Turner Ripplinger was two-years-old when Wendel Clark ended his NHL career.
Yet, Ripplinger has adopted one of the most popular former Toronto Maple Leafs captains in history as his favourite player. After his dad told him about the type of player Clark was, the Penticton Vees rookie went to YouTube to watch clips of the NHL veteran, who also played with the Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.
“I probably watch them over and over, they never get old,” said Ripplinger, who made his Vees debut on Oct. 1 in a 3-2 double-overtime victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Ripplinger loves the gritty style that helped Clark collect 330 goals and 564 points in 793 games to go with 1,690 penalty minutes.
“He’s not the biggest guy (listed at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds on NHL.com), but he was in your face,” said Ripplinger.
Ripplinger also learned Clark was a great leader who did the little things right.
Ripplinger met Clark at a Regina Pats game two years ago, which was a memorable experience for the Regina, Sask., product.
“I usually don’t get too star struck, but I was like, this is Wendel Clark. That’s pretty cool,” he recalled. “We just sat and talked about life.”
Ripplinger, listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, wants to model his game after the Kelvington, Sask., native. Ripplinger said Clark was hard to play against and the type you loved having on your team, but hated playing against.
“I think that’s the way I need to play to get to the next level,” said Ripplinger, who played for the Regina Pats Canadians in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League last year.
In his Vees debut, Ripplinger finished a few checks and showed he can keep pace in the BCHL. It was exciting for the 18-year-old Vee to play in front of a crowd of just over 3,000 at the South Okanagan Events Centre. He also loved the craziness that happened after captain Nicholas Jones scored the winner with less than a second remaining in the final overtime period.
Ripplinger said his first game was a good experience and that he battled on the ice. He noticed the difference of play between exhibition and regular season — the pace is quicker and players are bigger. As the season progresses, Ripplinger wants to get stronger.
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said Ripplinger had a good debut.
“It’s a big adjustment coming from midget hockey to junior hockey,” said Harbinson. “(I’m) excited to see him grow.”
What the Vees coach expects is for Ripplinger, who put up 77 points in 86 midget games, is to play a hard in a checking role. He will be counted on in different situations.
Along with a desire to reach the next level, what motivates the rookie is simple.
“Always trying to get better. Just making my family proud. Just to keep working hard,” he said.
It was bedlam in the SOEC Saturday after Nicholas Jones scored the double-overtime winner, 3-2 over the Trail Smoke Eaters just before the clock hit zero.
For the full game story visit Vees captain leads team to victory)
“To get that goal with 0.1 seconds is pretty exciting,” said Harbinson. “I think it sends everybody home with an exciting feeling and good taste in their mouth.”
The Vees escaped with an unbelievable win after Chris Klack showed patience and fed the Vees captain Jones with a backdoor pass for the one-timer past Smoke Eaters Zach Dyment, who finished with 43 saves to earn the third star.
Also scoring for the Vees in the win was Jonny Tychonick and Grant Cruikshank.
The home opener drew a crowd of 3,037 people. The Vees next game is at 7 p.m. on Friday at the SOEC against the Merritt Centennials.