CALGARY - Two weeks ago, Mark Rypien golfed with Rick Rypien in Spokane, Wash.
On Tuesday, the Super Bowl XXVI MVP was like the rest of the family, trying to come to grips with the death of the NHL player.
“It’s so surreal. Here one day and gone the next,” Mark Rypien said from Spokane.
“He was a young man whose best years were still ahead of him. From our family’s standpoint, it’s been a sad day and a half.”
Rick Rypien, who spent several years with the Vancouver Canucks organization and signed this summer with the Winnipeg Jets, was found dead Monday in his family’s home in Coleman, Alta. A source says he took his own life.
He was 27.
The professional athletes were cousins.
Rick Rypien’s grandfather and Mark Rypien’s father were brothers, but even though they were distant relatives, and from different countries, they were close.
In fact, Mark, who played hockey himself, was as big of fan of Rick’s as so many young football players admired him.
Five years ago, when he was in Calgary — where he was born — for the Henry Burris All-Star Weekend for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Mark Rypien was beaming about his cousin’s rise in the hockey ranks, and how much he achieved through hard work.
“He does the little things — digs the puck out, drops the mittens if he has to and kills penalties,” he said at the time.
In April, the former star quarterback posted on his Twitter account: “Good luck Rypper and the Manitoba Moose as they head into the AHL playoffs.”
Two weeks ago, they were on the links together.
“From seeing him two weeks ago and now he’s not with us anymore, it’s really tough,” Mark said. “It’s tough to think we were on a golf course having a cold beverage laughing and giggling, and here we are putting a young kid way too young into the ground.
“I’ve been there before with my own child and it’s not how the circle of life is supposed to be. You’re not supposed to put your children into the ground before yourselves.
“It’s a tough day.”
Mark Rypien’s son, Andrew, died of cancer when he was three years old.
Rypien, whose 13-year NFL career included two Pro Bowl selections and a pair of NFL titles, returned home Tuesday after participating in charity golf tournament for victims of the April tornadoes which killed more than 300 people in the southern U.S. One of his daughters, Ambre, attended the University of Alabama.
Much of Tuesday was spent trying to find out when services would be held for Rick and making arrangements to attend.
“My thoughts are more with his immediate family,” Mark Rypien siad. “I ask all, hockey fan or not, Canadian or American, whatever, to think of them at this time.”
As for how Mark Rypien wants to remember his cousin, he said:
“I think of the wonderful, infectious smile he carried around with him.”