To most of his fans, Rick Rypien is the epitome of heart & soul. He was the guy, no matter the opponent, he would step up and go for it. Whether it was someone his own size like Brad May, or a heavyweight like Zack Stortini the man known affectionately as "Ripper" took them all on. Most hockey fans considered Rypien, at only 5'11, 184 lbs the "pound for pould toughest guy in the league".
Rypien seemed to have 1 of those "little guy makes it despite the odds" stories. Starting back in the AJHL with the Crowsnest Pass Timberwolves Rick showed that he was willing to fight anyone, with 147 PIM in his only season for the Junior A team, before moving up for 1 game to the WHL's Regina Pats.
Despite being undrafted in the WHL, Rypien's work ethic impressed the Regina Pats enough to give him a chance In 3 full seasons (and his 1 game 1st season) Rypien earned 179 GP 47 G 77 A 124 PTS 491 PIM in his time in the junior league. Rypien also proved to show leadership skills, so much so, the team named him team Captain, as well, he won the team MVP award once, the Molson Cup award for most 3 star selections & was named the teams "most popular player".
After his junior career completed. Rypien, undrafted by the NHL, earned a tryout invite with the AHL's Manitoba Moose (the farm team of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks). In Manitoba Rick had a rough 1st season, ending after only 8 games with the minor-pro team.
In the summer of 2005 Rick signed his first NHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks & had the chance to make the big club. Despite not making it to the NHL out of training camp, Rick worked hard in Winnipeg & eventually got a call up to the big club in December, and got into 5 NHL games. In his 1st game December 21, 2005 he scored a goal on his 1st shot. For a kid who couldnt even get drafted into the WHL, this was a major accomplishment. Unfortunately, in his 5th game, he would suffer a broken leg that would sideline him for a large chunk of the season.
The next couple of seasons would see Rick go up & down from the farm team to the Canucks. But almost without fail, the rugged winger would be sidelined by a vast variety of injuries from injured fingers to torn groin to a sports hernia. It was at this time when Rick took his 1st personal leave from the team. Looking back now, many wonder if this was the first major warning sign of what history would have in store for him.
In the 2009-10 season & last season, it seemed that Rypien may have finally put his past issues with physical & mental issues behind him. Then he had an unfortunate incident in Minnesota where he grabbed a fan. Shortly after that, the league suspended him for 6 games.
Upon his return, Rypien found it tough to get back into the line up full time. he managed 1 more career point after that, in a game vs. the Ottawa Senators on a Tanner Glass goal. On November 17th, 2010, Rick would play what most didnt realize at the time, his last NHL game against Sidney Crosby (whom he had 3 partial or full shifts against that game) & the Pittsburgh Penguins. He only had 3:50 of ice time in the game, and afterwards was given a 2nd leave of absence from the team for personal reasons. It was at this time that media and fans really started to wonder & worry about Ricks personal health. It was his 2nd leave of absence from a game he seemingly loved, this 1 was following an issue where he abused a fan. Lots of rumours were swirling of what his "issue" was. Some thinking drugs, others thinking emotional. Till this day, no one from the organization or Rick himself has said exactly what it was.
In March, he returned to hockey. He reported to the Manitoba Moose for conditioning. The NHL even helped with his return, giving the team a pass on the mandatory 2 week conditioning stint rule. This allowed the team to keep him with the Moose. It gave the team some salary help, it gave Rick a stable place to play and get his game back on track. It seemed like a good fit. On May 1st, 2011, Rick Rypien played his last pro game. A playoff match in round 2 of the AHL playoffs for the Manitoba Moose against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
As an unrestricted free agent for the 2011-12 season there was lots of potential for Rick's future. On the 2nd day of UFA season, he signed with the Winnipeg Jets. Showing his commitment & appreciation to owners of the team, who previously owned the Manitoba Moose, the team that gave him his 1st pro chance. Unfortunately for Jets fans, they will never get to see what Ripper could do on the ice for their team.
It hurts to know on a personal level that a guy I saw quite a few time, who was always personable, friendly and even a couple times, joking with us was suffering so much. He twice tried to deal with his issues at the risk of jeopardizing his career. Luckily, the team stood behind him and gave him the room they hoped he needed. Somehow, with all this support & help, it wasnt enough.
I realize this is reading more like a novel. I meant for this originally to just be a quick couple paragraphs & a thank you to Rick for all he did with our team & how he treated the fans off the ice. But I just kept writing more & more, because his story is just so hopefull & heartbreaking.
I got to see Rick play a couple times. Oddly, I only ever had 3 shots of him (that I am aware of). Only 1 in game shot, and a couple of him stretching in warm up. I added those in to the pics below.
This evening, just hours after the news of his death, some fans went to Rogers Arena and started a tribute to honour & remember him. I walked by there around midnight. maybe only a couple hours after the monument had been created. Several written messages adorned a pillar on the grounds of his NHL home. Some tea-candles had been placed in a pattern to read "R37R", his intiails, surrounding his jersey number. I am sure by the time I get back there later today, it will be a much larger tribute.
Rick, I wish someone could have found a way to make you happy, to make all the personal issues you were dealing with seem easier to deal with. My condolences to the Rypien family, to Ricks friends, and of course the rest of his fans who are saddened by this terrible loss.
EDIT - It has been brought to my attention there is a planned "celebration" of Rick's life & career for 2 PM, Wednesday August 17th, 2011 outside Rogers Arena. If you can make it, I suggest going.