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Canucks and Beyond

Beyond Hockey: Remembering Rick Rypien

I always liked Rick Rypien, and it wasn’t particularly because of his game or even because of his oft-celebrated fists. It was because of his struggles as a man, as an ordinary person facing very painful—and painfully ordinary—struggles, that he always held my attention during his tenure with Vancouver and Manitoba. 

In a business that demands so much perfection, and where one is likely to endure so much condemnation for not achieving it, Rypien always struck me as a very courageous individual.

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What I got most from following Rick Rypien over the years was a far deeper appreciation for players as people, not simply as pawns in our favourite game. 

It was some years ago (2006, 2007?) when he suffered his first serious personal setback that I was aware of.  It was depression, it seemed pretty clear at the time, though I don’t recall now if it was ever explicitly stated. Regardless, Rypien didn’t hide from the debates going on about his career. He acknowledged enough for us to know that he was enduring a very difficult time in his life.  His private life remained private—meaning, the details of his situation weren’t all over the hockey news—but he willingly talked to the press about the fact he had indeed been struggling.

Rypien was not a superstar. He wasn’t even a could-be-superstar.  He was just a hockey player… but a very good hockey player, as evidenced by his steady AHL and NHL contracts, and one with an excellent sense of his own talents.  He was a strong fighter who knew his role, and while he struggled with that label at times, he continued to work hard, doing what was expected of him. 

Despite that, I don’t think the hockey-fighter definition always sat well with him, either. I’m sure more will be written about this by people with better memories than I, but I do recall an interview some time ago where he expressed that he felt his talents deserved more consideration than only being a team’s token “tough guy.”  He wanted to be utilized as more than that, whatever ‘more’ there might be.

In all honesty, I don’t know whether Rypien could have ever been a great deal more than the player that he was, but I do firmly believe he was more than just some random tough guy. He voluntarily risked a promising and lucrative career in order to try healing his personal demons.  Living in the public eye—not to mention within the tough-guy culture of hockey—that took a lot of guts. 

The NHL isn’t a business that tolerates imperfection well, largely because it doesn’t have to.  While it may sound cruel, there are too many players of Rypien’s skill level to make anyone irreplaceable. But in spite of that, he stepped away from his hockey career more than once in order to take care of himself, and then fought his way back into the business. Literally and figuratively.

Rypien didn’t bury his weaknesses, he faced them.  Or rather, he did his very best to face them, which is more than many other players might have done. More than many other people, period.

My condolences to Rick’s family.  I hope they know he’ll be remembered by some of us as much more than simply a hockey player. He may have lost his personal war, but I would bet that he inspired many people with his fight along the way.

I’m just so saddened that his story has ended this way. While we don’t know the details of his death, they can’t possibly matter as much as his life, where I often thought he demonstrated a courageous spirit.


Postscript:

It shames me to admit that I actually outlined portions of this post weeks ago, when I first learned Rick Rypien had signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets.  Even just saying goodbye to him as a player in the Canucks organization, I wanted to share my impressions of him, since he had such an impact on me as a fan.  But for whatever reason, I’d set that post aside to work on ‘later.’ 

Truthfully, I think I put it on hold because I wasn’t sure how to say what an interesting individual I thought he was without seeming overly-sentimental. But I deeply regret that now.  I wish I was sharing these thoughts about a man who was about to move on to bigger-and-better things in Winnipeg, and not as an epilogue to his life. 

Rest in peace…

Filed in: vancouver canucks, | Canucks and Beyond | Permalink
  Tags: manitoba+moose, rick+rypien, vancouver+canucks

Comments

GZ Expat's avatar

Well said…

On another note…the NHL may need to dive deeper into the life of a goon…this past year saw some tragic passing of some of the games greatest tough guys…this isn’t a random sort of thing.

Posted by GZ Expat on 08/16/11 at 12:27 PM ET

Alanah McGinley's avatar

I’m not sure I agree, though perhaps I’m misunderstanding the correlation you’re pointing out?

