FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

BY: Bruce Berlet

Talk about eerie and haunting similarity in the deaths of two young, tough NHL players in a span of three months while trying to fight personal demons and found dead by family members.

First, Derek Boogaard’s two brothers discovered the New York Rangers’ left wing/enforcer dead in his apartment in Minneapolis, Minn., after an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone on May 13. He was 28.

Monday, a family member found Winnipeg Jets center/enforcer Rick Rypien dead in his home in Crowsnet Pass, Alberta, at 27. No information on Rypien’s death has been released, but he had been battling depression for a decade.

It was reminiscent of former San Jose Sharks and Worcester Sharks record-holder Tom Cavanagh, who fought the demons of mental illness for years before he committed suicide on Jan. 6 when he locked his car in the Providence Place Mall parking lot and jumped to his death from an upper level at 28.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said he felt Rypien was “on course” in dealing with his personal issues that twice prompted him to take a leave of absence from the team and that he was happy Rypien had found a “safe, good place” to play in Winnipeg. In fact, Rypien had been scheduled to run his annual hockey school in his hometown earlier in the day but never arrived at the arena.

“Over the course of the last three seasons, we participated in a variety of different initiatives with him and we were all really close with him,” Gillis told The Associated Press. “We had an understanding of what we thought was going on and had a number of outside agencies involved in assisting us, and we felt we were on course.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said the death was not suspicious, and Rypien’s agent, Allain Roy, spoke with his client two days before his death and said Rypien was looking forward to training camp next month.

Rypien’s death came after he signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Jets on July 2, returning to Manitoba after a successful run with the Moose, the former affiliate of the Canucks. The Moose signed the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Rypien as a free agent in 2005, and he then spent six injury-plagued, personally-ravaged seasons in the Canucks organization.

“Everyone that knows me, knows that everything that was happening didn’t reflect me as a person and it’s not like I was doing anything wrong,” Rypien told the Winnipeg Free Press at the time of his signing. “I went through a couple of things I had to deal with, I got over it – it took longer than I wanted.

“But just the interest people had in me and the belief people had in me … it means a lot to me. It makes me believe even more in myself. They see something in me as a person that maybe sometimes you don’t see yourself. They point that out and then you believe in yourself more and then hope you reach the potential they see and you see in yourself.”

A makeshift memorial for Rypien, a distant cousin of former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl XXVI MVP Mark Rypien, was set up outside Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Tuesday.

“Rick Rypien was my favorite player,” Gordie McKee, who has been a Canucks season ticket holder for about 10 years, told the Vancouver Sun after arriving at the home of the Canucks on a motorcycle. “He was an awesome scrapper. He gave it 110 percent, stuck up for his teammates, fought the biggest guys in the league and pretty much won over most of them.

“I know he was having problems. This town is full of mentally ill people but when it comes to a sports figure like him, it’s rarely talked about and it’s really sad.”

Longtime friend and former teammate Jason Jaffray told the New York Daily News that Rypien seemed happy just before his death and was eager to join a new team.

“Everyone knew he had some issues that he had to get taken care of last year, and he was definitely a new man when he came back,” said Jaffray, who also signed with the Canucks last month. “He was definitely the happiest I’d ever seen him. We actually had joked about bringing a Cup back to Winnipeg.”

The Jets and Canucks released statements expressing condolences.

“We are deeply saddened to confirm Rick’s passing,” the Jets said. “As many people are aware, he had strong ties to True North Sports & Entertainment, the Winnipeg Jets hockey club, the former Manitoba Moose hockey club and the Vancouver Canucks. We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Rypien family as well as Rick’s friends. We also appreciate all of the support that has come pouring in from Rick’s fans. Rick was a talented player with an extremely bright future. His hunger for the game made him a valued team member both on and off the ice. This loss has impacted us as more than just a hockey team.”

The Canucks release said: “It is with tremendous sadness that the Vancouver Canucks confirm the passing of Rick Rypien. Rick has been a beloved member of the Canucks family for the past six years. Rick was a great teammate and friend to our players, coaches and staff. We send our deepest condolences to the Rypien family at this most difficult time.”

