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Rick Rypien to get number tribute from newest Winnipeg Jet

Rick Rypien helped out with the Canucks' First Strides program.
Rick Rypien helped out with the Canucks' First Strides program.

It’s been more than two decades since a Winnipeg Jet wore No. 11.

For more than half of that time, of course, there were no Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets roared back to life in 2011 after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and the reborn NHL team was supposed to have a player wearing the sweater number last worn by Dallas Drake in the 1995-96 season: ex-Canuck Rick Rypien.

The feisty forward signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in the summer of 2011. The Jets had made the move to Manitoba and Rypien had come to the end of his time with the Canucks organization, who he’d signed on with as an undrafted free agent in 2005.

He was a fan favourite with the Canucks in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg-based team that had served as the Canucks’ AHL affiliate before NHL hockey returned in 2011.

Rypien signed with the Jets and was going to wear No. 11 — Rypien had worn Nos. 15 and 37 for the Canucks but in his Moose days, he was No. 11 and it was also his number when he played in junior for the Regina Pats — but he took his own life in the summer of 2011, before he ever played for the Jets.

No Jet has worn the number since.

This season, Nate Thompson, who signed a one-year contract with the Jets last week, will wear No. 11.

Thompson told the Jets’ official website that when he asked the Jets’ equipment manager about the number, he was floored at the answer.

“He said he hadn’t given the number out since Rick Rypien wore it and he said if anyone was going to wear it, it would be you,” said Thompson. “At first, I was kind of nervous about it. It was kind of overwhelming at first because I know how much Rick Rypien meant to people. I had to think about it a little bit.”

Thompson then spoke with Rypien’s close friend Kevin Bieksa about the idea. Thompson and Bieksa were teammates on the Anaheim Ducks between 2015 and 2017.

Bieksa, of course, had played with Rypien for both the Moose and the Canucks.

Thompson, who played last season for the Vegas Golden Knights, said Bieksa encouraged him to take the number.

Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger said the team also checked in with Rypien’s family.

After Rypien’s death, his family revealed that he had dealt with depression for many years and the Canucks launched a campaign to raise awareness about mental health, which has now morphed in a league-wide initiative called Hockey Talks.

Thompson has had his own struggles with mental health and addiction. He has been sober for four years.

“It’s just extremely humbling that they would think of me in such a positive way to wear a number that represents so much,” he said.

Rypien scored nine goals and added 226 penalty minutes in 119 games for the Canucks between 2005 and 2011.

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