But I will say this:  when it comes to depression, I don’t think it’s a career-related illness any way. Even for a hockey fighter.  Rypien suffered from something that would have been a huge challenge to him no matter what career path he followed. And he suffered from it for a very long time, by all accounts.

Posted by Alanah McGinley from British Columbia on 08/16/11 at 12:46 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

As always, an extremely well-written piece, Alanah – filled with exactly the right mix of reality about, and empathy for, a guy that few outside of Vancouver paid any attention to. Your writing remains the “gold standard” for bloggers here at KK.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 08/16/11 at 01:00 PM ET

GZ Expat's avatar

I’m just saying…there have been an extraordinary amount of tragic deaths related to tough guys in recent years…perhaps this would spur the NHL to take a look at that fact and the broader fact of the mental welfare of all the players.  I’m sure they have programs in place, but this has got to bring it to the forefront.

Posted by GZ Expat on 08/16/11 at 01:11 PM ET

Avatar

his is a tragic story.  however, with the deaths of probert, boogaard and now rypien, there is evidence that there are obvioulsy very serious costs associated with being a goon.  what is also evident is that these role players are detrimental to what is required to actually playing the game such as scoring and defending. Is there any evidence to the contrary that they are nothing more than defensive and offensive liabilities?  sitting on the bench all game and to have four minutes of ice-time to smash one’s fist in another human being’s face and head is not what this beuatiful game is about!

Posted by Ray on 08/16/11 at 01:15 PM ET

Doug Miller's avatar

Great post Alanah. Having dealt with serious depression issues my entire life as well… my heart truly goes out to the man that was, as well as his friends and family. It might be cliche, but it really is a very sad and tragic story, surrounded by mystery.

As for the rest of you… I’m not seeing the same correlation between Probert, Boogaard, and Rypien. Considering the circumstances of their deaths were all quite different, to some extent. They may have all been enforcers… but everyone has issues and personal demons, regardless of other circumstances in life. It’s just a bizarre and tragic coincidence.

Posted by Doug Miller from Wyandotte, MI on 08/16/11 at 01:40 PM ET

shazam88's avatar

Really good post.

The whole issue of fighting, and those who engage in it, obviously has different angles by which it can be scrutinized.  I knew someone who came up through Philly and played for several other teams, and right from the get go he was turned into an enforcer.  He had the physique and his skating wasn’t going to bump into the upper echelon.  It was a big burden on him…it was his job but it definitely wasn’t his true character. Fortunately, he stayed healthy and didn’t suffer a plethora of concussions, got to play on some great teams, and is doing fine in retirement. As with MMA fighters, there are other enforcers that slide towards painkillers and develop opiate habits.  Physical and emotional wounds, I guess. Everyone’s story is different.

Posted by shazam88 from SoCal on 08/16/11 at 01:57 PM ET

Alanah McGinley's avatar

Older Than Chelios - Very generous of you to say. Thank you.

Expat - I absolutely agree about the issue of players mental welfare, and it would be a good thing if the league and PA were to focus on it seriously.  Clearly there’s an issue there, at least as much as there is in the broader community as well. 

Doug - Thank you. And I’m sorry to hear you’ve gone through such things.  I imagine there’s a great many others who do as well, but never talk about it, which probably makes it even harder to escape.

shazam88 - Thanks. And you’re certainly right… every story is different.

Posted by Alanah McGinley from British Columbia on 08/16/11 at 01:58 PM ET

petshark's avatar

Thank you for posting this, Alanah.  I do hope we are making progress as a society in the way we think, and talk, about mental and emotional health.  They are so fundamental to everything we do in life, we need to stop being afraid to talk about them.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 08/16/11 at 04:39 PM ET

KelseyAnn's avatar

Great post Alanah, such a sad story and your perspective of Rypien was touching

Posted by KelseyAnn from we have an NHL team here?, Arizona on 08/16/11 at 05:39 PM ET

GZ Expat's avatar

Just thought I would leave this song, in memory.  Nobody has done any videos or anything to it…but, I find it touches a nerve with me whenever something tragic of this nature happens.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8MDoyIajRo

Posted by GZ Expat on 08/16/11 at 06:01 PM ET

Alanah McGinley's avatar

Petshark and Kelsey Ann - Thanks for your lovely words.

