Normally the space in this blog is reserved for blatant hatred for anything related to the city of Detroit or the color Red. As many times as I have said something along the lines of wanting an opposing player to drop dead (as fans tend to do on occasion…specifically when alcoholic beverages and/or chicken wings are involved), I never once imagined what it would be like for a player to drop dead in the prime of his career, let alone two in the same year.
All of the people who have unimportant opinions and who hate fun love to point out that hockey is a dangerous sport, probably too dangerous, and that more and more players are going to be seriously injured, or even be killed on the ice. Concussions have been the flavor of the year for most sports, hockey included, and Sidney Crosby, likely the face of the NHL, suffering a severe concussion in January that is still setting him back only bolsters that case. We all want to see the other team’s players get hurt, but not injured. Especially with those injuries can linger for a lifetime.
In the past few months, however, the tragedy went from the sudden, temporary loss of the league’s biggest star to the very real loss of the life of a classic NHL “tough guy.” Derek Boogaard was rugged, fearless, and he loved to piss off fans of every other team in the league. He embodied many of the characteristics of what makes a solid hockey player.
His death rattled the league in the middle of one of the more entertaining playoffs in recent memory, as did the arrest of his brother Aaron under drug suspicion, and that he may have supplied Derek with the prescription pills that ultimately ended his life.
On August 15, as most of the casual fans had made the death of Derek Boogaard a distant memory, another NHL player died. Rick Rypien was found dead in his home, an apparent suicide. He played with the Vancouver Canucks since the 2005-06 season, and he had recently signed a contract to play for the Winnipeg Jets next season. Rypien battled depression for the better part of ten years, which ultimately caused him to miss much of last season, when the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Many of us grew up with dreams of playing professional sports, and at one time would do anything to get to where these men were in their lives.
They should have been the envy of many, as they were fortunate enough to do the thing they love most for a living, and live in relative financial comfort in the process. But, as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side.
No one truly knows the extent of the problems these young men faced, problems that lead to apparent drug abuse and ultimately suicide for Rypien. But it is something that must be addressed by the NHL. More needs to be done to ensure the mental health of players is monitored and treated when necessary. After all, if we really wanted to, we could blame it all on concussions, because that seems to be the popular sentiment now anyways.
The death of Rypien is an unfortunate close to a bizarre and sad off-season. We can only look forward to seeing the players back on the ice and diverting our attention away from the tragedies with the game we love.