Rypien seemed 'really excited' to be in Winnipeg
CTV News.ca Staff
Published Tuesday, August 16, 2011 9:56PM EDT
The assistant general manager of the Winnipeg Jets said on Tuesday that Rick Rypien seemed excited about playing with the new team next season and appeared to have gained the upper hand on the depression that he had struggled with for more than a decade.
Winnipeg Jets forward Rypien, 27, was found dead in his Alberta home on Monday by a family member.
"He seemed really excited to be back here. I think there was a comfort zone here for him," said Craig Heisinger, who was the general manager of the Manitoba Moose when Rypien played for the AHL team.
"Either something happened very quickly or we all missed the boat."
RCMP in Crowsnest Pass, Alta., said they were called at 12:30 p.m. local time Monday about a "sudden and non-suspicious" death.
Heisinger, said that Rypien was supposed to be in Winnipeg on Sunday night to have his knee checked, but he never boarded the flight.
"He had left me a message Sunday morning ... he just wanted to know whether there was ice to skate at," Heisinger said during a news conference Tuesday. "I spent some time trying to track him down (Monday) and was unable to do so."
Canucks GM Mike Gillis said on Tuesday in Toronto that team officials were really close with Rypien and had organized a number of different initiatives to try to help him.
"We had an understanding of what we thought was going on and had a number of outside agencies involved in assisting us and we felt we were on course," Gillis said. "We felt he was making progress in a lot of different areas. When he signed with Winnipeg, we were all really happy for him."
Longtime friend and fellow Jets player Jason Jaffray told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that Rypien's death came as a shock.
"Everyone knew he had some issues that he had to get taken care of last year and he was definitely a new man when he came back and … he was definitely the happiest I'd ever seen him," Jaffray said. "We actually had joked around about bringing a Cup back to Winnipeg."
Rypien, a native of Coleman, Alta., had signed a one-year deal with the Jets in July worth US$700,000 after spending parts of six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, where his career suffered setbacks as he struggled with personal issues.
The enforcer only played nine games last season with the Canucks, and he left the team to deal with personal issues. He later returned to the team's AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Rypien made headlines last October for shoving a Minnesota Wild fan after being thrown out of a game following a fight. He was given a six-game suspension and later apologized for the incident.
Nolan Baumgartner, one of Rypien's former teammates, said Tuesday that the team had no idea what Rypien was going through.
"He never brought it up around the guys. He probably didn't want to burden guys with that," Baumgartner said. "He tried to deal with it in his own way and he was obviously trying to get help with it."
Former and current teammates took to Twitter to express their condolences after learning of Rypien's death.
"Sad to hear about Rick Rypien," Jets captain Andrew Ladd posted. "I was looking forward to playing with him in Winnipeg. Thoughts are with his family and friends."
Don Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Player's Association, said Rypien will be missed.
"All players and the NHLPA staff are saddened to learn of Rick's passing," Fehr said in a statement. "He was a respected member of our association and will be greatly missed throughout the hockey community."
Rypien was the cousin of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, the Super Bowl XXVI MVP.
"You learn lessons from these things," Heisinger said. "Rick always spoke of trying to, once he had his situation under control, about trying to speak out and help other people and at the end of the day I hope something like this comes out of this."
Rypien was the second active NHL pugilist to be found dead this off-season. New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard died in May after taking an accidentally fatal mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV Winnipeg's Shawn Churchill