It pains me to write that Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home yesterday. I had no personal ties with him, but he was definitely a player that I admired, and it is quite unfortunate that the one thing he will probably be known for is when he let his frustrations get the best of him and grabbed a Minnesota Wild fan and tried to pull him into the tunnel after being ejected from a game.
The reason why I admired him was because he worked his way into the league from the bottom up. He played in the WHL and went undrafted when it was the year of the ’84’s. He was given a tryout with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and was given a spot due his toughness, fearlessness, and passion he showed for the game.
As he moved back and forth between Manitoba of AHL and Vancouver of the NHL, he struggled with injuries – mainly from fights. He commonly broke fingers, he suffered a sports hernia, and broke his fibula during his career. After Vancouver gave him a personal leave of absence in November of 2010, rumors spread that Rypien was having mental health issues, and was struggling with severe depression. By March of this year however, it was speculated that he was ready to play, and in a press conference made clear that the past was behind him and he was ready to pursue what he loved to do, playing hockey. He signed a one-year $700,000 contract with the Winnipeg Jets, and was expected to be a pivotal 4th line player in the teams first season since 1996.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I made the 21st, and final spot, of my high school team, and was told by my coach to find a couple role players in the NHL that I could attempt to idolize on the ice. Rypien was one of these players. He was 5’11” 190 lbs. and wouldn’t take shit from anyone. He was notorious for fighting guys much bigger than him and took pride in being able to grind out the opponents top scoring line. I eventually moved up to the 2nd line of our team, and ended the year with the game-winning primary assist in the state finals to win our high schools first ever state championship in hockey. That year I spent nights watching film of guys like Kris Draper, Andre Roy, Jason Strudwick, and Rick Rypien. After that year, I went on to be the first two-time first team all-state player in Traverse City history, captain my junior team in Motor City, and make my dream of playing college hockey at Ohio University. Without the motives installed in me at a young age from watching Rypien play when I was only 15, I don’t know how far I would have went.
When I played juniors, I was scared shitless to ever drop the gloves, yet I did it because of the mentality I learned from watching Rypien play. To repeat the cliche saying, its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog.
He was one of the best pound per pound fighters of his era. He could throw with both hands, and learned how to block with his left and counter. Rick will never know how many young players, like myself, that he influenced, but heaven apparently needed a tough guy.
Rick “Rypper” Rypien… May you rest in peace.