As the hockey world attempts to pick itself up in the days following the tragic news of Rick Rypien’s death, more details regarding the former Vancouver Canucks tough guy have begun to spill out. Winnipeg Jets GM Craig Heisinger and Canucks GM Mike Gillis opened up on Rypien’s battle with depression on Tuesday. It’s a topic that was never likely to be one of discussion in NHL dressing rooms, but it’s real and it has face in the wake of Rypien’s passing.

As sad as Rypien’s demise is, it’s ironic that the scrappy forward leaves the NHL with a fight on its hands. The true impact of depression and mental illness in hockey, or all professional sports for that matter, may take years to properly gauge – but the NHL needs to step up and begin to combat the issue now.

Further reaction on Rypien and news of his struggles with depression:

James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail on the Rypien’s struggles with depression:

Rypien’s battle with depression was always kept quiet during his time with the Canucks, even during two extended leaves of absence that team officials were careful to note were not drug or alcohol related.

The first public acknowledgement of what his off ice problems were came only on Tuesday, as Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger, the man who had signed Rypien as a free agent out of junior to play in the AHL, knew intimately what had gone on.

Both Roy and Canucks GM Mike Gillis declined to comment on his struggles with depression, although Gillis outlined how they had helped him in his fight.

“We relied on experts,” Gillis said. “And we relied on both NHLPA and NHL doctors. We relied on different facilities… I felt strongly that we were headed on a really positive course. It didn’t turn out that way.”

“Did we see any signs?” Heisinger said. “No we didn’t.”

Bruce Arthur of the National Post on Rypien and the hope for change:

That day of his return back in March, Rick Rypien said his main goal was just to be happy with himself, to be comfortable with himself. Behind a rough beard that hid his sharp jawline, he said “Now I’m more aware than ever that it’s OK to ask for help, and people will help you.” He said he really believed that his treatment was “only going to benefit my on-ice performance now, and kind of make me whole, and the more I go on I think the more I can talk about it, and hopefully one day I can help other hockey players that might be experiencing difficulties with whatever they’re dealing with on the off-ice.”

The lesson of Rick Rypien may simply turn out to be a simple one: that athletes are people. They hurt. As with the evolving understanding of concussions, the brain is the last place that pain has been acceptable in sports. Maybe this will help change that. Small consolation, but sometimes that’s all you get.


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