Today the entire hockey world mourns the one-year passing of former NHLer Rick Rypien, who took his own life August 15, 2011 in his Coleman, AB home. He was only 27 years old.
Rypien's professional career spanned over seven seasons, which he split between the Vancouver Canucks and their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. During his tenure in Winnipeg, he became an instant fan favorite and a native son to the city, largely based on they way he played the game.
On the ice, Rick feared no one. Stood down to no one. Though smaller in stature than most other combatants, he welcomed all challengers. He played hockey with a brash physicality and fervor which Winnipeggers have adored for generations. Away from the rink, Rick was shy and quiet and stoic. Never did he want to be the centre of attention. A lot of that can be attributed to the kind of internal demons he was battling at the time. Nevertheless, he was a beloved member of the community.
Unfortunately for all of us, there was more to Rick than what showed on the surface as Rypien suffered through bouts of depression dating back to his days with the WHL's Regina Pats. During his second year with the Pats, his girlfriend was killed in a car accident en route to one of his games in Calgary, AB. The loss crippled him emotionally.
"Th[e accident] hit him pretty hard," offered Peter Engelhardt, the father of Rypien's billet family, to the Regina Leader-Post last summer.
"He had a couple of weeks off after that incident, where they let him go home and just deal with things. Did he start showing things? He had changed a little bit, right then and there. You know what? Everybody's going to, when you have something like this happen."
Through the pain of losing a loved one, Rick managed to persevere. He was awarded an AHL contract with the Moose after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2004-05, which he later parlayed into a two-way NHL contract with the Canucks. He appeared in 119 NHL games, scoring 16 points and amassing 226 penalties in minutes. Hockey was the glue that kept him together.
On July 3, 2011, the Winnipeg Jets signed Rypien to a one-year, $700,000 contract. The native son was set to return home. He seemed happy about the transition his life was about to take.
"I’ve got a clean mind, and, I’m healthy, I’m happier with myself than I’ve ever been. I think it’s going to be how I behave and how I act over time, but I’m just taking it one day at a time, and I’m more excited about hockey than I’ve ever been in my whole life."
Alas, the demons he staved off for so long finally got the best of him. We all miss him deeply.
Last summer's losses of Rick, along with Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak have left a crater-sized hole in our hearts and hollowness in our souls. The hockey community is a tightly knit bunch who will routinely follow the code to protect it's own. We only wish we could have done more to protect these three young men from the illness of depression.
That is why we take a moments pause today to remember and honor Rick for everything he was on and off the ice. To us the fans, to his teammates and most certainly to those who loved him the most; his family.
Though he is gone, he is certainly never forgotten.
Forever in our hearts. Rest in peace, Rick.