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Rick Rypien seemed happy, friend says

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Rick Rypien was scheduled to fly to Winnipeg Sunday night to have his knee checked out.

He left a message for a Jets official that morning asking whether there was ice he could skate on.

But he never boarded the flight.

Rypien had been dealing with depression for at least a decade, said Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger, who was the GM of the Manitoba Moose when Rypien played for the AHL team. The 27-year-old former Vancouver Canuck was found dead in his Alberta home Monday.

Longtime friend and former teammate Jason Jaffray said Rypien seemed happy in the days before his death and was eager to join a new team in Winnipeg.

"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 and ... he was definitely the happiest I'd even seen him," Jaffray said Tuesday from his home in Olds, Alberta.

"We actually had joked around about bringing a Cup back to Winnipeg."

The Jets and Canucks confirmed Rypien's death in statements Monday night. Police in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, said they received a call Monday afternoon about a "sudden and non-suspicious" death.

There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

Rypien spent parts of six seasons with the Canucks organization. He played only nine games with Vancouver last season and spent most of the year dealing with personal issues.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis declined to give specifics about what treatment Rypien had been receiving.

"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 said Tuesday in Toronto. "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.

"We felt he was making progress in a lot of different areas. When he signed with Winnipeg, we were all really happy for him."

Jaffray, who also signed with the Jets last month, said Rypien did not talk much about his troubles.

"Even being his roommate, and on the road we did pretty much everything together ... he didn't like to talk about that kind of stuff a whole lot," Jaffray said. "And guys knew not to pry because when you did try to pry, he kind of got uncomfortable."

Rypien signed a one-year deal with the Jets worth $700,000. He had nine goals, seven assists and 226 penalty minutes over 119 career NHL games with the Canucks.

"He seemed really excited to be back here," Heisinger said during a news conference Tuesday. "I think there was a comfort zone here for him.

"He had an apartment all set up. He was ready to go."

Although small in stature, Rypien never shied away from a fight.

"He was a guy who wouldn't back down from anyone. He was a guy that was definitely fearless," Jaffray said. "He wasn't one of those tough guys that was just out there to fight.

"The guy could skate 100 miles an hour and he worked extremely hard at becoming a good hockey player."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sent condolences on behalf of the league. He said Rypien "played the game with so much energy and emotion."

His death "fills us all with a sense of immeasurable sadness and sorrow," Bettman said.

On Twitter, former teammate Brad Lukowich called him the "nicest guy I played with my time in Vancouver."

Another ex-teammate, Brendan Morrison, tweeted he was in "disbelief about Ripper. Sat beside him in the locker room in Van. Such a good kid with a huge heart."

Rypien is the second active NHL player found dead in the offseason. Former New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard died in May due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.

"All players and NHLPA staff are saddened to learn of Rick's passing," Don Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, said in a statement. "He was a respected member of our association and will be greatly missed throughout the hockey community.

"Our sincere condolences go out to Rick's family, friends and many fans."

Rypien -- the cousin of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien -- left the Canucks on two occasions during three years to deal with undisclosed personal matters.

The native of Coleman, Alberta, made headlines last October when he pushed a Minnesota Wild fan after leaving the ice following a fight during a game in St. Paul. Rypien was handed a six-game suspension and later apologized for the incident.

Rypien had two assists in 11 games with the Moose last season.