Fans, former teammates and foes remember Rick Rypien

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Many people were stunned by the sad news that former Vancouver Canucks tough guy Rick Rypien died at the age of 27. Canucks fans quickly put together plans to mourn his death (or “celebrate his life”) at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, while a makeshift memorial has already been constructed, according to the Vancouver Sun.

While this is by no means a comprehensive collection (there are simply too many recollections and dedications out there), here are a few more articles, Tweets and other items from fans, former teammates and even a few former opponents of Rypien. Feel free to share some of your own favorite stories about the enforcer in the comments.

Former teammates and opponents

Jeff Marek did a great job of collecting some of the most notable Twitter tributes. Here are a handful of the most interesting ones.

Andrew Ladd (@aladd16): Sad to hear about Rick Rypien. I was looking forward to playing with him in Winnipeg. Thoughts are with his family and friends #RIPRypien

Mike Commodore (@commie22): RIP Rick Rypie. He was a warrior. Hit me so hard my eyes couldn’t focus for 30 secs. Not sure if it was a left or right.

Bill Sweatt (@billysweatt): Tragic story. #rickrypien found dead. This is just terrible. RIP rick. You were a great teammate and friend.

Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0): Just heard the terrible news about Rick Rypien. One of the toughest pound for pound guys in the league. He had no fear. Sad day.

Eric Fehr (@ericfehr): Unbelievably sad news on the passing of Rick Rypien..One of the toughest players I ever played against..Thoughts and prayers with his family

The National Post’s Tim Campbell caught up with Jason Jaffray, Rypien’s former teammate with the both the Canucks and the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. Jaffray seemed to be one of the people who took Rypien’s death the hardest.

“Rick was a guy everybody loved having on his team,” Jaffray said Monday night from his home in Olds, Alta. “You hated to play against him. You loved him in your dressing room because you knew he’d have your back, especially if your top-end guys were run over or taken advantage of. He be the first to step up.

“He cared, and you loved him in there having your back. He was one of those foot soldiers that brings the team together.”

Jaffray also echoed the sentiments of many other players, who found it remarkable that Rypien was willing to fight enforcers who often held massive height and/or weight advantages over him.

Read this post for statements from the Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets (who recently signed him to a one-year contract) and the NHLPA.

Fan reactions

Again, it’s nearly impossible to capture the downpour of emotions from fans regarding Rypien’s death. Here are some of the reactions that we came across in the last several hours, though.

Alixis Wright provided a very personal account of one of her favorite players, whom she gave the unlikely nickname “Mermaid.”

I didn’t know Rypien; not personally. But he was important and special to me in that sort of strange, inexplicable fan with a favourite player kind of way. When I went to training camp in 2009, Rypien sat on the ice to stretch and looked exactly like a mermaid. Mermaid was probably the most ridiculous nickname in history for one of the toughest fighters in the league but that’s what I called him from then on. He was fun to watch, fighting guys much taller and heavier than he was and making it look graceful. He was fast and an underrated passer. I really thought he had the potential to be more than a fighter.

I was so fond of Rypien because in a small way he made me into a tougher person. I’m naturally shy and it hasn’t always been easy to stand up for myself. Rypien always stood up for himself on the ice no matter what the other guy looked like. When I wear my Rypien jersey I feel tough. I stand up taller and I walk with swagger as the kids are saying these days. I can handle myself. It’s silly but it’s true.

Alanah McGinley looks back at Rypien’s leave of absence and struggles with depression.

In all honesty, I don’t know whether Rypien could have ever been a great deal more than the player that he was, but I do firmly believe he was more than just some random tough guy. He voluntarily risked a promising and lucrative career in order to try healing his personal demons.  Living in the public eye—not to mention within the tough-guy culture of hockey—that took a lot of guts.

The NHL isn’t a business that tolerates imperfection well, largely because it doesn’t have to.  While it may sound cruel, there are too many players of Rypien’s skill level to make anyone irreplaceable. But in spite of that, he stepped away from his hockey career more than once in order to take care of himself, and then fought his way back into the business. Literally and figuratively.

Again, these are just two of the fan reactions and a handful of player tributes; there are a lot more out there. Hopefully this gives you a better idea about who Rypien was and what he meant to fans and teammates alike.

Leon Draisaitl lands on injured reserve for Oilers

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After missing his team’s 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers announced on Monday that forward Leon Draisaitl has been placed on injure reserve.

He was injured one week ago in a game against the Winnipeg Jets and has been sidelined with an eye injury and concussion symptoms ever since. It’s a big blow to an Oilers team that is off to a slower than expected start having won just one of their first four games.

Draisaitl signed an eight-year, $68 million contract over the summer making him a significant part of the Oilers’ core alongside Connor McDavid. He finished the 2016-17 season as one of the top offensive players in the league and is going to be counted on to help carry the offense again when he is healthy. The Oilers don’t have a ton of forward depth and are going to need McDavid and Draisaitl to be the focal points once again if they are going to live up to the preseason hype that made them one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Before he was injured this season Draisaitl had recorded one assist in three games.

