Rick Rypien still weighs on the hearts of the Vancouver Canucks months after his death.
Vancouver paid tribute to Rypien before Tuesday night's game against the New York Rangers with a video that honoured the former Canuck, who suffered from depression and committed suicide in the off-season.
“He wouldn't like it,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, a close friend who assisted Rypien while he was on leave from the Canucks in recent seasons, after Vancouver's morning skate. “He didn't like the spotlight. He didn't like people worrying about him and making a big deal about things.”
During the pre-game ceremony, Bieksa presented Rypien's game-worn jersey from their 40th anniversary celebration to Rypien's brother Wes Rypien Jr. Bieksa received a long hut from Rypien's mother Shelley Crawford and also hugged Rypien's father Wes Sr., stepmother, stepfather and Wes Jr.
The four-minute video included opened with a dark-eyed Rypien and showed scenes from his minor hockey days in Blairmore, Alta., as well as times with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and the Canucks. It also showed Rypien scoring the game-winning goal the last time the Canucks played the Rangers in November 2009.
The video concluded with scenes of Rypien urging fans to cheer. The crowd on hand responded with a standing ovation.
The Canucks announced a $50,000 donation in Rypien's name to BC Children's Hospital Foundation to help curb mental illness among youth.
To get through the emotional ordeal of the ceremony, Canuck players received a sneak preview of the video Monday.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said the video preview was necessary to help the Canucks focus on their game against the previously winless Rangers, who are making a rare visit to Vancouver. The clubs have seldom played each other in recent seasons.
“Our players were able to look at it (Monday) because we didn't want to surprise them right before the game, to see the video,” said Vigneault. “It's real powerful, but it's a real tribute to a nice young man.”
Bieksa said dealing with the video was less painful than his other experiences related to Rypien's passing.
“I've watched pretty much every tribute video made out there for him online and YouTube and all that,” said Bieksa. “So I'm kind of getting used to the tear jerkers and all that.”
But Bieksa admitted the tribute to Rypien, who died in his own home in the Crowsnest Pass area of southern Alberta, still raised plenty of emotions.
“He was a good friend, he was a teammate, he was like a brother to me, too,” said Bieksa. “We were close. We had a lot of years together and shared a lot together. He was a part of my life at big times and vice versa. It's tough.”
The $50,000 donation will allow the BC Children's Hospital Foundation to develop a website designed to help the province's youth and young adults, as well as family members and friends, recognize symptoms and better understand the challenges of mental illness.
The contribution includes support from the NHL Players Association's Goals & Dreams fund and supports a youth and young adult mental health promotion strategy led by B.C. health agencies.
“We are committed to this partnership because we realize that by encouraging the community to have open conversations about mental illness we can start to break down the stigma that silences us,” said TC Carling, executive director of the Canucks for Kids Fund, in a release.
“Rick Rypien was dedicated to helping young people and those in need. Through this partnership with BCCHF, BCMHAS and the support of the Vancouver Canucks we can work together to ensure Rick's passion to help those in need is well served.”
Noting that Rypien strived to help people in need, Carling said the program will ensure Rypien's passion for helping others is well served. It will also help break down the stigma of staying silent about mental illness and get people to talk about it instead.
Canuck players, many of whom were teammates with Rypien in the minors as well as the NHL, praised the financial outlay and program setup.
“It's a classy move by the organization,” said centre Ryan Kesler. “We all knew him. He was a great friend. He was a great teammate.”
The tribute to Rypien evoked memories of the tribute to late Canucks defenceman Luc Bourdon, who died at the age of 21 in a motorcycle accident. But Vigneault said the ceremony for Rypien was more challenging emotionally.
“Both (are) tough to deal with,” said Vigneault. “In Ryp's case, certainly, a lot of our players had known him for a lot longer than they did Luc.”
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said that, even without watching the video in front of fans, the Rypien video sparked a lot of emotions.
“It really sinks in to how close he was to all of us and how good a teammate he was,” said Sedin. “It was an emotional time, for sure. A lot of players played with him for a lot of years, even back in Manitoba. We were all close to him and it was emotional.”