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Canucks hope to spread awareness, communication about depression after Rick Rypien’s death

Aug 23, 2011, 11:55 PM EDT

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Rick Rypien AP

The news of Rick Rypien’s death left many people in the hockey world shocked and dismayed, but if there was team that was hit the hardest, it would have to be the Vancouver Canucks. While Rypien signed his last contract with the Winnipeg Jets in June, the Canucks were the only NHL team he ever actually played for. It only makes sense, then, that several people associated with the organization attended his funeral, including GM Mike Gillis and players such as Kevin Bieksa – who was one of the pallbearers.

There were many who wanted to blame the Canucks for failing to help Rypien with his issues, but all indications were that the team did its best to get the troubled but well-respected tough guy the help he needed. Sadly, such guidance and care ultimately wasn’t enough, a thought that must sadden many within the organization.

While the NHL and its players association will reportedly try to learn from the deaths of Rypien and fellow former fighter Derek Boogaard by tweaking their support programs, the Canucks want to help combat depression after Rypien’s death. The Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre reports that the Canucks aren’t quite sure how they want to address depression in the wake of that jarring loss just yet, though.

What form this takes is still a long way from being determined. The important thing is the team isn’t planning to simply stick Rypien’s number somewhere inside Rogers Arena and turn the page on one of saddest incidents in franchise history.

“The nature of hockey, as you know, is that people are reluctant to talk about whether they even have a charley horse,” Gillis said Tuesday. “People can be cruel. People can sit at a computer and write whatever they want or sit in the stands and scream and say personal things. You’re constantly trying to protect yourself … so things remain private. We weren’t entitled to talk about Rick’s case publicly.

“[But] Rick wanted a level of awareness to the point where he came and spoke to me specifically about it. He wanted to discuss these issues, thinking he could help other people. It was important to him and it remains important to us.

“That might be the first step to opening up other doors. We’ve talked about establishing a fund to direct resources to mental illness. We’re going to take our time to make sure we do it correctly.”

As the piece details, depression is a complex issue that might not have a simple solution. It’s not really a disease that can be cured with a one-time treatment or a few motivational speeches. That being said, the communication-centric approach that Gillis and others are promoting seems like a wise one. Many have an instinct to “bury” their problems or a fear of burdening others with their issues, but there should be no shame in leaning on others – whether they be loved ones, friends or health care professionals – for support.

Sports are often a safe house where we can avoid many of life’s problems, but professional athletes fight the same demons as anyone else. It’s tough to cope with a story as sad as Rypien’s, but perhaps his death will encourage others who are struggling with some of the same crises to get help. It’s heartening to see that the Canucks are hoping to be a part of that process, too.

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