While Mike Rupp was thrilled with the team success the Rangers had in his first season as a Blueshirt in 2011-12, he is hoping for more personal satisfaction in the coming season.
Limited and pained by a cranky knee the entire year, Rupp believes he was not able to play up to his expected level last season. Now feeling healthier than at any point during the his inaugural campaign on Broadway, Rupp is planning on being more of an on-ice contributor in 2012-13.
"Last year for me was a battle," Rupp told me the other day. "We had a great season as a team, and being a part of that was something special and I will never forget any of that. But at the same time it was a long season for me after getting injured in training camp and then never feeling good all year---knowing that I didn't quite have that edge in my game, that push, and that some days were going to be downright bad. It was a tough year for me because of that."
Rupp appeared in 60 games last season, the fewest he had played in since 2005-06.He missed 22 straight games between October 27th and December 15th following knee surgery. And even after the surgery pain lingered and he was not quite right.
"When you get hurt late in a season, you just grind it out, you can deal with it," explained Rupp. "But when you get hurt in pre-season and then have surgery, and try and get back as soon as you can, you just aren't right the entire year. I love to practice and I love to play games and there were times where it hurt so much it was not easy at all to get out there. It's like Man, how am I going to get through today? And that's no fun at all."
Despite his constant knee pain, and time missed following the surgery, Rupp played a major role inside the dressing room, quickly becoming a trusted and respected veteran voice. Not only a go-to for team beat reporters, Rupp's locker was a destination for younger teammates on a regular basis, as well. And during the playoffs, Rupp's was a calming voice even at the most tense of times with the Rangers facing early elimination against Ottawa and Washington.
On the ice Rupp finished with four goals, an assist, five points, and 97 penalty minutes. He scored a pair of memorable goals in the Winter Classic, helping wipe out a 2-0 Flyers lead en-route to a thrilling 3-2 Rangers victory. And he also tallied the team's first game-winner of the season, on October 18th in Vancouver, when the Blueshirts were off a to a somewhat rocky 0-1-2 start.
However Rupp scored only one goal in the final 45 games of the season, and average only 6:38 worth of ice time the entire year. Limited by that knee, Rupp played more than ten minutes in only three games last season, inclduing the 10:09 he logged on Opening Night in Stockholm against the Kings.
"I am taking this summer as a time to go and get healthy," said Rupp, who signed as a free agent on July 1st of 2011. "The biggest thing was to get my knee to settle down, which meant not doing anything for quite a while. It feels good now and I'm building up the strength in my muscles around the knee. I feel like it's all in the past now, and I am just excited moving forward, especially with the team we have now."
Part of that team now is star forward Rick Nash, who was acquired in a trade from Columbus two weeks ago. Rupp briefly was a teammate of Nash's in Columbus during the 2005-06 season, and he is justifiably excited about Nash coming to New York.
"Obviously there have been whispers about this trade for a while now, and it's a big deal on many levels for us," offered Rupp. "It's obvious what he brings to the team, but I think it's also somewhat underrated how his presence alleviates some pressure off other guys. We have so much skill now, there are only so many players you can check, that has to free others up for scoring opportunities. You can try and check and shut down one major guy, but we have layers of talent for other teams to think about now. That should free up other guys to have big years here in New York."
And count a healthy Mike Rupp in as one of those Rangers who is counting on a bigger and better season in 2012-13.
Jim Cerny-August 6, 2012
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