Reflecting on Drake Rymsha’s NHL debut with the LA Kings, the youngster’s father, Andy, shares his experiences watching his son achieve his boyhood dream.
From emotional and psychological standpoints, it is fascinating to learn of a parent’s reaction to their child achieving a dream, doing what makes them happy. In Andy Rymsha’s case, witnessing his son, Drake, make his NHL debut with the LA Kings was a time of both celebration and reflection all at once.
Seeing your child accomplish what they have worked so hard for so many years to accomplish may be rewarding in itself but to remember the countless early weekend mornings waking up to get them ready for practice or for games, preparing breakfast, putting their freshly-washed equipment into their oversized, sometimes repugnant, bags before loading it into the car before driving across town — especially during the harsh Michigan winters — sacrificing those few extra hours of sleep and not sitting in a warm house but rather a frigid arena. All to watch your child do what they love.
For Andy Rymsha and his wife, Ronalee, this was life with their sons, River and Drake — and the elder statesman of the family wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Andy Rymsha, who poignantly reflected on Drake’s NHL debut and the myriad of emotions surrounding it but also how his youngest son came to fall in love with hockey. Mr. Rymsha also touched on the lessons he and his wife, Ronalee, taught Drake and River along the way not only to be quality hockey players but quality people, as well.
The NHL Chapter Begins
We began our conversation with Drake’s aforementioned NHL debut: the Kings’ season finale on May 13.
“It’s an obvious answer but in an in-depth way, arguably one of the greatest moments of my life to see him out on that ice,” Andy Rymsha beamed. “Being a former athlete, a former player, to be able to know what goes into having an opportunity to have that chance to play in the National Hockey League takes so much hard work and effort, and to watch my son grow over the years and have that dream and continually strive for it, it just got to a point where just looking out on that ice, it was his dream coming true.”
One of the nuances that came with this past regular season was the addition of a taxi squad for each of the 31 NHL teams. Drake Rymsha had the rare privilege of being on the Kings’ taxi squad for the entire season.
Depending on the individual, though, some players may find being on their club’s taxi squad for a whole campaign can be frustrating. For an inexperienced youngster taking in the NHL experience like Drake Rymsha was, being on his team’s taxi squad for as long as he was nothing short of enviable. After all, Rymsha spent the season learning from plenty of seasoned NHLers, including a few Stanley Cup winners. This made his eventual debut a smooth transition, making things easier on his parents in the process.
“It was just a complete satisfaction for my wife and I to see our son go out and get what he’s always wanted to do,” Andy added.
Preparation and Celebration
With the anticipation of Drake’s potential debut looming for much of the season, communication was key between Andy and his son during this unique time.
“There were a few opportunities where he felt he was going to get into the lineup and it didn’t happen. And now when we’re getting down to crunch time there, we actually were talking a lot,” Andy said. “No one knows when that time is going to come. You just always have to be ready for it.”
But, when Drake got the news that he would be making his debut, he immediately reached out to his parents, who had a limited amount of time to prepare. While stress would normally play a major factor under these circumstances, Andy and Ronalee were simply too excited to feel any stress.
Andy recalled the day — one that will stay with him and his wife for the rest of their lives.
“It was a whirlwind Thursday morning,” the Rymsha patriarch reflected. “[Drake] shot me a text, and said, ‘I got an email today and I have to take two COVID tests,’
“And I said, ‘What does that mean?’
“He goes, ‘Well, you have to take two COVID tests if you’re playing,’
“I said, ‘So, are you playing?’
“And he said, ‘I don’t know yet. No one told me.’
“So, I said, ‘Well, keep me in the loop because we’re a three-hour flight to Colorado,’ and about 30 minutes later, he called me, and our conversation really lasted only about 15 seconds, but I was personally taken aback and excited for him, and emotional.”
In this whirlwind of a day for both father and son, the elder Rymsha made a point of giving his son a poignant reminder.
“The advice I gave him was the advice that I told him in many situations: You’ve worked your entire young life for this, you know what to do with your eyes closed. Go out and enjoy your first experience in the National Hockey League because it only happens once. I have zero advice for you because I already know that you know how to play.”
Of course, it came time for Andy to end the conversation, not just for Drake’s benefit, but for his own, as well.
“And I said, ‘I need to go now because your mother and I need to figure out how the hell we’re going to get to Colorado.'” Rymsha added with a chuckle. “So, our conversation was pretty quick.”
