On this day two years ago, former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home, just a few months after he had signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets. While he could legitimately play hockey – unlike many of the guys who played similar roles around the league – there’s no doubt that he was still known for his toughness, and what he was capable of doing when the mitts were dropped. While he only suited up for the Canucks in 136 games over the span of his career, the imprint that he left on the team and their fans is undeniable.
By all accounts he continued to be a great teammate, and friend, even amidst all of the personal turmoil he was fighting through. It was for that reason that there was such an emotional outpour from people who knew him, sharing their fondest stories from over the years. Then there were the fans, who could relate due to their own personal struggles, who were inspired to share their own stories with the world.
While it’s unquestionably tragic that such a young man with so much to live for took his own life, it wasn’t all for naught. His story, and that of someone like Derek Boogard, has forced the issue in shifting the discussion and awareness of mental illness from something that was long considered taboo to something that we’re all now cognisant of.
In the past two years there have been many, many beautiful words written on both the subject of mental illness, and Rick Rypien himself. I don’t have much else to add that hasn’t already been said. So instead, I’ve decided that on this day, I’d simply pass along some of my personal favourite articles that have been written for those that either haven’t gotten to read them yet, or would like to give them another look. After all, this is a day of remembering for most.
Read on for more.
"I’ll smile when I think of Rypien. It’s tough not to when you look back on some of memorable moments with the Canucks. Like when he took on Hal Gill or Boris Valabik despite the fact he was giving up more than six inches and 50 pounds to each of them. Or when he went toe-to-toe with Cam Janssens last season. Or the memorable three fights he had with Brandon Prust in one game when Prust was a member of the Calgary Flames."
"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."
"Rypien will be given the “former Canuck” label in all formal media reports because he signed with the Winnipeg Jets just under a month and a half ago, but that’s not right. The Vancouver Canucks were the only NHL team he ever suited up for. As far as I’m concerned, Rypien died a Canuck. Mind you, it doesn’t matter who he plays for, because this has nothing to do with hockey."
"Part of Rypien’s memory will be his unfulfilled potential, but the lasting image should always be of a man whose heart was larger than his modestly sized body – the way he fought for and defended his teammates, even when it meant taking on giants, some of the scariest people in the NHL. Despite towering over him, they feared the flurry of fists the little guy could throw."
"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."
"I didn’t know Rypien; not personally. But he was important and special to me in that sort of strange, inexplicable fan with a favourite player kind of way. When I went to training camp in 2009, Rypien sat on the ice to stretch and looked exactly like a mermaid. Mermaid was probably the most ridiculous nickname in history for one of the toughest fighters in the league but that’s what I called him from then on. He was fun to watch, fighting guys much taller and heavier than he was and making it look graceful. He was fast and an underrated passer. I really thought he had the potential to be more than a fighter."
"That day of his return back in March, Mr. Rypien said his main goal was just to be happy with himself, to be comfortable with himself. Behind a rough beard that hid his sharp jawline, he said, "Now I’m more aware than ever that it’s OK to ask for help, and people will help you." He said he really believed that his treatment was "only going to benefit my on-ice performance now, and kind of make me whole, and the more I go on I think the more I can talk about it, and hopefully one day I can help other hockey players that might be experiencing difficulties with whatever they’re dealing with on the off-ice." Mr. Rypien wanted to make a difference. He fought his depression. He asked for help. He said all the right things. He was not alone."
"Whatever ultimately caused this young man’s death, those involved – including the family – should know that this wonderful guy did know some happiness in his life which ended not because they didn’t do enough, but because the fellow upstairs decided to end his struggles down here and call him back. He had access to the best help that can be provided for his condition and yet still we are beset by this sadness. But not Rick Rypien. His sadness is at an end, and our prayers should be such that he finds a place filled with eternal happiness."
(Unfortunately, the articles which I just referenced by Arthur and Gallagher simply aren’t available online anymore. All I could provide at this time were some of the choice quotes from them which I had access to.)
Kevin Bieksa remembers Rick Rypien:
The Vancouver Canucks remember Rick Rypien:
The best of Rick Rypien, in 8 minutes:
Finally, if you’d like to donate some money to help out with the cause, feel free to visit mindcheck.ca (an initiative by the Canucks organization to help spread awareness about the issue that we’re dealing with here).