Rypien spent his entire NHL career with the Canucks, getting nine goals, seven assists and 226 penalty minutes in 119 games, including one assist and 31 PIM in nine games in 2010-11 when he missed part of the season on a leave of absence because of personal reasons. He also was suspended six games after getting into a shoving match with a fan during the Canucks’ 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 19. He later apologized and also had two assists in 11 games with the Moose and one goal in seven playoff games.

“Even being his roommate, and on the road we did pretty much everything together, he didn’t like to talk about (personal issues) a whole lot,” Jaffray said. “And guys knew not to pry because when you did try to pry, he kind of got uncomfortable.”

Rypien twice left the Canucks in the last three years to deal with his personal matters, but while small in stature, he never shied away from a fight, even if it included a fan.

“He was a guy who wouldn’t back down from anyone,” Jaffray said. “He was a guy that was definitely fearless. He wasn’t one of those tough guys that was just out there to fight. The guy could skate 100 miles per hour, and he worked extremely hard at becoming a good hockey player.”

RIP, Rick.

MORE TOUGHNESS FOR WHALE

Center Andre Deveaux should add some much-needed toughness and experience for the Connecticut Whale, who likely will ice the youngest team in the franchise’s 15th season in 2011-12.

The Rangers signed the 6-foot-3, 220-pound free agent on Monday, and Deveaux is almost certain to end up in Hartford. He was a feisty frequent adversary in two seasons with the Springfield Falcons and had his best season in 2010-11 when he had career highs in goals (23), points (46) and shots on goal (132) while tying a career high in games played (73) with the Chicago Wolves. He also ranked first on the Wolves in penalty minutes (194), the fourth-highest total in his seven-year career, and second in goals.

Deveaux, 27, has one assist and 75 PIM in 22 NHL games in two seasons, 2008-09 and 2009-10, with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 417 AHL games with the Falcons, Wolves and Toronto Marlies, Deveaux has 75 goals, 89 assists and 1,214 penalty minutes. The native of Freeport, Bahamas – yes, the Bahamas – was originally selected as the Montreal Canadiens in the sixth round in 2002 after playing for Belleville and Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League.

With wings Devin DiDiomete and Justin Soryal not re-signed by the Rangers or Whale, Deveaux will help defensemen Jared Nightingale and Stu Bickel, center Kris Newbury and possible new wings Jason Wilson and/or Randy McNaught with enforcement in Hartford this season. Deveaux can be kind of a “big brother” for the youngsters that coach Ken Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller will be working with this season. … The Falcons signed goalie Paul Dainton and center Chris D’Alvise to AHL contracts on Wednesday. D’Alise had 11 goals and 12 assists in 43 games with the Falcons last season after starting the season with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder, where he had 10 goals and seven assists in only 11 games. He joined the Falcons on Nov. 19 and had one goal and two assists in his AHL debut at Syracuse the next day.

Before turning pro, D’Alvise played in 145 games with Clarkson University from 2005-2009 where he had 49 goals and 56 assists. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the ECAC Hockey Tournament playoffs in the 2006-07 season.

Dainton ended last season with the Falcons after finishing his four-year collegiate career with UMass-Amherst. The native of Sudbury, Ontario, made his AHL debut on March 23 at the XL Center, stopping 31 of 34 shots. He earned his first AHL win on March 26 at Worcester, turning aside 39 of 41 shots. … Pending its approval by the AHL Board of Governors, the league’s 2011-12 regular-season schedule will be released Thursday at 4 p.m. It will be available for viewing and download at www.theahl.com.

BOURQUE ENTHUSED ABOUT PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT

Left wing Ryan Bourque, younger son of Hockey Hall of Fame Ray Bourque, could be one of the young players that Deveaux might be helping protect.

Bourque, 20, has an outside chance of making the Rangers, though he probably would be helped by at least one season with the Whale. But before Rangers training camp starts Sept. 15, when players report to the training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., Bourque and 23 other Rangers prospects will participate in an eight-team tournament in Traverse City, Mich.

