BLAIRMORE, Alta. -- Roughly 1,000 people filled an arena for the funeral of Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien Saturday afternoon.
Among the attendees were Jets owner Mark Chipman, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, asst. GM Craig Heisinger, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis, and a number of Rypien's former Canucks teammates. Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa was a pallbearer.
Rypien was found dead in his home earlier this week. His death is not considered suspicious.
"Rick’s tragedy won’t go in vain," said asst. GM Craig Heisinger, speaking to the Free Press outside the arena. "I don’t know what we’re going to do yet, but we’ll do something. We’re going to learn more about this disease. We’re going to talk about it and find ways to fight it."
Rypien, who struggled with depression, had signed with the Winnipeg Jets this off-season after six years with the Vancouver Canucks.
"I don’t think we can be afraid to talk about the issues that Rick went through. I know he wanted that. It’s up to us now to continue the legacy of a great young man and help those that go through the same issues as Rick," said Canucks GM Mike Gillis.
"Rick suffered from depression and it was an ongoing illness. When he was in an environment that he could control, he was fine and he was great. When he got into an environment he couldn’t control, he had great difficulty.
"We tried a lot of things and were there for him every step of the way, and challenged him every step of the way. But there are thing that occur that you can’t overcome. I guess at the end of the day, Rick couldn’t overcome the illness he had. For everything he had accomplished in life, it’s remarkable that that’s how powerful his illness was."
The 27-year-old's death came as a surprise to many who knew him and thought he had turned a corner. They said he was looking forward to playing for the newly relocated Jets.
"My overwhelming question is why? How could this happen,"? said his uncle, Allan Rypien Jr.
"He had a great family, great friends and a great job."
Rypien said his nephew was battling a disease not unlike cancer.
"He fought this disease with everything he had in him," he said. "If you knew Rick he fought with everything he had in him. Unfortunately the disease won the battle."
"Be thankful the battle he faced is over."
A number of minor hockey players, wearing Crowsnest Pass Thunder hockey jerseys were among those in attendance.
An autographed #37 jersey from Rypien's time with the Vancouver Canucks and a poster from his days with the WHL's Regina Pats were part of only a few momentos scattered amongst the bunches of flowers.
Rypien grew up in the scenic Crowsnest Pass, played much of his early hockey there and considered the area his home.
- with files from The Canadian Press