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Canucks hope to raise mental health awareness following Rick Rypien's death

Tyler Stychyshyn wears a Manitoba Moose jersey as he pauses at a makeshift memorial for former Vancouver Canucks hockey player Rick Rypien outside Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., on August 17, 2011. In the wake of the death of former NHL player Rick Rypien, the Vancouver Canucks plan to set up a charity fund to help educate people about issues surrounding mental health and depression. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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Tyler Stychyshyn wears a Manitoba Moose jersey as he pauses at a makeshift memorial for former Vancouver Canucks hockey player Rick Rypien outside Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., on August 17, 2011. In the wake of the death of former NHL player Rick Rypien, the Vancouver Canucks plan to set up a charity fund to help educate people about issues surrounding mental health and depression. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks are taking a role in increasing awareness about mental health issues.

The NHL team plans to raise money that can be used for mental health education and treatment information through their Canucks for Kids Fund, Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said in an interview Thursday.

The decision follows the death of Rick Rypien, a former Canuck player who left the team on two separate occasions while struggling with depression. He was found dead on Aug. 15 at his off-season home in Coleman, Alta. Police said his death was not suspicious.

"We are definitely going to create an appropriate way for people to contribute to mental health issues," said Gillis.

The exact details of how the money will be raised and where it will be spent haven't been decided. But Gillis wants to "create a vehicle where people can get involved and hopefully educate people."

Rypien, who signed a contract to play with the Winnipeg Jets this season, is one of three NHL players who played the role of enforcer to die over a span of four months.

Wade Belak, who played parts of 14 seasons for five NHL teams, was found dead at a downtown hotel and condo building in Toronto on Wednesday. A source confirmed to The Canadian Press that the recently retired player hanged himself in an apparent suicide.

New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard died May 13 at his Minneapolis apartment due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.

Gillis sees the connection between the three players but didn't want to jump to conclusions.

"Three separate incidents have occurred," he said. "I think they are all very different in nature but similar in certain ways.

"Really, some thought has to be given to analysis and an appropriate reaction."

In Rypien's case, the message Gillis hopes to convey is problems with mental health can affect anyone in society.

"I intend to talk about some of the things we faced," said Gillis. "It doesn't matter what profession you are in, or how much money you are making or what kind of adulation you may get from the public. That doesn't change the fact that mental health issues still are around and affect people.

"I'm hoping we can educate (people) about the experience we had and maybe provide some comfort that it isn't an isolated thing based on social-economic backgrounds or how many resources are at your disposal. It's something that is there and has to be dealt with as effectively as possible."

A spokesman for Canadian Mental Health Association said sports organizations like the Canucks carry a powerful voice, especially in reaching young people.

"We need leadership for the silence to be broken," said Bev Gutry, chief executive officer of the association's B.C. division.

"We need champions to speak out about these issues. If we can break the stigma, not only will people reach out for help, they will get help."

Rypien's death sent a shudder through the Canucks organization. He was well liked by the other players and the team did its best to support him.

"Rick was a really good person who we all respected in life an awful lot," Gillis said. "We had been through an awful lot. We felt confident we had got beyond certain things that really affected Rick.

"We had a sense of confidence we had got to a point where we didn't have to be concerned about him all the time. Then to have that (his death) happen so suddenly was really surprising and disappointing."

Gillis still wonders what more the organization could have done to help Rypien.

"It makes you reflect back about what you could have done differently or what you could have done more of or less off," he said. "It's hard to come to terms with that."

The Canucks for Kids Fund gives money to assist charities who support children's health and wellness and encourages education in B.C.

Last year the fund gave out over $4.4 million in grants to various charities.

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