By Ross Forman
Kacper Ryba gets in the Honda Accord with his dad and they drive to every game and practice that he skates for the CYA Midget Major U18 team. They have the route perfected at this point to, ultimately, shoot slapshots at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, the team’s home rink.
Their drive is 2 ½ hours – each way.
“After seven years (doing the drive, it) is routine and my dad and I have a perfect system of driving,” said Ryba, a left-handed shooting right wing who has played three seasons for the Chicago Young Americans. He also played for the Chicago Mission from 2011-14 and Team Illinois last season.
Ryba, 17, is a senior at Moline Senior High School and lives in Coal Valley. He’s planning to attend Iowa State University in the fall, looking to major in kinesiology.
“We’ve racked up a lot of miles over the (past) seven years, but the type of hockey I want to play is in Chicago, (so) it’s worth it,” said Ryba, who noted that “arriving on time with no setbacks” is the best part of their commute. The worst, he added, is: “Unexpected traffic, cancelled practice when I’m almost there, (and) bad weather.”
Ryba said they don’t have regular stops along the way, such as a certain restaurant for food or snacks. “(There’s) no time for stops; everything is well organized, (including) dinner, snacks, etc. Everything is prepared in advance.”
His longest drive is about eight hours – to games in the Detroit area.
Is it worth it?
Definitely, he said without hesitation.
Ryba has only missed practices when the weather gets so bad that it’s too dangerous to drive.
If he wasn’t wearing the red, white and blue CYA uniform, Ryba likely would be skating for the Quad Cities Blues.
Ryba often sleeps on the drive to practice, does homework and studies on the way home.
“The coaching (this season) has been great, on and off the ice. They show that they care about me and it pushes me to be the best I can be,” Ryba said. “Academics has always been important to me; I want to be a physical therapist, so I strive to balance hockey and my studies.”
CYA head coach Mike Greenberg said Ryba is a “high-end talent (and) a great student (who is) commitment to excellence both on and off the ice.”
Ryba’s hockey goals for this season, from a team perspective, are simple: win state and go to Nationals.
Ryba first learned to skate at age 3 – on a local pond. “My dad was very enthusiastic about me learning to play,” he said. Ryba’s first hockey game was in the Iowa Winter Games – he was the youngest termite on the team, at 3 ½ years-old. “We played on mini nets and I scored a bunch of goals. The medal is still hanging in my room,” he said.
Ryba and his CYA teammates had a memorable December run, winning eight games in a row, and he notched his first hat-trick of the season – in a 10-1 road win against the Colorado Evolution U18.
In 43 games, Ryba has 39 goals and 20 assists.
“(This is a) great group of guys and we all work hard,” Ryba said of this CYA mates, who are loaded with team-speed and size. “My coach trusts me to get the team going and scoring goals is how I make that happen.”
Case in point, the game against Hill Academy, played Dec. 17, at Compton Ice Arena in Notre Dame, Ind. CYA fell behind 3-0, but came back to win, 4-3 – and Ryba tallied the game-winning goal with 5.3 seconds left in regulation-time.
**Photos courtesy of Kacper Ryba**
Around The Rink With … Kacper Ryba
Favorite NHL Team: Las Vegas Golden Knights
Favorite NHL Player: John Tavares
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Tennis
Favorite Pro Athlete: Roger Federer
Favorite app: Google
Favorite TV Show: Parks and Recreation
Favorite Sports Movie: Miracle
Hardest Slapshot On Your Team (excluding yourself): Nick Johnson
Teammate Who, Someday, Will Make A Great Coach: Caleb Decker
Best Youth and/or HS Jerseys (other than CYA): New Trier Green, alternates
Worst Youth and/or HS Jerseys (other than CYA): Chicago Mission
Jersey Number: 21
40-Love: Starting in late-February, until June, he plays tennis.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.