The Oilers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

It is not yet known how long he will be sidelined.

SPHL gets creative, adopts ‘pick your opponent’ playoff format

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When discussion about the NHL’s playoff format comes up, there is a section of fans who would like to see the league allow for an even greater reward for top teams other than home-ice advantage.

That idea has become a reality thanks to the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The 10-team SPHL announced on Monday that they are overhauling their opening round and turning it into what’s being dubbed the “Challenge Round.” The top three teams will get to choose their first-round opponent during a “Challenge Round Selection” event which will be broadcast to fans on Sunday, April 8, the day after the regular season concludes. After the top three seeds select their opponents, the No. 4 team will be matched against the leftover side.

Every playoff series, including the President’s Cup Final, will remain best-of-three with re-seeding taking place for the second round.

The idea for this change came to SPHL commissioner Jim Combs over dinner in June with Axel Bammer, Chief Operating Officer of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga. When Combs heard that the league’s top teams get to pick their opening round opponent, he could imagine the buzz and interest it would generate. (Sweden’s Elitserien did this in the past as well.)

A week after meeting with Bammer, Combs met with the league’s owners and received zero pushback about the idea. The new playoff format was widely embraced as the group felt this was the future of the hockey.

Feedback has been mixed on the change. But Mike Campos, who covers the SPHL for The Sin Bin, sees it being a big plus for the league.

One of the benefits of being at the bottom rung of the professional hockey ladder (second-lowest, if you consider the FHL a pro league) is there is flexibility to implement radically new ideas other leagues can not. If the “Pick Your Opponent” format change generates buzz among fans and rivalries between teams resulting in a spirited postseason, the decision could be a winner for the SPHL.

As Campos notes, lower levels of hockey allow for plenty of onnovation while not straying far from the fundamentals of running a hockey league. This new format will certainly make the end of the regular season much more interesting and provide bulletin board material for teams and storylines heading into the playoffs. It’s an idea worth exploring, and the SPHL is no stranger to implementing ideas that catch on elsewhere.

It was the SPHL where 3-on-3 hockey began over a decade ago. It was deemed a silly gimmick at first, but now that we’ve seen it at the NHL level for two seasons, it’s clearly a welcomed change — one that’s made overtime hockey must-see television.

Combs said the league will see how it this playoff format idea plays out in April before deciding whether to keep or tweak it in the future.

So what do you think? Would you want to see the NHL go in this direction for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Stick-tap Scotty Wazz

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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With Perreault out four weeks, Jets call on prospect Kyle Connor

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Kyle Connor has been a scorer just about everywhere he has played — the USHL, the University of Michigan, and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

He’s only had a brief taste of life in the NHL, playing 20 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring two goals and five points.

The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t yet experienced the same success at the NHL level, although he’s about to get another opportunity with the Jets after getting recalled on Monday. The move comes after Winnipeg placed Mathieu Perreault on injured reserve. He’s expected to miss up to four weeks.

Perreault has yet to play a full 82-game schedule with the Jets because of injuries, but he’s been an important player when available, with consistent production and strong possession numbers. That said, the 20-year-old Connor is a promising prospect with the potential for significant upside, especially considering the role he should find himself in.

Per NHL.com on Monday, Connor skated on the wing with Bryan Little and sophomore scorer Patrik Laine. That, it would appear, is Winnipeg’s second line, which gives them a difficult top-six group of forwards — the top line consisting of the red-hot Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — for the opposition to face.

“Speed. That’s the big piece that he can add to that line,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Patrik’s such a great shooter. Bryan’s a really quick player. What Perreault did well was he got in and he got on it. He was quick enough to get in there to create some offensive zone time and allow those guys to do the things they do well and Kyle should be able to add that.”

The Jets have won three in a row, with Connor Hellebuyck giving them a trio of impressive performances in net. They host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, although according to Sara Orlesky of TSN, Steve Mason is expected to get the start.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Eddie Olczyk to return to broadcast booth for Blackhawks-Blues Rivalry Night showdown

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The Chicago Blackhawks visit the St. Louis Blues for Wednesday’s Rivalry Night contest on NBCSN, and there will be a familiar voice on the broadcast.

Eddie Olczyk will return to the broadcast booth for this contest — the first meeting of the season between these two Central Division rivals — just over two months after it was publicly revealed that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and was undergoing treatment following surgery to remove a tumor.

“We have some dates that we have highlighted and hopefully I will be strong to do the job,” Olczyk told USA Today. “If I am not feeling good, I just have to be honest with everyone and tell them I can’t do it.”

Read more: Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley gives shout out to Eddie Olczyk at Wrigley Field

Olczyk played 1,031 NHL games for six teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, L.A. Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins, from 1984 to 2000, scoring 342 goals and 794 points.

After coaching the Penguins during the 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons, Olczyk moved to the broadcast booth as an analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage of the NHL and also Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago.

In a statement in August, Olczyk vowed to return to broadcasting after his treatment.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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