The Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation has unveiled an initiative that will both honour the late Rick Rypien and bring awareness to mental-health issues.
Project 11 is a youth education plan that focuses on positive mental health awareness as part of the ‘Hockey Talks’ initiative that will run during the month of February and promoted by all seven Canadian National Hockey League teams. Project 11 – the number Rypien wore with the Manitoba Moose and was to wear for the Jets before his death, brought on by depression – is a resource document for teachers in Grades 5-8 that helps promote positive mental health.
The program was created and inspired in honour of Rypien.
"There aren’t many days that go by where I don’t think about Rypper… that’s just the way it is," said an emotional Jets’ assistant GM and senior VP of hockey operations Craig Heisinger, arguably the man who was closest to Rypien in the organization during his days with Moose and after.
"When Rick wanted to get the story out there he had the opportunity to make a powerful message. I knew what he lived through and his passion to get it out there. I think it was going to get there… it seemed like the right time was coming and before his untimely passing it seemed like it was just around the corner.
"I think he would be happy because his focus had always been to try to help other people. It took him a long time to understand he wasn’t the only one. He always thought he was a burden, that he was the only one. And that’s clearly not the case."
The Jets will host Hockey Talks on Feb. 7 as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at MTS Centre. That night the Jets will use in-house messaging to raise awareness to mental health issues and also have mental health resource guides available to fans. As well, Mike Keane will be on the concourse signing limited Rick Rypien hoodies for $150 each, with all proceeds going towards Mental Health Research.
Limited edition Hockey Talks T-shirts will be sold throughout February and during all six Jets home games. Jets’ players will also sport a Hockey Talks decal on their helmets during the month.
One in five Canadians will experience a mental-health problem or illness in their lifetime and approximately 70 per cent of mental-health problems and illnesses begin during childhood or adolescence. Project 11 will be driven from www.winnipegjets.com to help educators teach and discuss positive mental-health skills.