The fan tribute I photographed last night, with a dozen or so comments & trinkets had grown today to probably a 100 or so messages, several bouqets of various flowers, and more photos & fans visiting.
Wednesday afternoon (later today), there is an unofficial tribute memorial scheduled to take place in front of Rogers Arena outside the Roger Neilson statue where the makeshift memorial has sprung up. From 2 PM till 8 PM fans are welcomed to come down, and sign a book of condolences & thanks.
My last blog talked a lot about Ricks rise to the NHL from an unlikely past. Today however, I will talk more about Rick the person, his off ice issues, and those around him who tried to help and what this should mean for the NHL.
Rick was dealing with depression. Going on reports I have read from various articles & blogs today, this issue has gone back a decade. It was a serious & heavy topic for someone to deal with as a teenager. Looking back, his off ice issues of years gone by, very likely were emotional boiling overs of this past tragedy that he couldnt shake.
An email from a former team mate of Rypiens on the Regina Pats for 3 seasons alluded to a personal tragedy of the former Canucks player from back when he was a teenager. Don Washcuk said in an email sent to the Jason Gregor for OilersNation in this article.. http://oilersnation.com/2011/8/16/reality-good-and-bad
"I was fortunate to be a teammate of Ricks for the better part of three years with the Pats. At that time he suffered a horrific personal off-ice tragedy. As 17 and 18 year olds, we never knew how to act or help him through it. It was sort of just pushed aside and we never spoke of it. Perhaps if we were properly educated on these sorts of issues we could have recognized what was going on, and in some way made a difference. I have only great memories of Ryp and I offer my deepest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed and perhaps we can all learn from this tragedy."
Knowing now, what fans & media know about how long Rick had felt these feelings, the events of yesterday are all more tragic. He was just simply unable to "deal" with something that life had given him. We all have things in our lives, especially by the time you are 27 that get you down, that make you hurt. For some, it is easy to just battle thru it & move on. For others, they dwell on everything. Each disappointment or problem weighs on them far more than anyone, including their friends & family, know. This appears to be the path Rick Rypien had been dealt. Regardless what level of NHL accolades he ever reached, happiness was never going to outweigh the sadness he felt for issues from his past that were out of his control.
The Vancouver Canucks tried twice to let him solve his inner demons. They gave him 2 no questions asked leaves of absence from the team. In the pro sports world, that is unheard of. Many athletes arent even given 1 chance, let alone 2. But the Canucks saw potential in Rick, they liked Rick, and they eagerly wanted him to not just be a valuable asset as a player for them, but a better person. The NHL as a whole tried to make Ricks return to hockey as uncomplicated as possible. They gave the Canucks a pass on a rule allowing teams to only have players on the farm for 2 weeks on conditioning stints. This allowed the team the mobility to leave him down there for the season, to give him a stable environment to get his game back on track, and to not force the team into a situation where they might be forced to put Rick in a situation he wasnt prepared for, whether that be back in the NHL or on waivers, and possibly go to a team where his safety nets were not the same, if any.
The fans & media as a whole gave Rick as much room as you can expect. Yes, some asked some questions. Some even asked some questions that were perhaps too much. But they were in the vast minority. For the mostpart, the fans gave Ripper the privacy he wanted to deal with a situation that no one knew or possibly understood.
Everybody did what they felt was best for Rick Rypien the person. In the end, somehow, it wasnt enough. Did Rypien feel he was undeserving of all the accolades? Perhaps? Maybe something deep down made him feel that anything he did, regardless how well he did it, was never going to be enough for someone, or something.
Rick Rypien SHOULD have been a success story. He was earmarked for the storybook ending. A little guy who fought all the odds against men bigger & stronger than him, yet somehow perservered. He overcame not getting drafted in the WHL let alone the NHL, he overcame injury after injury to resume his NHL career. These are the stype of stories that you generally see & in the end, it is a feel good story. This sadly, doesnt have that ending, and so far, few if anyone knows why.
When he signed with the Winnipeg Jets last month, most fans in Vancouver & Winnipeg, where he played his minor-pro hockey truly thought "good for you Rick, good luck, you will do well there". All parties were happy for him. Everyone thought it was another step in his amazing storybook story. That chapter however, never got written. Instead, somehow, the author of the book decided to end it with a cruel twist.
Even those of us who deal with depression cant say "I know what hes going thru" because you likely dont. Its a condition, a disease that everyone deals with and reacts to differently. The NHL will certainly be questioned about what it does to ensure their players are of good mental health, and that might be 1 shining beacon of positivity out of this tragic story. Rick Rypien's death might somehow open the door to discussing a situation that pro sports as a whole refuses to engage. Mental illness amonst their athletes. They are, afterall human. They are prone to the same personal, emotional & physical problems the general public is. In the general public, in Canada alone, there is about 3500 suicides a year (not to mention attempts, and just personal depression). That number is primarily male, and primarily in the age bracket of 16 to 44...the age range of NHL players. So with the NHL's entire workforce meeting these 2 criteria, shouldnt they be more aggressive in making their employees aware that there is hope As well making the players aware of the warning signs of a colleague who might not be well? If anything from Rick's death can be taken away as a positive, its the hope that the NHL will take his death seriously, will work harder to ensure this doesnt happen again, and that someone else down the road will be saved because of those efforts.
If the NHL is having trouble finding a shining beacon to show help can work, perhaps they should ask Hall Of Fame forward Bryan Trottier. The former Islanders legend considered suicide himself over financial problems. He however eventually got psyhiatric help, and is still here with us today, on the NHL Oldtimers Hockey tours.
Whatever the NHL does. They need to address this issue NOW. Their hand has been forced. Rick Rypien in his last action, took the fight to the NHL. Ripper rarely lost a fight on the ice. The NHL needs to assure that the battle he had off the ice for happiness were not in vain. They need to make Rick's death matter. Not just for his legacy, which deserves it...but for their own PR, and more importantly, their employees.
Below is a few more photos from the tribute memorial for Rick outside Rogers Arena (where his celebration of his career and life will take place later today). While I was there, I ran into the girls who set up part or all of the original display. Thanks to them for taking the time to start that for all the fans.
Remember TODAY (at least when this blog was posted) August 17, 2011 from 2 PM to 8 PM outside Rogers Arena near the ticket widows (right across from Stadium Skytrain station lower entrance) there will be a celebration of Ricks career & life.
So far 460 people have confirmed on facebook their intention to show up.