in memoriam: Joe Casey

By Jim Stanford on February 5, 2013

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This team photo was typical of Casey’s sense of humor.

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).

Casey on the river in Alaska.

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.


Posted under Deaths, Sports

20 Comments so far

  1. Hollis Brooks February 5, 2013 3:52 am

    Hearing this news is an awful way to start the day. Thanks for all the laughs Joe- see you on the other side brother.

  2. mike barclay February 5, 2013 7:23 am

    Joe Casey/Indian Larry made an incredible amount of amazing memories for us to laugh about and how he would live life to the fullest. It’s Casey-tough to make this news a reality, but as we accept your legacy we can be still and know that you were saved.

  3. Fresh Tracks February 5, 2013 8:05 am
  4. Shea Schweitzer-Erickson February 5, 2013 8:57 am

    I am SO VERY sadden by this HORRIBLE NEWS!!! I’m at a loss for words. The hearts of the Schweitzer family break for his family and for all those who ever had the chance to know Joe. He was wonderful.

  5. Tina McMillin February 5, 2013 9:35 am

    A legend and a memory of smiles.

    Thank you Joe.

    Tina McMillin

  6. Ron February 5, 2013 11:21 am

    Joe and I were (are) great friends. We shared a great deal of our lives with each other. I love him like a brother. We talked of friends, of politics, of religion, and our passions of the outdoors and hockey. He is an example of a true friend. Never asking what’s in it for me, but always asking what can I do to help. I miss you

  7. Tyler Weldon February 5, 2013 11:24 am

    Thanks for most of my favorite high school memories! Rest in peace,
    Love Tyler

  8. Tom Gould February 5, 2013 12:32 pm

    Jim [Casey]:

    Edi and I were stunned with the email about Joes death. I always remember him smiling and care free. My good friend I don’t know what to say at a time like this but I guess you hang on to the good memories and battle on. You have always been there for me and if there is anything you need don’t hesitate to let us know.
    Tom & Edi Gould

  9. John King February 5, 2013 1:01 pm

    I met Joe when he spent a year with the Killer Bees in south Texas. He was absolutely hysterical and would go to extremes for a laugh. This video is proof. Rest in peace, Joe.

  10. Jim Stanford February 5, 2013 2:03 pm

    Thanks for that video, John. Priceless.
    And thanks, MP, for the story link. Two of the younger Moose players were asking each other last night whether Casey had been drafted by the NHL, or just told people that to burnish his legend.

  11. Gruber February 5, 2013 2:25 pm

    John, i like that you put this clip up. It shows Casey’s love for laughter. Hadn’t seen since its original aire. As we all know, there was only 1 “Griz”

  12. Christopher Swan February 5, 2013 6:04 pm

    It’s hard to believe it. Funny, tough, an outstanding hockey player… So much energy. I can’t claim to be all that close to him- he was popular and I was a geek. I can say he never judged me for that, or made me feel like less of a person… Hell, we were kids, anyway… And looking back, he always seemed like a good person. Always laughing, always smiling. It stands to reason such indomitable spirit would grow into a much loved, good man. I salute you, Joe… May you conquer this last, great adventure with the same energy, the same raw power, that you had through your life. My heart and prayers go out to everyone to whom Joe was closest. He’ll always be in your hearts and minds… Small comfort, perhaps now, and for some, it will never be enough… But if there’s really a Heaven, you’ll all see him again… And he’ll probably be captain of the hockey team.

  13. Jan George February 5, 2013 6:32 pm

    Rest in peace Joe! You left a giant footprint on the hearts of all who had the honor of knowing and loving you! Joe and my son Todd played Junior Hockey in Minnesota and I loved Joe! So sad to say good bye to this amazing young man!

  14. Roger Bartlett and family February 5, 2013 7:19 pm

    Garrett informed me tonight of Joe’s passing. I’m still stunned. Joe and the Moose were a big part of us and what we did. It was actually Freddie who got us hooked on the Moose, but Joe was a huge part and we loved him from the moment we met him. Joe you will be so missed. Godspeed,heaven awaits my friend

  15. Bud Chatham February 5, 2013 7:55 pm

    Was lucky enough to fish with Joe this fall during the One Fly. During the very first five minutes of our day, I got my nymph hung up on a river bottom log. He rowed over, dropped anchor, and within 32 seconds had his clothes off on a 40 degree morning to jump in and retrieve my fly (I, of course, tried to beat him to the punch, but was too slow;). We had a great day fishing but a better day just being on the river, laughing and telling stories. He was the type of person you could just spend a day with and know you had a great friend for life. Just being around him for a short time myself, I know he will be missed by many family and friends who knew him longer and I will be thinking about and saying a prayer for them. While far too soon, I know he is in a great place now, surrounded by trout steams, bugling elk, and hockey rinks.

  16. Jim Stanford February 6, 2013 12:00 am

    A memorial has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday at Snow King Center.
    To clear up some questions about Joe seeking medical attention: He went to the hospital, but for whatever reason he declined care. He was not turned away, nor was dissuaded by cost or insurance, friends say. We may never know. He died at home, beside a frozen pond where he loved to skate.

  17. Angie Miller February 6, 2013 1:38 pm

    I am still so shocked and saddend by his passing. It feels like just yesterday that we were in school together and he would walk up to me and say “Just call me Bill” Finally I ask…um why? He would laugh and say “Cuz it is short for Billy Bad Ass” So, whenever I would see him in the halls at school, at his house or at a party I would call him Bill! We laughed about that a while back when we talked on the phone. So as my heart goes out to all that loved him I say “Take care Bill, you will be remembered as the life of the party, the smile within us all and an amazing soul. You will be missed Bill”
    Joe had a way of making you just feel like it was time to lighten up and love life, he did! He will be missed.
    All my thoughts and prayers go to Travis and the family. God Bless

  18. ali February 7, 2013 7:39 am

    that video is beautiful – so good to hear his laugh and voice. man its just shocking. wish we could say it was a hoax – 37 is too young to go – he had way too many good times to look forward to and is a study on how to really live it to the fullest. that smile will be missed.

  19. Lynchie February 8, 2013 9:09 am

    Never met the guy, never even heard of him until now, but…

    that video shows a person who just wants everyone to have fun. Sometimes life makes no sense, and Joe’s passing is one of those times…

    I wish I had known him. RIP Joe…you brought a lot of joy to other people.

    Damn, this is sad.

  20. Lora February 12, 2013 2:12 pm

    So saddened to hear this news today… Joe was the best fly fishing guide I ever had! What a fun day I’ll never forget…
    RIP Joe


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