The Value of Hard Work
No matter the situation, those working towards their dreams will become discouraged along the way. This is why parental encouragement is so pivotal for children. A simple, ‘You don’t have what it takes,’ or ‘Your odds of making it aren’t good,’ may seem like harmless comments to those saying them, but to those whom the comments are directed towards, especially children, it could be the difference between feeling determined and feeling heartbroken.
For Andy and Ronalee, they made a conscious effort to consistently be encouraging of their sons’ dreams of becoming professional hockey players. For Drake, he was set to become a pro hockey player at a young age and, thanks to his parents’ unconditional support, that determination never wavered.
“The progression from the age of 10 years old, Drake Rymsha always said that he was going to play in the National Hockey League,” Rymsha stated of his son’s goals. “I coach young hockey players as well and nothing bothers me more when a parent says to me, ‘My son will never play in the NHL.’ And I look at them and I say, ‘Don’t ever say that to your child because they need to dream,’ and Drake Rymsha had a dream, and my wife and I tried to give him the best opportunity to fulfill his dream.”
Andy continued, elaborating on what every child needs to give themselves the greatest opportunity possible to achieve their goals.
“What that individual needs to do, or in Drake’s case, work daily, hourly, by the minute to achieve that in terms of working out, skating, doing extra, watching what you’re eating,” Rymsha explained. “It’s been a job for Drake at such a young age, and it is for all these kids that want to try to achieve their dreams, and even when you do everything right, sometimes you still can’t get that dream. So, in Drake’s case, I can’t compliment him enough for staying focused and becoming a young man at such a young age, to be able to put himself in a position to get an opportunity. It’s not just a Drake thing, it’s every one of those guys that have ever played a professional sport, to have their successes. The commitment that they all have to make is enormous, and to be a part of watching my son make that commitment has been wonderful.”
While his hometown of Huntington Woods, Michigan, is just a few hours away, a city as large and as bustling as Toronto can feel like worlds away, especially for a young teenager. Yet, for a young Drake Rymsha, he made the move to Toronto to advance his hockey career.
“He moved to Toronto at the young age of 14 not because his mom and I shipped him there, but because he thought it was in his best interest at 14 to go play in the [Greater Toronto Hockey League] to then go on and get drafted into the Ontario Hockey League, and to then move onto the pro ranks,” Rymsha recalled of Drake’s decision to move. “So, I think, ultimately, to put it in a full circle, the commitment that he put into this entire thing, I’m blessed to be able to call him his father because he’s just a class act.”
The Red Wing Influence
Being born and raised just outside of Detroit, Drake Rymsha and his brother had the privilege of being near a Detroit Red Wings team that had established themselves as, for all intents and purposes, a blueprint for championship success.
River Rymsha was born on Aug. 11, 1996, just 10 months before the Red Wings ended their 42-year Stanley Cup drought. On Aug. 6, 1998, two months after the Wings’ won their second-straight Stanley Cup, Drake Rymsha was born. Needless to say, both of Andy’s sons were introduced to hockey at a time when their local team was the NHL’s proverbial cream of the crop as the Rymshas enjoyed seeing the local Red Wings win the Stanley Cup again in 2002 and 2008.
While witnessing the local team achieve ultimate success is a highlight for any fan, being a part of that organization is beyond the dreams of most fans, if not all. Nevertheless, this was just the case for Drake and his brother.
“Both River and Drake had an opportunity to play for [the Red Wings’ local youth program] Little Caesars as they were growing up,” Andy remembered. “And, obviously, with that and with my friends, they were able to be a part of the Red Wings in that heyday. Darren McCarty was very close to our family, and Drake and River both used to skate down at the Joe [Louis Arena] — that’s where they had their practices. At a very young age, they were kind of just born to– skating at the Joe, it got to a point where it was a job for them at a young age. So, being a part of that entire environment their whole lives was great.”
While most young children got their first jobs mowing the lawn or delivering papers, Drake’s was at, among other places, the home of his beloved Red Wings: the aforementioned Joe Louis Arena.
“Al Sobotka reached out to me, who’s the Zamboni driver of the Wings, and he called Drake,” Andy began. “Al’s known Drake since he was about six years old. Drake actually was a snow shoveler for the Wings when Al hired him to shovel the snow in between TV timeouts. So, being a part of that atmosphere his whole life, I think you just grow into it being a norm. It was more of a daily ritual than it was shocking. So, being a part of that whole era of Stevie Yzerman and [Kris] Draper, [Kirk] Maltby, [Brett] Hull— I mean there are so many great players that played there and they were a part of it, saw many games, and were a part of it.”
