NHL tough guy Rick Rypien returned to the arena in Blairmore, Alta. where he once played minor hockey as the rural community gathered to remember the southwestern Alberta native on Saturday.

Close to 1,000 friends, family, fans and former teammates filled the Albert Stella Memorial Arena for Rypien's funeral, which began at noon local time.

The Winnipeg Jets forward died on Monday at his home in Crowsnest Pass, Alta. Police are calling his death "sudden and non-suspicious."

Rypien, 27, grew up in Crowsnest Pass and spent much of his early hockey career in rural Alberta.

Rypien took two leaves of absence during six seasons with the Canucks to deal with personal issues.

The player signed with the Jets during the off-season and those who knew him said they thought he had turned a corner in his personal life.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said that the team was hopeful that he was better.

"We had the ability to intervene. We had the opportunity over the past three years to try our hardest to do the best thing. I don't think there's an easy answer to this," he told reporters after the service.

Craig Heisinger, the Jets assistant general manager, knew Rypien from his days playing with the Manitoba Moose.

"The system didn't fail Rick," Heisinger said. "It's just nothing could be done at the end. Everybody faces challenges. He's no different than anybody else. He fought them like everybody else. It's just in the end the demon depression won out."

An obituary posted in the Lethbridge Herald described Rypien as a "kind, loving gentleman" who loved his family and friends.

"Rick's passion was hockey. He pushed himself to beyond limits to achieve what others considered impossible," the obituary read.

Many residents of the community were angry at the media coverage of the funeral, with one family member demanding that reporters leave.

His uncle Allan Rypien Jr. told The Canadian Press his nephew was battling a disease not unlike cancer.

"He fought this disease with everything he had in him," he said. "If you knew Rick he fought with everything he had in him. Unfortunately the disease won the battle."

A number of minor hockey players, wearing Crowsnest Pass Thunder hockey jerseys, were among those in attendance.

Rick Rypien's brother, Wes Rypien Jr., and former Canucks teammate Kevin Bieksa were counted among his pallbearers. His cousin, former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, attended the service as well.

Momentos, such as an autographed No. 37 jersey from Rypien's time with the Vancouver Canucks and a poster from his days with the WHL's Regina Pats, were scattered among the bunches of flowers.

The program featured a smiling photo of Rypien and said "Until we all meet again."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he expects the league will review its substance abuse and behavioural health program following the deaths of two players, Rypien and Derek Boogaard.

Boogaard, a New York Rangers enforcer, died earlier this summer from an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.

Donations in memory of Rick Rypien will be accepted toward Kids' Sport Alberta, "Crowsnest Pass Branch," Box 415, Blairmore, AB T0K 0E0.

With files from The Canadian Press