I woke up overseas this morning to the terribly sad news that Rick Rypien had passed. I’m sure much will be written over the next few days about the former Canuck, and written by those who are much more eloquent than myself, but I still felt compelled to pass on my memories of an incredibly tough kid everyone called, “Ryp”.
Rypien was already a bit of a legend when he was first called up by the Canucks. And by that I mean within the organization. Sure many in the AHL knew about him, but he was still an unknown quantity as far as NHLers were concerned.
It’s said that Rypien, who was mentored by Mike Keane while with the Moose, would go after anyone who even raised an eyebrow at the decorated veteran.
“No big deal,” I thought.
Until I met Rick and saw he was under 6' tall and about 175 pounds. Rypien came to the Canucks with the reputation that he would take on all comers. It didn't matter how big or how tough the opponent, Rypien always wanted to prove himself.
As everyone knows, Rypien's years in pro hockey were littered with injuries. But this was not a frail kid. Once he was called up by the Canucks and Alain Vigneault forbid Rypien to fight as he was recovering from a broken hand. On his first shift Rypien crushed an Avs player with a questionable hit on the forcheck and was quickly crowded by Ian Lapperierre. You could see Rypien wanted to follow orders - for about two seconds - and then accepted the offer to what turned out to be a very spirited scrap. Post-game, Laperierre (one of the most honest players to ever play the game) said he appreciated him taking the scrap despite the injury and you could tell he also greatly respected Rypien for it. As for Alain Vigneault, all he could do was shrug his shoulders and say, "that's Ryp."
On the ice, Rick was all about his teammates. He loved to stick up for them. And you'd have to guess that's why the Canucks stood up for him over the last few years when he was trying to overcome his demons. The Canucks loved his work ethic, the way he battled and tirelessly fought to get back into top shape injury after injury.
One year, Rypien showed up at prospects camp even though I'm pretty sure he wasn't required to. Rypien set the pace in the drills and conditioning, setting an example to the younger players in attendance. He would crush the Grouse Grind in 37 minutes while the rest of the prospects were labouring in towards the 50-60 minute mark and then encourage them up. Thus supporting them while also showing them how hard they would need to work in order to get into proper shape.
Rick was a great teammate. Ask anyone. In fact two years back goaltender Josh Harding called Rypien the best captain he ever had (the two played together in Regina). Remember, Harding said this when he had already been in the NHL for a number of years. That is a great compliment.
I'll smile when I think of Rypien. It's tough not to when you look back on some of memorable moments with the Canucks. Like when he took on Hal Gill or Boris Valabik despite the fact he was giving up more than six inches and 50 pounds to each of them. Or when he went toe-to-toe with Cam Janssens last season. Or the memorable three fights he had with Brandon Prust in one game when Prust was a member of the Calgary Flames.
He was a gifted young man with plenty left to give us. And I was sure that he was going to. I kept in touch with Rick since the end of last season, exchanging the odd text here and there. He was excited about the opportunity to play with the Jets. Turning down two-year deals offered by other clubs to ink a one-year deal with Winnipeg. Why? Because he was sure that he was going to prove himself once again and earn a second year by Christmas.
I truly believed that Rick was on the road to recovery. Obviously I don't know the depth of the issues he was dealing with however it seemed like he was coming out of the darkness. More importantly it seemed like he wanted to beat what was ailing him. The Canucks kept what Rick was going through a closely-guarded secret, and for good reason, because they didn't want to force the young man to talk about his issues until he was ready to. And you know what? He was ready. A few months back he contacted me to help write his story. He was finally open to the idea of speaking about his demons. He wanted other people who may be suffering the same illnesses to know they weren't alone. He knew that because of who he was, that his voice would be heard. It is just so sad that he will never get that chance.
My thoughts and prayers are with the Rypien family.