Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home on Monday afternoon.
He was 27.
Crowsnest Pass RCMP responded to a death in Coleman, Alta., at 12:30 p.m. They found a deceased male and ruled the death non-suspicious.
The former member of the Manitoba Moose battled personal problems for much of his pro career, twice taking extended leaves of absence from the Vancouver Canucks.
“I thought he had it all worked out,” said Jets forward Jason Jaffray, who was Rypien’s roommate on the road during their early days with the Moose. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m speechless right now. It’s tough to take.”
Rypien’s second leave of absence occurred last season when he left the Canucks in November, shortly after being suspended six games for grabbing a fan in Minnesota. He returned to pro hockey with the Moose in the spring, appearing in 11 regular-season and seven playoff games.
Rypien became an NHL free agent on July 1 and signed one-year, $700,000 deal with the Jets the next day.
“We are deeply saddened to confirm Rick’s passing,” True North Sports and Entertainment, the group that owns the Jets, said in a press release. “As many people are aware, he had strong ties to True North Sports and Entertainment, the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, the former Manitoba Moose Hockey Club and the Vancouver Canucks.
“We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Rypien family as well as Rick’s friends. We also appreciate all of the support that has come pouring in from Rick’s fans. Rick was a talented player with an extremely bright future. His hunger for the game made him a valued team member both on and off the ice. This loss has impacted us as more than just a hockey team.”
Rypien was especially close to Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger, who signed the undersized but hard-nosed player to an AHL contract with the Moose in 2005 after his Western Hockey League career with the Regina Pats came to a close.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pounder, who was never afraid to drop the mitts with anyone in the NHL or AHL, quickly parlayed that opportunity into an NHL contract with the Canucks. He appeared in 119 games between 2006 and 2010, notching nine goals, seven assists and 226 penalty minutes.
Jaffray had been texting with Rypien this summer, but he said he never really knew much about Rypien’s personal life — even though they roomed together on the road. Rypien was outgoing and funny, according to teammates, but talk of his personal problems never really came up.
“He kept it to himself,” Jaffray said. “I think he was embarrassed by it.”
“I think it was a great escape for him to come to the rink,” added former Moose captain Nolan Baumgartner.
Baumgartner said Rypien was a “great” and “outgoing” guy who was “always there if you wanted to talk to him.” Baumgartner said Rypien had a great sense of humour and was well-respected in the locker-room for always coming to the defence of teammates on the ice and for his toughness.
“He was basically playing on one leg in the playoffs,” Baumgartner said. “He could barely walk.”
Baumgartner believed Rypien would have been getting a much-needed fresh start with the Jets.
“I was excited to see him play in Winnipeg,” Baumgartner said. “I was excited to see that because I know the type of guy he is and the type of player he is. It was a great chance for him to get back into the NHL.”
Rypien appeared in 116 games for the Moose between 2005 and 2011. He scored 16 goals and added 23 assists to go along with 252 penalty minutes.
Rypien’s passing is the second of an NHL tough guy this summer after New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard died of an accidental drug overdose. It is also the second death to hit a professional Winnipeg sports franchise. Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant head coach Richard Harris died of a heart attack on July 26.