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.
2011 NHL Playoffs - 2011 Presidents Trophy winners exorcize their 1st demon. Vancouver Canucks beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to advance to round 2.
April 26, 2011 is a day that fans of the Vancouver Canucks will hold in nearly the same light as June 11, 1994 is, or May 6, 1982. Of course, those dates are known by many fans as the dates of the Canucks last Stanley Cup finals win, game 6 vs the New York Rangers and of course the date that the Canucks won their first Campbell Conference trophy with a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks to advanced to their first Stanley Cup Finals.
The date of April 26th 2011, although it is the date of nothing more than a 1st round victory that enables them to advance to the 2nd round for the 4th time in 5 years is a theraputic date for both the fans & players of the Canucks. It is the day their team was finally able to slay the mental beast of the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the 2 playoff years prior the Canucks ended up with the Hawks in round 2 of the playoffs. In both of those series the Canucks started the series off on top. Being up 1-0 & 2-1 in 2009 was not enough, as they would eventually crumble after that going out in 6 games. In 2010, the chance to get revenge appeared to be there, the Canucks were a better regular season team, but the Hawks, with the extra year of playoff experience were a more formidable opponent & despite giving the Canucks game 1, would eventually again end the series in 6. That version of the Hawks went on to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, in the salary cap era, many notable pieces of their cup run like their heroic goalie Antti Niemi, scoring depth forward Andrew Ladd & power forward extraordinaire Dustin Byfuglien were tossed aside to make cap space.
Fast forward to 2011. The Canucks win the Presidents Trophy for leagues top regular season team. They win the Jennings trophy for best team goals against. For the 2nd year in a row they have an Art Ross Trophy winner, as Daniel Sedin equals his brother Henrik in that category. The top Power Play in the league, top in goals, and top in goals against. The Canucks appeared almost unbeatable. On the other side stood the Chicago Blackhawks, a team who backed into the very last spot in the playoffs after they failed to win a "win & your in" game & had to watch hopelessly as another team, the Dallas Stars failed the same task, giving the Hawks the 8th seed.
Many wondered if the Hawks of old would mentally phase the Canucks of now. In the 1st 3 games of the series, it looked absurd to think it. The Canucks won those meetings, taking a seemingly insurmountable series 3-0 lead. Then "it" happened. Somehow, somewhere, the nagging ghosts of the past got into the Canucks heads. For games 4 & 5, it seemed like the wheels had completely blown out on the Canucks road to the cup. Losing by a combined 12-2 over those two games, and seeing their Vezina candidate goaltender Roberto Luongo chased in both games. In game 6, they gave rookie Cory Schneider a chance to run with it. The kid did well, although 2 glaring gaffes gave the Blackhawks enough life, that eventually they would go on to down the Canucks in OT 4-3 when rookie Ben Smith added to the cities misery with a lucky backhand flick of his stick. While this game saw a far better Canucks effort, including that of Luongo, who came in for relief duty from Schneider after a minor injury. The consensus being they were the better team & were perhaps robbed by suspect reffing, the fact was, they were finding themselves in a do or die, game 7 against a team that has managed to come from behind 2 years in a row to steal a series from them.
On April 26, 2011, game 7 would take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The visiting Hawks came in with little pressure on them....
Allow me to sidetrack this for a moment. As an autograph hound, we often get to observe players in ways many others, including media & other players dont. It was evident to me, a veteran of seeing playoff hockey teams in various stages of preparation, they were TOO focussed. The little things were clearly an aggitation to them. They werent loose like in game 5, they were trying to avoid interaction with people, trying to look serious & all in all, trying too hard to be focused on the task at hand. The lack of relaxation & carefree attitude they showed prior made me think, they are nervous going in. They went from carefree & relaxed, to nervous & trying too hard to focus.
Ok, so back on to the events.
The game started with an early chance for the Canucks when goalless in 13 playoff games against the Hawks winger & 41 goal regular season man Ryan Kesler made a great solo effort to get close to the goal before he made a diagonal pass behind him to Alex Burrows who snuck in & planted it behind rookie goalie Corey Crawford. The Canucks would seemingly dominate most of the game after that. yet were unable to bury many chances. There was first Henrik Sedin inexplicably passing to Burrows on a chance where he clearly had the more open shot, Alex Burrows missing a penalty shot, and of course snakebitten Ryan Kesler having the best chance on a 2nd rebound chance late in the 3rd period that he put directly into Crawfords glove. With only 3:17 left in the game the Canucks got what many expected was the nail in the coffin. The Hawks Norris winning defenseman Duncan Keith would go off for a tripping penalty. The Canucks would have 2 minutes out of the last 3:17 with a power play. Game over, right? Wrong. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, himself goalless in the playoffs made a great rush towards the net that saw the puck eventually go to Marian Hossa who would direct a shot on goal, leaving a rebound for the opportunistic Toews to bury behind Luongo shorthanded with only 1:56 remaining in regulation time.
With the city of Vancouver's ego quickly deflated, Canucks nation sat nervously waiting for the start of OT. Once OT started they got some scary news early. Mr. Everything in the game Alex Burrows went off for 2 minutes for holding just 24 seconds in. But the Canucks managed to kill that penalty. Less than 3 minutes after Burrows penalty expired, he would taken a lucky break from a Chris Campoli mistake, cut in towards the middle of the empty attacking zone ice & slap a shot over the shoulder of Corey Crawford into the back of the cage & the game, the series, and the questions & demons were OVER.
The city that wanted this revenge so bad that they coined the term "3Venge" on twitter got their result from a hero they earlier in the series (myself included) criticized for his lack of offense. Alex Burrows had 3 goals in the final 2 games, and of course, the biggest being the series clinching game 7 overtime goal after taking the only penalty of OT.
Next up for the Canucks is Nashville Predators. While no one will admit it, and they really shouldnt. many Canucks fans are right now so thrilled with the result in hand they are willing to say "if we somehow lose to Nashville, its still a good year imo because we beat Chicago finally".. its a mentality that hopefully the Canucks themselves dont have. Because a team that wont practicallyeverything in the regular season shouldnt be happy with 1 playoff round victory... even if it was against their biggest demon.
For the record, there is a new demon to exorcize. The Canucks havent passed round 2 since 1994. In that time they have got to round 2 FIVE TIMES, losing to the Hawks three times, the Ducks once & the Wild once (which I was forced to witness in person during a game 7 collapse). But, until that demon comes to town...lets celebrate slaying this one.
Canadagraphs Hockey Blogs
From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.