Expat - That song is just beautiful. Brings me to tears.

Posted by Alanah McGinley from British Columbia on 08/16/11 at 06:08 PM ET

Avatar

Rypien’s death has left me really sad for many of the reasons that you mentioned in your wonderful post, Alanah.  He always seemed like a great guy as much as a very good hockey player, and I’m saddened that his demons overtook him.  Like you said, he’s been struggling for a long time, and while it’s tragic that he felt there was only one way out, there’s no shame on him for succumbing to his illness.

I wish that people wouldn’t be so eager to correlate Rypper’s death with fighting in hockey.  Maybe that did have an impact and maybe it didn’t, but the guy’s been fighting more important battles for a long time, and it’d be nice to have a few days to honour that before we start arguing over the hockey implications.

Posted by distaff from Lake Michigan on 08/16/11 at 06:10 PM ET

Alanah McGinley's avatar

“I wish that people wouldn’t be so eager to correlate Rypper’s death with fighting in hockey.  Maybe that did have an impact and maybe it didn’t, but the guy’s been fighting more important battles for a long time, and it’d be nice to have a few days to honour that before we start arguing over the hockey implications.”

Very well said, distaff. Thanks very much for your comment.

Posted by Alanah McGinley from British Columbia on 08/16/11 at 06:25 PM ET

Avatar

If he were a ‘fighter’ he’d still be alive.


Brutal? Perhaps. Honest…certainly. I certainly feel bad about his death and my condolences to his family, but I can’t call someone a ‘fighter’ who ...doesn’t.

Posted by DM on 08/17/11 at 09:43 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Just because a guy loses a fight doesn’t mean he’s not a fighter.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/17/11 at 09:57 AM ET

Avatar

great article..those who go through this struggle every day know exactly how hard it is to find a ‘bright side’ or ‘hope’ when you are going through a depressive period.  rest in peace.

Posted by rocky fortune on 08/17/11 at 11:26 AM ET

Avatar

@dm

You don’t have any idea what the hell you’re talking about. 

For one, JJ’s right - a person who loses a fight is still a fighter - or is only Muhammad Ali allowed the title now?  Or did he lose a fight some time during his career?  No one’s perfect.  Everyone loses sometimes.

And honestly, if you have family or friends who struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide, I hope they don’t come to you for understanding or help.  Because you obviously don’t have any.

Posted by distaff from Lake Michigan on 08/17/11 at 12:32 PM ET

Avatar

I don’t know that the deaths of Rypien, Probert and Boogaard have anything to do with one another, or even the sport of hockey. Rypien had demons that he would have had whether he was in the NHL or was a CPA. Boogaard mixed prescription pain killers and alcohol - something that could happen to an NHL goon or a construction worker. Probert had a heart attack which had nothing to do with hockey.

The NHL does not need to change the role of goons in hockey because one guy was depressed, another was addicted to painkillers and booze and other (who abused drugs for years) had a bad heart. If anything the NHL needs to invest in a better substance abuse program and to have a psychologist/therapist work with teams and players on a regular basis.

Posted by PerryBlake on 08/17/11 at 03:31 PM ET

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About Canucks and Beyond

Alanah McGinley has been blogging hockey since 2003 (with a notable gap in time through 2010, kicking it with new baby Lucy while living knee-deep in chaos while reading "parenting for complete idiots" during every spare minute) sharing opinions, rants and not-so-deep thoughts with anyone who will listen.

In addition to writing Canucks & Beyond and helping manage Kukla's Korner, Alanah was one of the founders and co-hosts of The Crazy Canucks Podcast. She has contributed pieces to FoxSports.com and the New York Times Slapshot blog, as well as other stray destinations in cyberspace.

So that's me. Who the hell are you? smile

Email: am@kuklaskorner.com

Alanah's Twitter: [@alanah1]