Posted by: analeeharriman | August 16, 2011

A Disturbing Trend?

When I saw the news come across Twitter that Rick Rypien, former enforcer for the Vancouver Canucks, was found dead, my thoughts came in the following order:

  1. A less-than-ladylike equivalent of “holy crap.”
  2. What happened?
  3. Repeat of #1.
  4. Where is there, if any, confirmation that this is true?

I was desperately hoping that it wasn’t true.  Sadly, Krista confirmed it for me.  My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Rypien’s family and friends, and also with the Vancouver Canucks players and fans that loved him and are undoubtedly crushed right now at this tragic news.

After I had taken a little time to digest the news, I couldn’t help but wonder something.  Rypien is the second hockey enforcer in three months to be found dead, the first being Derek Boogaard back in May.  I was initially hesitant to say anything, given how touchy the subject was, but I couldn’t shake the one thought that kept coming back: is there a trend regarding death amongst hockey enforcers?

I did some research, and what I found shook me up even more than the news about Rypien did.  Last summer, when legendary hockey enforcer Bob Probert died of a heart attack at age 45, tests were done on his brain tissue.  The tests turned up something previously only seen in the brains of former NFL players, high school and college football players, wrestlers and boxers: chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  Probert is the second contemporary hockey player to have CTE discovered in his brain post-mortem.  The first was Reggie Fleming, famed enforcer for the Chicago Blackhawks.  While the normal jolts and bumps of hockey could aid the development of CTE, it is being speculated that an enforcer would have a greater chance of developing CTE due to the higher number of hits they take during any given hockey game.

While unable to turn up any information during my search about the results of Derek Boogaard’s autopsy, something I never thought I’d be looking up for any purpose and found to be extremely upsetting, it is not that difficult to make a possible diagnosis of CTE.  Five months before he passed away, Derek Boogaard suffered a season-ending concussion, and he was notorious in the NHL as a fierce fighter, as evidence by his nickname “The Boogeyman.”  It’s not very far to jump from that information to a possible CTE diagnosis.  In the same manner, we can almost 100% positively assume that Rick Rypien would have developed CTE as well, given the number of hits he’d taken as an enforcer.

It remains to be seen to what we can attribute Rick Rypien’s untimely death.  Sadly, we can do nothing for him and Derek Boogaard now.  But the NHL, if it takes a look at this trend, may be able to prevent this degenerative condition from developing in other hockey players.  If this isn’t the best argument for making fighting on the ice illegal, I don’t know what is.


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