REGINA — First, there was Derek Boogaard. Now, Rick Rypien.
In a matter of three months, two players who made such an imprint on hockey in Regina have left us, all too soon.
Boogaard, whose family resides in the Queen City, died May 13 of a lethal combination of alcohol and a powerful painkiller, oxycodone. He was 28 years old.
On Monday night, the devastating news circulated that Rypien – who captained the 2004-05 Regina Pats – had died suddenly at home in Coleman, Alta. He was 27.
“I don’t even know what to say anymore,” Pats president Brent Parker said before a lengthy pause.
“Honestly,” an emotional Parker eventually continued. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Parker was the Pats’ general manager when the popular Boogaard had a stint with the WHL team in the autumn of 1999. Boogaard eventually became one of the NHL’s most-feared enforcers.
Unlike Boogaard, Rypien was not blessed with 6-foot-8, 260-pound dimensions. Yet, at 5-foot-11, Rypien would willingly trade punches with skyscrapers such as 6-foot-9 Lane Manson of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“Ryp didn’t care,” former Pats teammate Kyle Ross recalled. “He would just try to land some body blows, because he couldn’t get to his face.”
That was typical of Rypien, who extracted the most from every millisecond that he spent with the Pats. Upon graduation, he presented Parker with an autographed photograph that was inscribed: “Thank you for the honour of being a Regina Pat.”
“That’s what the kids now have lost,” Parker said. “They don’t recognize that it is a privilege, and they don’t recognize how short life is. He just appreciated everything that we did for him, and we appreciated everything he did for us.
“I’m just in shock . . . absolutely in shock.”
Parker had been in touch with Rypien only two weeks earlier. The scrappy forward had just signed a one-year, free-agent contract with the Winnipeg Jets, with whom he was anxious to resume an NHL career. He had spent parts of six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, for whom he played only nine games in 2010-11 before leaving the team for personal reasons. He returned to action late last season, suiting up for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
“I got a text message from him,” Parker recalled, “and he was so pumped up over the fact that the Jets were giving him his old Number 11 back – the number he wore with us and the Moose.”
Rypien defied the odds by ascending to those levels. He was not drafted by a WHL or NHL team, yet he played in both leagues. Even though he did not become a full-time WHLer until he was 18, he was a captain by age 20. The following season, he scored his first big-league goal.
“But the way he carried himself, you would never think in a million years that he was an NHL guy,” Parker marvelled. “He was just a regular guy.”
That attitude endeared Rypien to his teammates.
“We were best friends for the three years that he played with the Pats,” former Pats forward Jordan McGillivray said. “He was part of our family for three years. My mom and dad are devastated.
“This has shaken everybody. I feel horrible for his family, and I’m really lost for words right now.”
The same applied to the typically talkative Parker, who kept asserting that: “I don’t know what to say.” Yet, once he got going, there were so many memories he wanted to share about Rypien – who ended his majorjunior career by registering his only WHL hat trick as part of a five-point night with a last-place team.
“He willed us to win,” Parker recalled. “He was not going to lose his last game in front of our fans.
“He was everything we want our players to be. He was responsible around his teammates and he was responsible in the community, with the way he treated people. He made you respect him. He made you fall in love with him.
“No matter what comes out about what happened to him, there’s never anything anybody can say to convince me that he wasn’t as great of a human being as I’ve ever been around.”