Rick Rypien is finally at peace.
While it’s true Rypien had to go to a dark place in order to find the light, the enlightening journey he’s been on during his time away from the game he loves has sparked his passion to resume his hockey career.
Rypien took the next step on the road to recovery Tuesday when he met the media in Winnipeg after the Vancouver Canucks assigned him to the Manitoba Moose on a conditioning assignment.
“I’ve missed a lot of hockey and I didn’t want to do that, but there were certain things that had to be dealt with,” said Rypien, who has been on personal leave since November. “I definitely have a different mindset right now. I’m more excited about hockey than I’ve ever been in my life.”
Although he didn’t go into specifics about where he’s been spending his time or what he’s been doing, Rypien did offer some insight.
He was also quick to dispel a rumour that has been floating around in cyberspace.
“(The issues) are behind me and one thing I want to 100% clarify is that there’s no substance abuse at all — it’s the farthest thing from it,” said Rypien. “This is a personal matter. It’s kind of a rare issue and even though it’s taken me away from the game I love, doing the work I’ve done the last couple of months I’ve made a lot of gains as a person and as an individual.
“I got to really understand and have a relationship with myself, which I’ve never had the opportunity to do before. With how far I’ve come and progressed these last few months, I really believe deep down that it’s going to benefit my on-ice performance.”
Eventually, Rypien plans to reveal additional details of what he’s gone through.
“The more I go on, the more I can talk about it and hopefully, one day I can help other hockey players who might be experiencing difficulties with whatever they’re dealing with off the ice,” said Rypien.
Although his goal is to return to the NHL eventually, Rypien is in no rush.
“This is the place that kickstarted my professional career and they’ve been great to me since Day 1,” said Rypien, who has been skating the past few days in Winnipeg but needs a little more time before he’s ready for game action. “It’s great to be back here and get my hockey career back on track. I’m going to be working harder than I’ve ever worked. If I can apply myself, the sky can be the limit for me.”
Going forward, Rypien feels he has more to offer than simply being a tough guy but he’s not planning to shy away from his in-your-face style either.
“I’m going to play the way I play, but there’s a lot of areas I can improve in,” he explained. “I don’t think I was ever playing to the full potential I can play. I always wanted to show a side I haven’t been able to do yet and that’s my focus.”
Moose general manager Craig Heisinger first signed Rypien to an amateur tryout offer in the spring of 2005 and his enthusiastic style immediately made him a fan favourite and ultimately helped him secure an NHL deal.
Heisinger is obviously rooting for Rypien to succeed in this comeback.
“We’re glad that he’s back here and not only resuming his hockey career but his career in life as well,” said Heisinger. “We hope to provide him the opportunity to do well at both and at the end of the day, Rick’s a real good person.”
HOOF PRINTS: The Moose continued a swing of seven games against West Division opponents with a tidy 4-1 victory over the Oklahoma City Barons on Tuesday night. Alexandre Bolduc scored a pair of goals, including one while short-handed, with singles coming from Guillaume Desbiens and Cody Hodgson. Tyler Weiman made 28 saves to record the victory. The Moose, who improved to 35-23-1-5, are back in action on Friday against the Houston Aeros.
At a glance
— Hometown: Coleman, Alta.
— Age: 26
— Position: Forward
— Height: 5-foot-11
— Weight: 190 pounds
— Career stats: 9G, 7A, 16P and 226PIM in 119GP in NHL games with Vancouver Canucks, 16G, 21A, 37P and 243 PIM in 105 AHL games with Manitoba Moose
— 2010-11 stats: Rypien limited to nine games with Canucks this season and has been out for personal reasons since November