Forty-eight hours after the death of former Vancouver Canuck Rick Rypien, 200 fans pulled their jerseys out of off-season retirement and gathered to pay tribute to the 27-year-old newly signed Winnipeg Jets player.
The fan-initiated Celebration of Life vigil held on the Rogers Arena plaza Wednesday afternoon sprouted online almost immediately following news Rypien had died in his Alberta home Monday.
“I just went into shock, and then disbelief,” said Canucks fan Alexandra Ransford, 17, who spearheaded the gathering. “This [memorial] is for the fans, and for him. It’s for how much he gave.”
Fans laid flowers, candles, posters and personal messages at the memorial site. They lined up to sign a memorial book set up by Ransford, which will be sent to Rypien’s family.
“Every word I see makes me want to cry,” said fan Folake Adesugba, 19, overseeing the memorial signing.
For longtime Rypien fan Tyler Stychyshyni, 22, who came to the shrine wearing a Rypien Manitoba Moose jersey, the news of Rypien’s death came especially hard.
“He’s always reminded me of myself when I played hockey,” Stychyshyni said. “He was just one of those players that gave you confidence that you could go far in hockey even if you were a smaller guy.”
Rypien, known for taking on much bigger players on the ice, had recently signed a $700,000 contract with the Winnipeg Jets. Friends and hockey officials, who say Rypien seemed happy and excited for the new season, were caught off-guard by the death, deemed by police as “sudden, but not suspicious.” A local radio station reported it was a suicide, which hasn’t been confirmed.
Rypien, who played as a Canuck for six seasons, had previously taken two leaves of absence for personal issues.
“People think [depression] is not as serious as it really is,” said Lisa Scigliano, 27. “Even winning the Stanley Cup, if you have depression, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”
With the death of Rypien being the second for the NHL in recent months following the drug overdose of New York Ranger Derek Boogard in May, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the Canadian Press the league will review behavioural health and substance abuse programs.
Lisa Vanthof, 21, an avid Canucks fan who met Rypien in the pre-season, said she would have never guessed anything was wrong.
“He was walking away from [Rogers Arena], already far off,” Vanthof recalls of their meeting. “He came all the way back—he was so chill.”
Vanthof and friends came to the memorial sporting Rypien’s No. 37 jersey number on their wrists. “I’m trying not to cry,” she said. “It now just hitting us.”
Dave Morgan, 30, who had been following Rypien’s career since his days with the Manitoba Moose, brought his Rypien-worn Moose jersey. He’s putting out an offer to the Rypien family if they’d like to have the item.
Calvin Ng, 22, who stood silently on the plaza holding a large Canucks flag, said he’d visited every day since Monday evening. A Canucks follower, Ng hopes the death will at least be added fuel for the Canucks, who’ve now suffered two major blows in the 2010-11 season. Ng said he hopes the players will try to regroup and come out stronger. “It’s become a bit of a cliche in Vancouver,” Ng said. “But there’s always next year.”