, he would stay in contact just to talk hockey and give tips.
“He’s a good role model,” said Rupert.
Rupert will be heading back to London this season and the return of Hunter, who declined to stay in Washington, will only benefit the 18-year-old if he plans to develop into an agitator at the next level.
Matt, who joined his brother at this year’s Leafs’ development camp as an invite, will also be going back to London. The two will most likely play on the same line as they have most of their life.
The only time they have been separated on the ice was their last season with the Predators when Rupert moved up to the Knights and Matt stayed in junior “B”, but that was only for half a season.
While admitting it’s a comfort, and fun, to continue playing with his brother, Rupert has no intentions of being a package deal when it comes to making the Leafs down the road.
“Growing up with him we were always on the same line but if we play together it’s just a bonus.”
The Knights will open their training camp on August 28th.