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.
This week, the class of the 2010 Hockey Hall Of Fame will be announced. On June 22nd, anywhere between 3 and 6 players will feel the thrill of having their names added to the elite list of hockeys best.
For the first time ever, women's players should be included, as the likes of Angela James, Cammi Granato, Cassie Campbell, Manon Rheaume, Dawn Mcguire, Riikka Niemenen, Katie King & France St. Louis might garner some attention. They will compete for 2 spaces alotted to womens players, with the 4 spaces allowed for NHL stars Joe Nieuwendyk, Phil Housley, Adam Oates, Eric Lindros, Pierre Turgeon, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Andy Moog, Doug Gilmour, Pavel Bure, Tom Barrasso & others.
So who will get in?
Who should get in?
Who really doesnt have a lot of hope?
Will get in
In my opinion, theres really 3 pieces to this puzzle that should be a lock. First would be 2 womens players. I dont see just 1 getting in because frankly, it would seem cheesy to only bring 1 in, as well, there is little to split between the two top womens players that are eligible.
American Cammi Granato, the Captain of the 1998 Inagural Olympic gold medal winning squad is first up. This superstar of the womens game will get in.
She is already a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame, The IIHF HOF, the HHOF seems like a reasonable step. If by some injust fluke they only take 1 female this year, she will probably be the one based on being more well known to fans & likely the committee as she still played till only a few years ago, being American, and having an Olympic Gold Medal.
Canadian Angela James, the first major superstar of modern women's hockey is next up. At one time, the highest scoring women's hockey player of all time, James was one of the biggest names in women's hockey thru the late 80s & early 90s. She has 4 World Championships, 12 National Championships, 8 National Championship MVP titles. A member of the IIHF Hall Of Fame with Granato, a member of the Canadian Sports Hall Of Fame & has the unique honour of having the championship trophy of the most notable womens hockey league the CWHL named after her. Before there was Hayley Wickenheiser, there was Angela James.
NHL star Joe Niewuendyk, will more than likely join the HHOF this year. With 3 Stanley Cups on 3 different teams, in 3 different decades. Joe shows that he had endurance & skill. Add in the Calder Trophy for leagues top Rookie that he won, an Olympic Gold medal, 4 NHL all-star appearances & the amazing NHL stats of 563 Goals & 1126 points & its hard to figure any way this Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1999 could be ignored. This top 20 all time career goals scorer is as close to a lock as there is this year for the men.
Should get it??
This is a murkier pond to wade thru. Legitimately, a dozen or so names from the list above belong. But realistically, only at most 3 more names can go in, as there is a cap of 4 male members annually (2 female)
Phil Housley- Although the all time points leader amongst U.S. born defensemen has no major awards or championships, it is hard to imagine the former career top scoring American (still 2nd to Mike Modano) not getting in... Especially when you realize he put these amazing numbers up during his 7 time All-star ladened career as a defenseman mostly. He is already a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame. It would be a sizable surprise if he doesnt add the HHOF to his amazing resume.
Adam Oates- If 16th on the career NHL points list doesnt wow you. How about 4 100 pt seasons, and 6th in career assists? Like Housley, Oates has no major awards or championships. What he ahs though is, consistancy over a 19 year career. With 12 seasons as a point per game or higher player, few have that level of regular production on their resumes. He also had 7 post-seasons where he was a PtPG or more player. In a word, amazing. This former 5 time NHL all-star should get in.
Might get in??
Eric Lindros- Once believed to be the next big thing in hockey, The Big E enjoyed a decent, but not amazing career as some had hoped. Injuries plagued the former Hart Trophy winner. But in the time he did play, he was a force. Going to 7 NHL all-star games, winning an Olympic Gold & Silver medal, as well as a Canada Cup and 2 World Junior Championships, he has lots of championships on his limited resume. Statistically, he doesnt register a lot of awe. Not in the top 100 in career goals or points, its hard to think of him as a dominant player. But he was. His first 9 seasons in the NHL, he registered over a point per game, also doing the feat 3 times in the playoffs. His shortened career may hinder his decision in this years voting. But for the next couple seasons, his name will get consideration almost every time, as the stats he put up whe he was playing...were impressive.
