Rypien fondly remembered

Right Former Canuck Ryan Walter (centre) and Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis shake hands while...

Right Former Canuck Ryan Walter (centre) and Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis shake hands while Winnipeg Jets Assistant GM Craig Heisinger, (back to camera) gets a comforting hug from a fellow mourner after the Rick Rypien funeral ceremony in Blairmore, Alta. August 20, 2011. (Kevin Rushworth/QMI Agency)

Kevin Rushworth, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

BLAIRMORE, Alta. -- Rick Rypien was remembered Saturday as a kind-hearted, hometown hockey hero who waged a valiant battle against depression.

And though he ultimately lost that fight, his legacy is one of hope and education to help those in need.

Hundreds of family and friends gathered at the Albert Stella Memorial Arena for the funeral service of the former Vancouver Canuck and would-be Winnipeg Jet. The hockey arena is in Blairmore, a hub of the tight-knit Crowsnest Pass community in the southwest corner of Alberta.

"It was a fantastic tribute to a fantastic kid," Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger said.

Many attending the ceremony filed into the arena wearing their Crowsnest Pass Thunder minor hockey league jerseys in memory of the man who grew up playing hockey in Coleman and hosted the annual Rocky Mountain Ice Hockey School.

Several of Rypien's teammates and coaches were also in attendance. Jets owner Mark Chipman, Heisinger, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and forward Jason Jaffray were there, as were Canucks GM Mike Gillis, defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who was a pall bearer, Alexandre Burrows, Aaron Rome, Manny Malhotra and Mason Raymond.

Former members of the Manitoba Moose also came out to pay their respects. Scott Arniel, now the head coach in Columbus, and Brad Berry, Arniel's assistant with the Blue Jackets, were there, as was St. John's IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge and former Moose captain Mike Keane.

Rypien's cousin, former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, was also in attendance.

As the ceremony began, hymns could be heard rising from within the arena. Rypien's family requested no media presence inside the arena.

When speaking with the media after the ceremony, both Gillis and Heisinger were visibly emotional. Gillis said he was proud to have thought of Rypien as a friend and to have worked with him.

"We send our deepest condolences," Gillis said. "I don't think we can be afraid to talk about the issues Rick went through.

"I know he wanted that, and I think it is up to us now to continue the legacy of a great young man and to talk about the things that have occurred."

Gillis expanded on the illness Rypien battled.

"Rick suffered from depression, which was an ongoing illness," Gillis said. "When he was in an environment he could control, he was fine, he was great. When he got into an environment that he couldn't control, he had great difficulty."

Gillis said the NHL tried many different steps and was there for Rypien every step of the way. He suggested Rypien simply couldn't overcome his illness.

"We had all the resources we could use," he said. "At the end of the day it wasn't enough. We had access to the best doctors, the best programs. We had the ability to intervene. We had opportunity to try our hardest and do the best thing."

When asked what he knew about depression, Heisinger -- the man who got Rypien his first tryout and contract with the Canucks -- said he had a lot to learn about the condition, but that he was willing to learn as much as he could.

"We're not going to let this tragedy go in vain and we are going to learn more about it," he said.

Heisinger said the next few days could be the toughest for those who were close Rypien

"It's been so busy the last few days we haven't really had time to stop," Heisinger said. "Now you're going to have to sit down and think about it. It could be a couple challenging days. At the end of it, though, we were lucky to have him."

-- With files from Kirk Penton


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