Drake was also privileged to be a part of a historic moment for the Red Wings when they welcomed a future Hall-of-Famer home.
“When Mike Modano signed with the Red Wings, Drake was the one that handed Mike Modano his jersey at the press conference,” Andy added. “There’s a great history [in Michigan] with Drake and River being a part of that whole Red Wing thing with Little Caesars. So, it’s just been fun to watch over the course of time.”
Capping off a decorated 22-year NHL career that saw him become the first Michigan native to be drafted first overall to winning a Stanley Cup, Mike Modano of suburban Livonia retired in 2011 after a season with his hometown Red Wings.
Honoring the Rymsha Name
While both of his sons have taken different routes to the professional ranks, Andy has instilled the same beliefs and morals in Drake and River not only to make them the best hockey players they can be but also to be the best human beings they can be.
Years prior to his successful sales career with Warrior Hockey, Andy was a professional hockey player himself. This included a stint with the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques. With these experiences under his belt, the teachings from the Rymsha patriarch have gone far beyond what happens on the ice.
“At a young age with both of my boys — my older son plays in Europe; he went the college route — it’s not even a hockey thing,” Andy admitted. “I had an opportunity to have a dream and I worked extremely hard to achieve it and, like I told my boys, daily, over the years, is that my NHL Jersey hangs in my office and I said that it’s mine. I said, ‘If you want one, you need to go out and get it yourself because I can’t give you mine. Mine is mine.’
“It’s a commitment of working hard and doing everything in your power to be the best you can on that day. That was something that I told my kids every day: Be the best you can be today. And out of both of them, they’ve been very successful in their young lives.”
Of all the lessons from the Rymsha patriarch, though, there one in particular that stood out with his children.
“I always told them, ‘It says Rymsha on the back of your jersey. That’s your grandfather’s name and that’s my name, and don’t ever disrespect the name on the back of the jersey,'” the proud father emphasized. “I said, ‘You might not score three goals tonight but you better be one of the hardest working guys out on that ice,’ so, I’m very proud of him.”
After the game, Drake’s father couldn’t help but revel in his son’s achievement.
“It was an enjoyable experience and we were so happy for him,” Andy said of Drake’s NHL debut. “And then, as he came up, I gave him a big hug and I teared up.”
Before anything else, though, Andy made it a point to give Drake some lasting advice.
“I just told him, ‘Welcome to the club. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played one game, 10 games, or a thousand games, you’re part of the select few, I believe it’s less than 7,500 [players] to ever wear an NHL Jersey in the history of the league,” the elder Rymsha elaborated. “So, to be a part of that elite club, I welcomed him to the club and just how very proud I was of him. He played a hell of a hockey game.”
For Drake Rymsha, his debut was a successful one. While he was held pointless, the 22-year-old recorded a plus-one rating and 13:16 of total ice time.
As a parent, to put yourself in the shoes of another parent witnessing their child achieve and celebrate their dream is something that cannot be put into words. For the Rymsha parents, the reality of Drake’s NHL debut, as exhilarating as it was, only restored the deep-seated memories of their son pursuing his passion, enjoying the highlights while also resiling from the setbacks along the way. Drake, like his brother, River, has granted Andy and Ronalee the wish any parent wants for their children: to be happy.
Those countless weekends of less sleep and more coffee, the money on gas, the increase in car mileage, and battling the elements along the way, few would have blamed Mr. and Mrs. Rymsha for having second thoughts about their sons’ collective passion for playing hockey. For Andy and Ronalee Rymsha, though, those thoughts never even reached the vicinity of their minds, much less crossed them. Drake’s parents only further encouraged him and his brother to continue playing, to pursue their dreams, and to do so with good, honest hard work.
From Ken Morrow and John Vanbiesbrouck to former Kings defenseman Alec Martinez and current Kings blueliner Matt Roy, the great state of Michigan has been very well represented in the National Hockey League, and that will only continue. The representation from the Wolverine State, however, is only intensified with those who, like Drake and River Rymsha, were a part of the Little Caesars hockey program. These include, among others, the aforementioned Mike Modano as well as Kevin and Derian Hatcher — the latter of which was Drake’s head coach for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
Whether he will spend more time with the LA Kings next season or not, Drake Rymsha has nonetheless achieved his boyhood dream of playing in the NHL — a dream that, for Andy and Ronalee Rymsha, is the icing on top of their family’s proverbial cake, and something that they will hold dear to their hearts for the rest of their lives.