Family, friends and teammates gathered at the Albert Stella Memorial Arena in Blairmore, Alta., on Saturday afternoon to remember Rick Rypien as a young man "living every Canadian boy's dream."
The 27-year-old died on Monday in his apartment in Blairmore, of circumstances the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will only say was "sudden" and "non-suspicious." He was suffering from depression.
More than 1,000 mourners packed the arena, where Rypien's uncle, Allan Jr., said the overwhelming question for everyone was 'Why?'
He said his nephew "seemingly had everything going for him — family, friends and a great job." He added the young man had fought depression with everything he had, and had put up a valiant battle.
"It's over. He's found peace," Allan said.
Rypien was a six-year National Hockey League veteran who made his reputation with both his fists and his desire. He had signed this summer with the Winnipeg Jets and was, according to Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, looking forward to a new start after leaving the Canucks.
"We were all hopeful," said Gillis." We had thought at different times that he had turned a corner and we were making progress but then it would just happen again."
"We had the ability to intervene. We had the opportunity over the past three years to try our hardest to do the best thing. I don't think there's an easy answer to this," he told reporters after the service.
Among the pallbearers was Rypien's former Canucks' teammate Kevin Bieksa. Vancouver forwards Mason Raymond and Manny Malhotra also attended the Catholic service, as did cousin Mark Rypien, the former National Football League quarterback.
The program featured Rick Rypien in a Vancouver jersey, and said "Until we meet again."
Mountain towns know tragedy
Rick Rypien was a product of the toughness that the Crowsnest Pass, tucked into southwest Alberta, west of Lethbridge, has always been known for.
The five towns that make up the 6,000-person municipality follow the railway that was built at the end of the 19th century to remove the sedimentary rock when the Canadian Pacific was switching from wood-fired engines to coal.
Travelling up the pass takes visitors through Hillcrest, where an explosion in 1902 killed 128, and another in 1914 took 189. Then up to Frank, where the mountain came down and crushed a large portion of the town in 1903, killing 70, and on to Blairmore and then Coleman, where Rypien was born.
Now the area attracts large numbers of tourists, brought by some of the Rockies' most majestic scenery.
Rypien played but nine games last year with the Canucks, taking an indefinite leave of absence — his second in three seasons — just after a contest against the Minnesota Wild in October of 2010 that had ended with an altercation involving a fan as he was leaving the ice.
He came back to hockey in March with the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose.
This was the second sudden death involving an NHLer this year.
Derek Boogard, another player who relied on his fists more than his scoring prowess, died in May after an accidental mix of alcohol and the drug oxycodone.
Both players spent time in the NHL's substance abuse and behavioural health program. Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league will look at the program to see if changes need to be made.
Cleared his sporting hurdles
Rypien's career story centered on a young man who did not allow a hurdle to prevent him from his ultimate goal of making the NHL.
Born and raised in Coleman, Rypien played provincial junior hockey for the old Crowsnest Pass Timberwolves (now in Okotoks), before moving to the Western junior league's Regina Pats on a tryout basis. He would play four years there, rising to become the captain.
Again undrafted, he earned a spot as a free agent with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League in 2004 and was in the NHL before two more seasons were done.
He had nine goals and 16 points in 119 games, spread thinly over his time in the NHL. Rypien also had 226 penalty minutes.