Despite being only 20, Bourque will be one of the more experienced players on the Rangers’ roster as he will be taking part in his third straight tournament since being drafted in the third round in 2009.

“Traverse City is a great tournament to have before training camp,” Bourque told BlueShirtsUnited.com. “It prepares you really well because you are playing real games against competitive teams. I think it gives you a jump start into the NHL camp. I saw what it did for (Rangers center) Derek (Stepan) last year and how he carried that momentum into training camp. I’m looking for the same thing, to build my confidence and to get me ready conditioning-wise.”

Bourque said the prospects camp in late June after the draft helped the bonding process.

“For a guy to be his best, he needs to be comfortable, and everyone here helps each other to feel that way,” Bourque said. “All the prospects have been helping each other; and now I’m one of the older guys and I see that it’s important to help out the younger, less-experienced guys. This is a tightly knit organization, and that filters down to us prospects.”

But the main camp has special meaning for Bourque.

“This is going to be a very special training camp, my first to have a real chance at making it in the NHL,” he said. “It’s every kid’s dream really and I am living it. It’s the real thing now, and I’m getting anxious and excited to get it going already.”

WEISE GETS PROPS

Whale right wing Dale Weise got major props from a Rangers fan, Sene, on Blue Seat Blogs. He has become a hot topic since the arrest of Rangers feisty left wing Sean Avery on Aug. 5 for allegedly shoving a police officer during a party at his home in Hollywood. Avery spent five hours in custody before being released on $20,000 bail and a court date of Sept. 2 set for him to answer a charge of battery on a peace officer.

But on Thursday, TMZ, which initially reported Avery’s arrest, wrote that not only will Avery not be prosecuted, but there was no shove. The allegedly pushed cop actually caught his foot in the door of Avery’s house when he showed up to follow up on a noise complaint. Sources confirmed Avery will not be charged, which takes a lot of stress of his preparations for training camp. Avery will need all the focus that he can get with how the Rangers’ roster is shaping up.

Sene is one of many fans not enamored with Avery’s behavior and feels Weise is someone who could replace Avery, especially with a much smaller salary cap hit.

“Weise would be more support than Avery for Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust in the brawler department,” Sene wrote. “He would also most likely be a bit more tame and respectable, taking on a Prust like role. The reason for this line of thought: (coach) John Tortorella. We’ve all seen Tort’s famous multiple smacks to the back of Avery (and former Wolf Pack forward Brandon Dubinsky) after they made disappointing decisions that cost the team. Such smacks led to tears in both players eyes. Not anger.

“This coach commands respect from the team and for the team. Young players tend to look up to individuals like Torts and want to impress them like a son would his father. These players have not made it rich yet by any means. They are working for contracts, not putting up subpar numbers for a high salary while interning for Vogue.

“If Avery is unimpressed by Tortorellas tactics, that’s fine. The (Stanley) Cup count is at Torts:1 Avery: 0. Look at what Torts did in Tampa with its core youth. John Tortorella was the cherry on (new Rangers center) Brad Richards ice cream sundae when making his decision on what team had whored themselves out enough to bring him to town. Tort’s bond with Richards was strong enough that said player was fine promising him nine years of service. (Maybe six years and a buyout).

“While not yet proven, who is to say Weise can’t be the 2010-2011 Bruins’ Milan Lucic for the 2011-2012 Blueshirts? He has the both the physical size and the heart.

“Let’s finally admit that as nice as the idea may seem, it probably wouldn’t be Avery to spark a long-term flame under (right wing) Marian Gaborik’s behind. People in the press box need to come to grips with the fact that Avery is just an agitator, no more, no less. Give a kiss goodbye, would you? Give Weise a go. What’s his criminal record like anyway?”

While emailing with Weise this summer, he has said he has worked overtime to be in the best shape possible to make a serious run at a job on Broadway. Plus, Weise, who was scoreless in his first 10 NHL games with the Rangers last season, makes $605,000, compared to $1,937,500 for Avery, who also is in the final year of his contract. Stay tuned, starting Sept. 15.

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