This past Wednesday afternoon & evening about 750-1000 people came down to Rogers Arena to pay their respects over the course of a 6 hour event put together by a group of fans on facebook to celebrate the life & career of former Vancouver Canucks player Rick Rypien.
With solely the word of mouth and social networking sites like facebook and twitter, the small group of volunteer fans managed to create an event that hundreds showed up for throughout the day. With no time to plan, the group managed to make things work. With help from the local Costco, who donated chairs & tables to use for the volunteers the group of 6 or 8 people brought books of condolences for fans to sign, and received well over 400 signatures in there. Even more came down to sign the pilar that the fan tribute monument had completely taken over. The girls who started the tribute a few nights earlier were there to see the love & support the rest of Canucks nation felt for our fallen hero. Even though there was some apparent minor vandalism after the 1st night, the massive display that encapsuled all 4 sides of the pilar, the ledge around it and the ground must have let the group who started it know that their efforts were appreciated.
Below is photos from throughout the day of the event. Some are close ups of specific items or messages left. Some are quick snaps of people writing or leaving tokens of their appreciation. Some, are of fans showing their appreciation in other ways such as wearing a Rypien jersey, standing with a Canucks flag for what seemed like an eternity, and the group who started the monument all writing 37 on their wrists.
If you see a photo you really like. Feel free to use it. I WOULD LIKE it if you reference where you found the photo..but I will be fine if you dont. If there is a photo of something of yours, or of you, and you want a larger copy of the photo...feel free to ask me.
More fan tributes for the late Rick Rypien adorn the pilar outside Rogers Arena - and my take on the depression issue and how the NHL should be forced to acknowledge and deal with it
Its been a little over a day & a 1/2 now since Rick Rypien, the former Vancouver Canucks rugged winger was found dead in his Alberta home.
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.
By now, if you are a Vancouver Canucks fan, or even a casual NHL fan, you have certainly heard of the all too soon death of Rick Rypien.
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.
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