Right away, Clint Malarchuk suspected something was wrong with Rick Rypien.
It didn’t matter that Malarchuk worked for the Atlanta Thrashers and Rypien played for the Vancouver Canucks. It didn’t matter that the two men had never met. What mattered to Malarchuk was that Rypien had taken a leave of absence from the Canucks in midseason; that it wasn’t about a broken bone; that it was likely a mental health matter. So Malarchuk spoke to Thrashers administrator Ryan Bowness, the son of Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness, and made an offer.
“I told them I could talk to Rick and it would be confidential,” said Malarchuk, who battled depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder during his playing days as an NHL goalie. “I didn’t think it was drugs or alcohol. I thought it was about how he was feeling and that he was having a hard time.
“Maybe if we touched base we could have formed a bond, a jock-to-jock thing. I could have been somebody he trusted. I might have been able to save his life, and I don’t say that arrogantly.”
Malarchuk’s offer was never accepted and earlier this week the 27-year-old Rypien was found dead in his home in Coleman, Alta. While many in the hockey world have spoken of Rypien’s bouts with depression, Malarchuk can appreciate what that felt like and recall the despair that clung to him like a wet coat.
In 1989, while playing for the Buffalo Sabres, Malarchuk had his throat sliced by a skate blade and almost bled to death. The onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder kept him awake at night replaying the incident over and over.
Then in October of 2008, in the throes of alcohol, Malarchuk accidentally shot himself in the head with his own rifle. Miraculously, he survived and has since reclaimed normalcy through medication and therapy.
He was hoping Rypien would have the same opportunity.
“I had been a fan of the kid,” the Alberta-born Malarchuk said. “He made it on hard work and guts. I’d heard a lot of good things about him. he reminded me a lot of myself.”
Then just days ago, Malarchuk’s wife was on her computer and said to her husband: “A hockey player is dead, from Alberta.”
“I said, ‘I hope it’s not Rick,’ but I was right,” Malarchuk said.
Asked if the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association do enough to assist players with mental health concerns, Malarchuk said the right programs are in place but maybe the players should be informed of them in a stronger manner.
“I can understand the pressure that NHL players are under,” he said. “That’s why I wish I could have talked to [Rypien] Maybe I could have been the one guy … I don’t know.”