By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Winnipeg Jets player Rick Rypien, who was found dead Monday at his Alberta home, had been dealing with depression for about a decade, the team said Tuesday, though they had not seen trouble brewing for him.
Police have said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Rypien's death, which they described as sudden.
"Certainly there were no drug and alcohol issues. Depression is the one word that has been used and that's accurate," Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger told reporters at a news conference.
Heisinger said it would be up to Rypien's family to confirm whether or not the hockey player had taken his own life.
Rypien signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Jets as a free agent last month after six seasons as a forward with the Vancouver Canucks.
"He seemed to be really excited to be (coming) back here. I think there was a comfort zone here for him," Heisinger said.
"Did we see any signs? No we didn't ... Either something happened very quickly or we all missed the boat."
The Canucks had granted Rypien an indefinite leave of absence last November, the second time in three years he had left the team to deal with undisclosed personal matters.
Rypien also received a six-game suspension from the NHL last season after an altercation with a fan on his way to the dressing room in Minnesota.
The 27-year-old Rypien was the second young National Hockey League player found dead at home in recent months.
New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard, 28, died in May with a mixture of alcohol and (pain killer) oxycodone in his system in what was ruled an accidental death by a U.S. medical examiner.
Rypien had begun his professional career in Winnipeg with the Moose, the Canucks' American Hockey League affiliate, and the Jets gave him a chance to re-establish his career.
The small but feisty Rypien scored a total of nine goals and seven assists in 119 career NHL games, but the aggressive forward was not afraid to drop his gloves and take on much larger opponents on the ice, logging 226 penalty minutes.
He was supposed to fly to Winnipeg on Sunday for an MRI test on his knee and left a message for Heisinger that morning checking on ice availability.
"I never got to him," Heisinger said.
When he failed to turn up, Heisinger said he tried to track the forward down before Rypien's grandmother later confirmed the death.
Former team mate and room mate Mike Keane told the Winnipeg Free Press that Rypien had appeared to find some peace.
"He seemed to be in a good place. We chatted off and on this summer and he was happy with the way things were going and the way he was feeling," said Keane. "I don't know what to say. It's a shock. His demons were stronger than anyone knew."
Heisinger said he still believes Rypien had made strides dealing with his depression and that he had cautioned his scouts before signing Rypien because of his "baggage".
"Did I think it was 100 percent safe? No, because it's Rick and there's always some issues with Rick," Heisinger added.
"... Rick spoke about, once he had the situation under control, about trying to speak out and help other people. At the end of the day, I hope something comes out of this."
Heisinger said the Jets might honor Rypien this season.
"Rick was a very private guy, but being at the rink and playing hockey was where he was truly happy," Heisinger said, his voice wavering.
(Writing by Larry Fine, Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes; To query or comment on this story email [email protected])