I am a Canadian, and yes, hockey is a very popular sport here.
Hockey has a long and storied history, having first been played in Windsor, Nova Scotia, around 1800. There are now teams and leagues for children, school teams, more skilled teams, and six professional teams.
Growing up, I traveled with my father a few times to Montreal to see a National Hockey League game. It was a three hour flight but well worth it. The Montreal Canadiens being my favourite team. Special memories!
Hockey is certainly a rough sport, with players wearing body protective pads, helmets, and face shields. However, not that long ago, helmets were not worn and goalies didn’t wear much of a mask.
The NHL certainly puts forth a “tough guy” image.
This image can be exemplified by Gerry Cheevers, a former star goalie with the Boston Bruins, among other teams, back in the 1960’s and 70’s. He wore a standard mask of that era, a simple thin shield which covered only his face. Nothing like the masks worn today by Ben Scrivens, goalie for the Edmonton Oilers, who is featured in the current BC2M campaign. Every time a puck would hit Cheevers’ mask, he would have a new stitch-mark drawn on it. In time, his mask was covered in “stitches”.
During this month’s #BellLetsTalk Campaign, a national mental awareness initiative in Canada, Mike Babcock, coach of the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL, was interviewed. He has coached teams that have won the Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold.
Babcock said: “How is a man or woman supposed to be the best they can be if they have something bothering them and they can’t talk about it? That makes no sense.”
In his 20 years as a coach, he has had only two players approach him to discuss mental health concerns. “As soon as they talk about it, it’s therapeutic,” Babcock stated.
But there has been a shift.
In recent years, sadly some players and former players have died by suicide. Others have spoken about their mental health concerns and illnesses.
All six Canadian NHL teams – Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks – during this month will be hosting a mental health awareness day and game. “Hockey Talks” encourages the conversation about mental health. There are youth events held to allow their voices to be heard. Experts in mental health also contribute. The hope is that misconceptions about mental health will be exposed and stigma will be reduced.
A few years ago, I was asked by Crossroads Clubhouse to help organize a mental health awareness night with a local hockey team. The idea came from my speaking about BC2M holding such events with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets.
We learned that the Ottawa Senators had hosted such a night. Upon contacting the Senators’ promotions office, we learned a few ideas to assist in our awareness night. The Senators even sent us a team jersey signed by their captain for us to give away at the game. We have held this event each year since.
Even “tough guys” have mental health concerns to be addressed. Some are now speaking and being heard. Let’s be #StrongerThanStigma, on the ice and off.