Though his death was nearly two months ago, and his body has long since been laid to rest – for those of us who rooted for him, admired him and, yes, in the indirect way that sports fans embrace their heroes, came to love him – tonight Rick Rypien comes home.
Talking to my friends and other Canucks fans on-line, there was a selfish sense this summer that Rick Rypien’s memory was being misplaced. Every article we read of his life, struggles and untimely death mentioned "Rick Rypien – Winnipeg Jet." Though he’d signed a contract over the summer with the Jets, owned by True North who used to own the Manitoba Moose (the only other professional club Rick Rypien ever played for), Rick Rypien was always ours in the minds of Canucks fans. It should be mentioned that the Jets wonderfully paid tribute to Rypien’s memory during their home-opener, but for me, and for many others, Rick Rypien will always be a Canuck. We’re protective of the tough-as-nails little guy, and we always were.
Tonight’s game against the Rangers has it’s share of sub-plots: the Rangers are winless this season and will be desperate to change that against a "measuring stick team" in the Canucks. Ryan Kesler returns slightly earlier than most of us expected from summer hip surgery, after a nine week recovery period. The Canucks look to overcome the "Finals hangover" narrative that has apparently plauged them in the early going. Whatever. Tonight, for me, the game is a side-show. Even the return of arguably the Canucks best player is a side-show. Tonight is all about Rypper.
It seems that the ceremony won’t be televised, but you can watch it live at canucks.nhl.com. I’m sure thousands, myself included, will.
I can’t recommend Ian Macintyre’s piece about Bieksa and Rypien’s relationship highly enough. Having lost friends in similar circumstances, one part that resonated with me especially was Bieksa’s closing quote:
“He wouldn’t like it,” Bieksa said. “He wouldn’t want to burden anybody. He would want more than anything for us to win. I’m trying not to think about it a whole lot. It will be hard. We lived together, shared a lot of experiences and it feels like I lost a brother.”
Man, I’ve been there. One of my close friends in high school was lost too soon to mental illness and suicide, he was 19 years old when he took his own life. He was a unique personality, and something of a "hater" (one of the main reasons we’d been close!) and those types of thoughts: "he wouldn’t like this," were at the forefront of my mind through everything.
The commemoration of loss, and the celebration of life is tricky business – I remember after his funeral I went home to be alone, while our other friends went to drink and party. I couldn’t handle the revelry because Jamie "wouldn’t have liked this…" Now Bieksa was a pall bearer at Rypien’s funeral, and tonight’s celebration is hardly analogous to that. But I’d imagine that sharing the loss of an intimate friend with 18,000 strangers is going to be difficult for #3. If Canucks fans were protective of Ryp, just imagine how Bieksa feels… I can’t bring myself to understand just how difficult it will be.
For the fans, however, tonight is important. I remember Rick Rypien’s first NHL game, I was in the crowd. I remember looking up his name in the program, as well as Bieksa’s – they were the two players whose names I didn’t recognize. Then of course he scored a goal. I remember countless Rypien fights bringing me to my feet (this was before the sound of crowds cheering a fight made me squeamish). I remember countless exuberant conversations gushing about his impeccable fighting technique…
When we cleaned out my grandmother’s flat following her death last Spring, I took the thimble she used to sew with. I took other things as well, silly porcelain figurines, some of the birthday cards (totally illegible) that I’d made her over the years and that she’d saved with care. But the thimble was perfect. My grandma used to make us new pajamas every Christmas, and we’d open them Christmas Eve – it was the one present we always opened early. The best part about the token thimble isn’t just what it represented, memories, her favorite hobby – it is its portability. I keep it in the breast pocket of my winter coat. I wear it with me 8 months of the year in Toronto. That’s what tonight’s game is in some respect, the thimble. It’s a way for the fans to commemorate a fallen favorite, it’s something to remember and keep with us.
Tonight is more than just another a game, it’s a chance to say goodbye. It’s also a chance to say thank you, to Rypien’s family and his closest friends. Thank you for sharing him with us.