By Jim Stanford on February 5, 2013
The Jackson Hole community is struggling to come to grips with the death yesterday of Moose hockey player Joe Casey.
Casey was a 13-year veteran of the Moose, the captain and all-time leading scorer. He was one of the funniest characters ever to grace the Snow King ice.
Teammates say he may have died of pneumonia. He had been feeling ill over the weekend and sought medical attention, but the severity of his illness may have been unknown. An autopsy is pending, his brother Mikey said. He was 37 years old.
Shock was the prevailing emotion late Monday night, as friends gathered in the Moose locker room at Snow King. While teammates traded stories, many people were still in disbelief, as if his death were a hoax he might have staged for a laugh.
Only three days earlier, on Friday night, he tallied two assists in Jackson’s 5-4 win over the Chicago Chargers, according to the club’s website.
Casey was a handyman and accomplished outdoorsman who regaled friends with his tales of hunting and fishing adventures. An avid Broncos fan, he came to Jackson from Colorado but attended high school in Minnesota and Oklahoma.
Casey joined the Moose from the University of Denver for the 2000-01 season and led the team in scoring. Built like a tank, he was a stout forward and seemed indestructible on and off the ice.
After his first season, he tried his hand at bull riding at the JH Rodeo, much to the dismay of GM Howie Carruth (see story below).
What friends will remember most about Casey is his ability to make people laugh. He dominated costume parties; this Halloween, he tied a moose hide around his torso and donned Viking horns.
“If you don’t have a sense of humor, I will just laugh at you instead of with you,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The nicest thing someone can do for another person is an unexpected gift at an unexpected time … the gift itself can be material or time. I also believe in kind actions towards other people (friends or strangers) and truly do it out of kindness and never expect nor want anything in return. I would give the shirt off my back for someone who has been kind to me – that is a fact!”
The Moose are planning an informal memorial skate Wednesday night. More information on a service will be posted as soon as it is available.
The following story appeared in the Jackson Hole News in July 2001:
From checks to chaps
Moose hockey star Casey tries bull riding at the JH Rodeo.
By Jim Stanford
His skates and stick long put away for summer, Joe Casey has turned to a cowboy hat and spurs for getting his athletic kicks.
And what a kick Casey, leading scorer on the Jackson Hole Moose hockey team last season, is getting these days – bull riding at the JH Rodeo.
The stocky, 25-year-old center from Colorado Springs, Colo., got more of a literal kick than he would have liked Saturday, when he toppled from his third-ever bull ride and 1,000-pound Texas Too Many Spots stomped on him.
“I can’t give up until I ride one,” Casey said afterward as sweat poured off his forehead and he wiped the dust from his jeans. “I’ve got to keep riding, keep trying.”
Such determination is typical for the gifted skater who made a splash in his Moose debut last winter. After joining the team from the University of Denver, Casey tallied 20 goals and 41 assists in 25 games.
He developed an interest in bull riding earlier this summer after hanging out around the chutes with teammate Eric Rahilly. Rahilly, a Michigan native known as “Rawhide” among the Moose, is another hockey player who doubles as rodeo cowboy. He has won the bull riding buckle at the JH Rodeo four times.
Rahilly introduced Casey to the rough-and-tumble sport and has nurtured his development. Although he says he hasn’t goaded his friend into climbing atop bulls, he seemed as proud as a peacock watching Casey prepare for his ride Saturday.
“There wasn’t any arm twisting,” Rahilly said in his slow cowboy drawl. “He came to me and said, ‘I want to try.’
“He just came up with the idea on his own,” he added, chuckling.
Casey has yet to hang on for the requisite eight seconds. In fact, his three bull rides to date have totaled about eight seconds.
Yet as soon as he plunged head first into the dirt Saturday, he already was thinking about his next ride. “Wednesday,” he muttered, looking ahead to tonight’s JH Rodeo.
Casey says the thrill of bull riding is addictive. “The scariest part is in that chute,” he said. “I like it.”
The promise of watching Casey try to tame a drool-spewing, madly bucking beast brought a host of Moose players to the rodeo Saturday.
Cocktails in hand, Adam Patterson, T.J. Thomas, Ross Boldt and Jamie Hanson laughed as they discussed their teammate’s bull riding exploits.
“We feel in case he dies, we ought to be here,” Patterson said, drawing a chorus of chortles.
“That’s not funny!” chirped Casey’s girlfriend, Susan Gibbs.
Gibbs said Casey’s competitive nature makes it hard for him to give up bull riding now that he’s hooked.
“He’s obsessed,” she said. “It’s all he talks about and all he thinks about. He loves it. He thinks by the end of the summer he will win this thing.”
Moose general manager Howie Carruth hasn’t been so supportive. Carruth has greeted Casey’s foray into the arena with gruff disdain, telling his star player he had better not get hurt.
“These guys can’t stay away from the crowds,” Carruth said. “It cracks me up. If they did it in their backyard, they wouldn’t be doing it.”
Warming up for his ride Saturday, Casey was a portrait of concentration. He visualized his technique, inhaling and exhaling deeply to calm his nerves. He wore a white hat, spurs and an old set of chaps borrowed from Rahilly.
When it came time to mount Texas Too Many Spots in the chute, Casey was every bit as intense as he is directing the power play on the ice.
“Just relax – have fun,” another cowboy reminded him as he straddled the bull.
“Try hard, try hard!” Rahilly bellowed as the gate swung open and the bull burst into the arena.
Casey stayed atop the beast as it bucked twice mightily, but started to lose his balance on the third bounce. He seemed a bit stiff, and before three seconds had elapsed, he was on his belly in the dirt.
As if he wasn’t feeling vanquished enough, Texas Too Many Spots stomped on his ribs and shin for good measure. Casey scrambled out of the arena with a huge tear in his protective vest and a few minor scrapes.
“It’s a little tender,” he said, pointing to his reddened shin. “That’s the first good stomping I’ve received.”
“You’re lucky then,” offered bull rider Josh Phillips of Lander.
After assessing his performance with Rahilly, Casey concluded he needs to work on his form. “I’ve got my hands down,” he said. “My feet are getting me bucked off. I’ve got my feet up like a thoroughbred rider. I’ve got to keep them down.”
Casey’s teammates laughed once more when he showed them his ripped vest.
“Looks like we’ll have a bill at the Flat Creek Saddle Shop,” said Rahilly.
“What a maniac,” said captain Mike Sullivan.