There’s an old Billy Joel song that’s titled “Only The Good Die Young.” Unfortunately that could be the theme song for Rick Rypien.
According to RCMP in Coleman Alberta, Rypien, a rugged forward for the Winnipeg Jets was found dead at his home on Monday afternoon at the tender age of 27. The Mounties are ruling the death not suspicious which rules out foul play.
Rypien played the game tough. I first saw him in 2005 while he was a junior with the Regina Pats. At that time the Pats were the worst team in the WHL and were very young. Rypien was the captain of that team and he really stood out for the Pats. A fast skater who wasn’t afraid to get his nose dirty, Rypien was one of the smallest players on the team despite being the elder statesman.
The Pats were playing the Brandon Wheat Kings that night at the MTS Centre and I was there to watch goal scoring phenom Eric Fehr. While Fehr did pot a couple of goals that night, it was Rypien who made the biggest impression on me and on Craig Heisinger.
Heisinger was the GM of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and liked what he saw from this tough raw kid. As soon as the Pats season was over, Heisinger signed Rypien to his first pro contract. In his first game with the Moose, Rypien got into a scrap with a much bigger opponent. That didn’t matter for Rypien who played by the motto; “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
Rypien won the fight and the hearts of hockey fans in the province of Manitoba. It wasn’t long until the parent club of the Moose, the Vancouver Canucks came a calling. The Canucks had plenty of skill with the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund, and Brendan Morrison at the time. What they needed was some grit and character. Enter Rick Rypien.
Rypien played the same hard-nosed style in Vancouver and just like in Winnipeg, he won the hearts of fans in Vancouver. The sky seemed to be the limit for Rick Rypien.
But underneath it all, there was a bigger much nastier opponent Rypien had to deal with. Depression. While most did not know his secret Rypien couldn’t hide it forever and subsequently took a leave of absence from the team. No one knew why…except Craig Heisinger. The two became very close during Rypien’s time with the Moose. So much so that Rypien confided with Heisinger about the secret. Heisinger understood and supported Rypien as much as he could.
When Rypien returned to the Canucks he got into a tussle with some Minnesota Wild fans and was suspended 6 games by the NHL. Rypien needed help and sought counselling to help combat depression.
After months of heavy counselling Rypien was sent down to the Moose as he tried to regain momentum of his career. When the season ended, Rypien became an unrestricted free agent as the Canucks chose not to re-sign him. Meanwhile Heisinger and the rest of True North Inc. were getting set to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Winnipeg.
When the Winnipeg Jets were reborn one of the first moves they made was to sign Rypien to a one year deal. Rypien seemed ecstatic about the move. He was getting a fresh start in a city that he was familiar with and he was around people he trusted.
But depression reared its ugly head again and Rypien just couldn’t slay the dragon. We will never know what type of pain Rypien was going through. Nor will we know the pain his family and friends are dealing with right now. All we can hope for is that Rick Rypien has found peace and that he is in a better place.
RIP Rick Rypien. Only The Good Die Young!