Remembering Rick Rypien on #BellLetsTalk Day

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“As long as Rick was alive and playing for either Vancouver or Manitoba, I never turned my phone off at night. Ever.”

Those were the chilling words of former Manitoba Moose general manager, Craig Heisinger in TSN’s feature, “Believe in Ryp”.

Heisinger was the man who discovered Rypien, signing the undrafted forward to his first pro contract out of junior in 2005.

Rypien played 119 games for the Canucks, scoring a goal in his first game. He was small, but he was tough. He was out with a hand injury in 2006 when I saw him in street clothes in the press box at Rogers Arena. He did not look intimidating. He looked like someone I could beat up. Of course, he could have beaten me to a pulp if he wanted to.

Rypien was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the league.

My fondest memory of Rypien was when he returned from that injury on December 2, 2006 in a game against the Colorado Avalanche. His hand wasn’t 100% and head coach Alain Vigneault told him before the game not to fight that night. On his first shift of the game, Rypien nailed Avs defenceman Brett Clark with a thunderous, but clean, bodycheck.

Ian Laperriere challenged Rypien to fight, and of course he obliged.

Vigneault after the game (Gordon McIntyre had the quote for The Province at the time): “He really listened to me. I told him, ‘Ryp, I don’t want you to fight.’ It took one shift. His hand’s not 100 per cent, but I guess it’s better than I thought.”

This August will mark the 5th anniversary of Rypien’s death. He battled depression and took his own life shortly after signing with the Winnipeg Jets in the 2011 offseason.

We’ve heard his story told many times from his friends with the Vancouver Canucks, most notably his best friend Kevin Bieksa. This is the first I’ve heard about Heisinger’s story.

Heisinger was there for Rypien, even though he was playing in Vancouver and Heisinger was often a 3-hour flight away in Winnipeg.

“If my phone rang or buzzed at 2 or 3 in the morning, there’s not one person in my family that didn’t know what was going on. They’d hear me talking downstairs from 2 in the morning until 5 in the morning. That was just something you’d do to make sure you were there for him.”

It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day today, and Rypien’s story is a great reminder of the struggle of mental illness.

I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, but I have lost a friend in a similar situation. I’ve never looked at depression the same ever since and I think it’s great that more people are shining a light on the illness.

The Jets have started a new program called Project 11, in honour of Rypien. The Canucks, of course, have been behind Hockey Talks and MindCheck.ca for a few years.

The Canucks will host their fourth annual Hockey Talks Day on February 6 to encourage a conversation about mental health. All seven Canadian NHL teams will participate in Hockey Talks, with each team dedicating one home game to bringing awareness to mental health in an attempt to provide information from experts and alleviate some of the misconceptions and stigma associated with mental illness.

The team, in conjunction with Fraser Health and Provincial Health Services Authority, and BC Children’s Hospital, re-launched MindCheck.ca, a website focused on providing free mental health resources for youth, in 2010. Since the re-launch, MindCheck.ca has had over 428,000 visitors and nearly 217,000 people have taken self-assessment quizzes.

The Canucks will also host BC Children’s Hospital’s third annual “Balancing Our Minds”, a free one-day workshop for 1,500 high school aged youth in BC to learn about mental health and engage in fun activities and thoughtful dialogue on February 11.

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
@robthehockeyguy

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