Sunday, June 22, 2014

Depression doesn't have to be the end of the road

This has to be a tough time to be involved at the management level of a junior hockey team, or even a midget AAA team.
In fact, it must be hard to be involved with the operation of any competitive hockey team.
Aside from the winning and the losing and putting bums in the seats, you have to be concerned about the concussion factor. As we have seen in recent days, you also need to be concerned about something like smokeless tobacco infiltrating your dressing room.
But perhaps the biggest issue of all involves mental health and, yes, that is intertwined with the concussion situation.
I have wanted to write something about hockey and mental health for a few months now, but haven’t been able to find the words.
My late mother dealt with mental health issues for much of the last half of her life. Because of that I have seen the inside of a mental health centre on more than one occasion. I also have seen the inside of more than one hospital psychiatric ward. It was through all of this that I came to know about valium and lithium and placebos and a whole lot more.
I hardly consider myself an expert, but I know something about what my mother went through.
So when something happens in hockey that involves someone’s mental health -- be it a coach or player or anyone else associated with the game -- my heart bleeds.
Such was the case when Terry Trafford, a player with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, was found dead in the cab of his truck in March.
The situation involving Trafford received a lot of play at the time, with the best media piece perhaps being this one right here that was written by former player Gregg Sutch for Yahoo! Canada Sports.
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After the Sutch piece appeared, someone from a WHL city tweeted in the direction of Yahoo’s Sunaya Sapurji: “Please make sure the WHL sees this! As a former billet of a player with depression issues, I know how important this is.”
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Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun weighed in with this column right here, on Trafford’s father searching for answers and trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
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The afore-mentioned Sapurji took the time to chat with Dr. Cal Botterill, a sports psychologist who is most qualified to speak on the subject because he also played hockey at a high level, including a stint with Canada’s national team in the late 1960s.
That piece is right here, and includes this from Dr. Botterill: “It becomes an all-or-nothing feeling because of the status that hockey has and how obsessed young people get with thinking this is their destiny and the only thing that’s worthwhile. I think when we think that way it’s dangerous.”
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Another meaningful story that appeared at the time was written by Gene Pereira and detailed the trials and tribulations of Rich Clune, a forward with the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
Clune, who played for the OHL’s Barrie Colts, said the Trafford situation hit awfully close to home because, as Pereira wrote, “he also has battled depression. Clune self-medicated using alcohol and later drugs, leading to an addiction that not only could have cost him his hockey career, but possibly his life.”
The difference between Trafford and Clune may be that “some three years ago, Clune reached out and got the help he needed.”
The Clune story is right here.
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The story involving hockey and mental health touched more than the family, friends and teammates of Terry Trafford during the 2013-14 season.
At one point, Regan Bartel, the long-time radio voice of the Kelowna Rockets, posted this on his blog:
“Am I the only one concerned about two teenage hockey players taking their lives over the last three weeks? . . . These two players, one in the Central and one who was involved with a South Okanagan team, have been put to rest.
“Is it just coincidence or part of a bigger problem? Mental illness is all around us without question. It makes me wonder what pressures these players faced from coaches and parents as they moved up the ranks.
“If they fail in reaching the goals many people envisioned for them, what safety nets are in place to help these individuals deal with disappointment? Maybe that wasn't a factor at all. I don't know.
“I am saddened to see this loss of life, as a father of twin 11-year-old boys. My heart goes out to the families and friends of these two individuals.”
Like Bartel, I was stunned at the time I heard of the deaths of these two young hockey players, young men who should have had so much for which to live.
But, obviously, something went wrong, something that no one recognized, through no fault of their own. Oh, you can bet that there is a lot of looking back and wondering, but is that really fair?
It is one thing to expect adults to recognize the signs that something is wrong; if only it was that easy.
Somehow, young people, and not just those playing hockey, have to come to understand that it’s OK to ask for help. They have to know that help is available, that life, the most precious gift of all, is worth living.
Unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental health hasn’t gone anywhere, as this piece right here from The Globe and Mail’s Gayle MacDonald clearly states.
As we attempt to remove that stigma, perhaps one thing we can do is pay more attention to those people who have dealt successfully with mental health issues . . . people like Garett MacDonald.
MacDonald is the subject of a wonderful story that appeared in Sunday’s Vancouver Province. Written by Steve Ewen, it deals with the story of MacDonald, a former junior hockey player who fell into depression as he struggled with an injury suffered in an Adult Safe Hockey League game that ultimately cost him one eye.
Ewen’s story is right here. It is a wonderful read; it really is, although it also is quite painful. I just hope a whole lot of teenagers read it and come to understand that there are people out there who love you and who can help you.
And please understand that depression doesn’t have to be the end of the road.
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1. The CHL’s import draft, which is scheduled for July 2, is a real crapshoot, one that long has been dominated by agents.
But in all my years of being around the WHL, I don’t know that I have ever read a better description of it than one I found this weekend.
Here’s Cam Hope, the general manager of the Victoria Royals, in conversation with Andy Neal:
“The import draft is one of the strangest animals that you get in hockey. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in the pros or junior hockey.
“The mine-field and the quicksand that’s out there is almost indescribable and this year even moreso.
“We’re doing our homework; we had a long meeting for hours and hours and hours going over players who have come to our attention through our research or through their agents. But, in the end, there’s only so much homework you can do.
“There’s a shift in the political landscape; we know there’s problems for some Russian players getting visas as a result of things happening over there so there’s all kinds of things that have nothing to do with hockey that make this dangerous.”
Neal’s filing also takes a look at the Royals’ 20-year-old situation. It’s all right here.

