Ryan VanDiepen isn’t the biggest player on the Skyline hockey team. But he’s really tough to miss when he steps on the ice. That guy wearing No. 22 stands head and shoulders above most players.
He’s one of those tough, gritty players who makes life miserable for the opposition while at the same time makes things a lot easier for his teammates.
Last Saturday, the senior forward really stood out in the game against rival Huron. And he proved that gritty and tough aren’t the only adjectives that fit him like a perfect pair of skates.
Early in the third period, VanDiepen came in from the left wing with only the goalie to beat. He fired a perfect shot in the upper left corner to give his team a 5-1 lead on the way to a 10-2 victory over the River Rats.
He also scored a goal in the second period to make it 4-0.
“He’s a pest, he bugs you, he fore-checks really well,” said Skyline Coach Jake Stripp. “And when he back checks he has speed to kill. If he gets wide on a defenseman he’s going to beat him just because of his speed.
“He’s really a well-round player. He’s a smart kid and a 4.0 student and that translates to hockey really well. When we talk strategy he soaks it up and learns really fast.”
Stripp, now in his third year as head coach of the Eagles, could talk about his three-year captain all day. He’s just proud of not only the quality of hockey player he is but also the type of person he is on and off the ice.
“He’s a fun player to coach because he wants to learn and easy to teach,” Stripp said. “He was an assistant captain the two previous years and is the captain this season. He just works really, really hard. That’s who he is. He battles with players bigger than him, he wins the skating and conditioning drills. He leads by example.
He’s not the most vocal guy, but if something needs to be said he will do it.”
What he’s been doing is captaining the Skyline hockey team to an 11-4 overall record and 7-1 in the conference.
VanDiepen, a forward, has liked what he’s seen so far from his team in the win-loss column, on the ice and especially with the attitude of his teammates.
“It’s really like a brotherhood with us and we are all really close on and off the ice,” he says. “We take is serious when we are on the ice, but we have so much fun in the locker room and always joking around.”
On the ice, the Eagles are certainly soaring to new heights and getting better every day.
“We hit a rough patch recently, but overall it’s been pretty good,” he says.
The Eagles “recently” lost close matches after winning their previous five of six games. They fell to Chelsea 4-3 on Jan. 15 and two days later lost a close 5-3 game to Lakeland before Saturday’s win over rival Huron in Chelsea.
The way they played against the River Rats was encouraging.
“We can’t just do it ourselves and that’s what showed in the third period,” he said. “We started using each other and passing the puck and finishing.”
They “finished” with six goals in that third period.
VanDiepen started skating at the age of 3 and was playing hockey by the time he was 5, playing for the Ann Arbor Hockey Association house team. He later joined a travel team in Chelsea where he played for seven years.
“Both of my parents played hockey so I think I was expected to play,” he says with a smile. “I was born into hockey. I played soccer growing up but I liked hockey a lot more so I decided to focus just on hockey.”
VanDiepen, who is in his fourth year playing varsity hockey for Skyline, makes up for his lack of size by playing bigger than everyone on the ice.
“I just go hard and I don’t back down even if I’m going up against someone six inches taller than me,” he said. “And that’s how I lead. Play hard and lead by example and hope everyone follows the way I’m playing.”
VanDiepen plans on studying engineering after high school and has applied to Michigan and Michigan Tech. His father is an engineer so he followed him onto the ice and that’s worked out pretty well so might as well follow him into engineering.
VanDiepen said he hopes on playing hockey after high school but “not at a very competitive level.” But the way he plays the game, the competitive level, no matter the level, will still be high. You can’t just pull it back when you are one of those gritty, tough, all-in hockey players.