Deaths stress related?
Being a tough guy can take its toll
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Senators forward Chris Neil fights Rick Rypien at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ont., Nov. 11, 2010. (DARREN BROWN/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - The NHL’s extended family is mourning the deaths of two hard-nosed players this off-season and though a connection is being sought between their enforce roles and their personal problems, the answer might never be clear.
Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets will be laid to rest Saturday, three months after Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers. Rypien, who was found dead on Monday, had a long battle with depression, while Boogaard had fought through a drug problem, only to mistakenly take a fatal overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. The league and the players association have agreed to review aspects of their substance abuse and behavioural program, but a deeper issue has been raised by Buffalo Sabres’ general manager Darcy Regier.
He suggested a possible link to depression, substance abuse and the very difficult, stress-filled job of fighting for a living under risk of serious injury. Regier didn’t pretend to be an expert, but cited the many ex-footballers who were revealed to have similar problems.
Others were not ready to say that a trend was developing.
“That’s pure speculation,” said Mathieu Schneider, assistant to NHLPA executive director Don Fehr. “I was never in that enforcer role, but I can understand that it would certainly be stressful. I wouldn’t put Rick in that category of being strictly an enforcer. He was a skilled player and that certain part of his game was overlooked. Usually, enforcers are the team clowns and keep things loose.
“But (the deaths) are so sad and people want to have answers. What could we have done differently, what could anyone have done differently? I can’t remember an active NHL player passing away throughout my (20-year) career and this year there are two.”
In 2010, one-time NHL heavyweight Bob Probert also died at 45 of a heart attack, though years after his most reckless days.
Most GMs attending this weeks’ research and development camp in Toronto were going to wait and see what further investigations turn up. One did opine privately that the three deaths the past 13 months all had distinguishing characteristics and weren’t part of an extended list of similar fatalities.
“I can’t imagine this type of irresponsible speculation can be helpful to those families,” the GM said.
Schneider said troubled players such as Rypien and Boogaard were kept informed of the options available to them once they went through the league’s treatment program.
“It’s our job to examine what, if anything could have been done differently. The program in place is a great program, if you could talk to the players who went through it and the doctors (matters that aren’t disclosed to media). Our success stories are a lot less publicized than these stories.
“But it has to be reviewed. When something such as this happens, everyone takes a harder look.”
Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher knew Boogaard well from their years in the Twin Cities.
“Derek was an unbelievable person, who did as much in our community as anybody. He was a fan favourite, not because he was a physical presence, but because he was a caring person and always gave up his time. He had a lot of wear and tear, always finishing his check. going hard into the boards. His body took a beating and he had to deal with a lot of surgeries. He had a very demanding role.
“I’m not qualified to talk about any related problems, but our next GMs neeting is in Novemeber. I don’t know what will be on the agenda, but this is obviously two deaths too many. I am sure it will be a talking point.”