Pavel Bure- It seems silly to assume that a 3 time NHL top goal scorer wouldnt get into the HHOF. Yet, Bure is a bubble name to most. Once the most lethal scorer in the game, Pavel suffered continual injuries like Lindros. Forced to retire after 12 seasons, the last 2 only a combined 51 games, the Russian Rocket was cheated out of the chance to vault himself up into the career stats elites. Even with his shortened career, he still made it to 63rd in career goals. He has a World Championship, a World Junior Championship, 2 Russians Championships, 3 European Championships. A 6 time NHL all-star & the winner of the Calder Trophy, his resume certainly is full of success. Just not longevity.
Doug Gilmour- Just behind Adam Oates on the career points list by 6 pts & 1 spot is the man known as Killer. Gilmour is 55th in career goals, and 17th in career points. The former Stanley Cup winner has an impressive resume to throw into the ring. A Selke trophy for top defensive forward is something you rarely expect to see from one of the top 20 career points leaders, yet he has 1. Once nominated for the Hart Trophy, Gilmour played a tough gritty game that helped him to 9 seasons of a ptPG or higher rate. His playoff career stats are just as amazing. 188 career playoff points, puts him 7th all time. More amazingly, he did it in only 182 games. A career playoff PtPG player, Gilmour tallied 4, 20+ pt playoffs, including a 35 pt campaign in 1993. What might hold him back is his off ice life has been clouded with controversies.
Pierre Turgeon- A 500 goal scorer, and 30th on the all time points list. Turgeon has a decent resume statistically. Unfortunately, he doesnt have major awards or championships to pad the numbers. With 12 season of a ptPG or more, he will be considered. But the lack of major hardware will likely keep him watching the ceremonies at home.
Alex Mogilny- A member of the Triple Gold Club (World Championship, Stanley Cup & Olympic Gold) also has a World Junior Championship to pad the trophy case with. Best known for his 76 goal, 132 pt campaign with Buffalo in 92-93, Mogilny finished 65th in career points, after an injury shortened career. His 473 career goals gets him into 49th on the all time goals list. Much like his former linemate Bure, injuries prevented him from placing higher in the career marks. His trophy case however gives him a lot of consideration & maybe, if the HHOF is looking to add some european flavour, he might get in.
NO HOPE... this year
Dave Andreychuk- 640 career goals, 13th all time. all time leader in PP goals. 28th in career points & has a Stanley Cup. But never really was at the level of "great" for too long. Spent most of his 23 year career as a "very good" player.
Andy Moog- 4 time NHL all-star. With a Jennigs trophy. His 3 Stanley Cups with Edmonton gives him major championships. His 372 career wins puts him 14th all time in that stat, as well as his 68 career playoff wins puts him 10th on the all time list for that. Only thing missing from his resume that may hold him back, is major individual stats. Not in the top 20 in career GAVE, SPCT or SO will hinder his chances.
Tom Barrasso- 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina, 1 Calder, 1 Jennings, 3X All-star, member of U.S. Hockey HOF. 15th career wins. 13th career playoff wins. Not in the top 20 in GAVE, SPCT or SO though.
Geraldine Heaney- The maximum 2 womens player quota is filled. But Heaney can start writing a speech for 2011 most likely. She was elected to the IIHF HOF along with James & Granato & is 1 of only 4 women in the IIHF hall to date.
Riikka Niemenen- Regarded the top felame hockey player not from North America will get some consideration in the near future, but with James & Granato on the list for this year, she will have to wait it out. The only non North American female in the IIHF Hockey Hall Of Fame
Cassie Campbell- the limit of 2 female players is reached with James & Granato. But Campbell will get her day someday...just not this time.
Manon Rheaume- Maybe the most well known female hockey player to NHL fans because of her 1 exhibition appearance, she too will have to wait till Angela James & Cammi Granato have been chosen to see her chance.
Dawn McGuire, Katie King, France St. Louis- they have to hope to get in very soon....before the next batch of names start coming thru like Danielle Goyette, Vicky Sunohara, Karen Bye or Katja Riipi.
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.