2. “In theory,” writes Alan Maki of The Globe and Mail, “banning body checking for minor hockey players ages 13 to 17 should be an easy exercise. It’s about safety, and most everyone can appreciate that. And yet when to introduce body checking remains a hot-button issue.” . . . The reason for Maki’s piece, which is right here? . . . The Greater Toronto Hockey League and the association that governs minor hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador have voted against banning body checking for players more than 13 years of age. . . . One doctor in Maki’s piece points out that concussion research still is in its infancy. But considering the direction in which that research is headed, it is mind-numbing that some adults still don’t understand the risk involved.

3. I’m still laughing about the CFL’s attempt to change the adjectives ‘import’ and ‘non-import’ into ‘international’ and ‘national’. . . . Of course, this is the same league that has an expansion team with the nickname Redblacks.

4. Darren Gusdal, who played two seasons (1978-80) with the Brandon Wheat Kings, has died. Gusdal, who was born in Erickson, Man., just north of Brandon, was 53. He could skate like the wind, although he had a funny style, and was a terrific penalty killer on one of the greatest teams in WHL history, the 1978-79 Wheat Kings who went 58-5 with nine ties.
 
5. Former WHLer Cody Smuk (Chilliwack, Lethbridge, Moose Jaw, 2006-10) is battling cancer, and funds are being raised to help him pay the bills. If you would like to donate, you are able to do so right here.
Smuk posted this message last week:
“Hey All. I just wanted to thank each and every one of you for donating. It has been very touching to see all the support I have received in the past 24 hours. I am truly grateful and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Day 1 went well but it will be a long road ahead. Thanks for making this easier for my family and myself. Take care.”

6. It’s Canada week at MMQB, and you should give it a look right here. That is The Monday Morning Quarterback site that is edited by Peter King, the best-connected football writer on the planet. Today, MMQB has former Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman as a guest writer, and they’ll be all-Canadian all the time this week. . . . MMQB plans on staffing three CFL games this week, with King himself traveling to Calgary and, yes, Regina.
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The Vancouver Canucks are expected to announce today that they have signed Willie Desjardins as their head coach. Desjardins is a former GM/head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . Kevin Parnell, who manages the website and media relations for the Kelowna Rockets, tweeted Sunday night that the club will make a “major announcement” at a news conference today at 1 p.m. Bruce Hamilton, the governor, president and general manager, will be there, along with head coach Ryan Huska and assistant coach Dan Lambert. Gotta wonder if Lambert is about to be named associate coach?
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The Everett Silvertips have taken scouting to a new level, witness this from assistant coach Mitch Love . . . 


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