Former Vancouver Canucks tough guy Rick Rypien was found dead by a family member on Monday in Crowsnest Pass, Alta.
Rypien, who signed with the Winnipeg Jets in July, had missed most of last season because of a leave of absence from the Canucks for personal issues.
Local RCMP told The Globe and Mail on Monday night that the death was not suspicious.
Rypien had been scheduled to run his annual hockey school in his hometown earlier in the day but never arrived at the arena.
“Rick was a talented player with an extremely bright future," the Jets said in a statement. "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.
"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."
The Canucks expressed similar sentiments later in the evening as reaction began to come pouring in from around the hockey world.
"Rick has been a beloved member of the Canucks family for the past six years," the team said. "Rick was a great teammate and friend to our players, coaches and staff. We send our deepest condolences to the Rypien family at this most difficult time.”
On Tuesday Don Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, said Rypien will be missed.
“All players and NHLPA staff are saddened to learn of Rick's passing,” he said in a statement. “He was a respected member of our Association and will be greatly missed throughout the hockey community.
“Our sincere condolences go out to Rick's family, friends and many fans.”
Undrafted after three years with the Regina Pats – including time as team captain – Rypien became a popular member of Vancouver's fourth line beginning in 2005, racking up 226 penalty minutes in 119 games played over six seasons.
Off the ice, however, he battled depression, and his leave of absence last November was the second he took as a member of the team in the past three seasons.
Rypien was well known in Winnipeg after beginning his pro career there with the Moose, the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, and the Jets gave him a chance to re-establish his career there when he was signed a one-year, $700,000 (U.S.) contract as a free agent this summer.
“Everyone that knows me, knows that everything that was happening didn’t reflect me as a person and it’s not like I was doing anything wrong,” Rypien told the Winnipeg Free Press at the time. “I went through a couple of things I had to deal with, I got over it – it took longer than I wanted.
“But just the interest people had in me and the belief people had in me … it means a lot to me. It makes me believe even more in myself. They see something in me as a person that maybe sometimes you don’t see yourself. They point that out and then you believe in yourself more and then hope you reach the potential they see and you see in yourself.”
Rypien, 27, is the second young NHL tough guy to die in the off-season. New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard was found dead in May with a mixture of alcohol and oxycodone in his system.
With a file from The Canadian Press