Thursday, July 31, 2014

Team exec: Mental health awareness 'needs to be bigger deal' in CHL

F Collin Valcourt (Spokane, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, 2010-14) has signed a tryout contract with Hradec Králové (Czech Republic, Extraliga). Last season, with Saskatoon and Prince Albert, he put up 72 points, 28 of them goals, in 71 games. He was pointless in one game with the Abbotsford Heat (AHL). The Hradec Králové head coach is Peter Draisaitl, the father of Valcourt's Prince Albert teammate Leon Draisaitl. . . .
Patrik Sylvegård, the general manager of Malmö (Sweden, Allsvenskan), has told the Malmö newspaper Sydsvenskan that F Kenndal McArdle (Moose Jaw, Vancouver, 2002-09) has retired from hockey. McArdle signed a new contract, one year plus an option year, in June with Malmö. Last season, with Vasteras (Sweden, Allsvenskan), he had 11 goals and 13 assists in 45 games.
In less than a year, at least three young hockey players, two of them WHL bantam draft selections, have taken their own lives.
And one high-ranking team official says it’s time for the CHL to do more.
“Mental health needs to be a bigger deal,” he told Taking Note on Thursday evening.
Pointing out the work done by TSN’s Michael Landsberg, the host of Off the Record, and Canadian cyclist/speed skater Clara Hughes to “help de-stigmatize” mental illness, the team executive said he “believes the CHL needs to do more in light of these tragic cases popping up across the country.“
“I have seen first-hand how easy it is to hide away and not want to bother anyone with it,” he added, “and also how easy it is to get help if someone they trust and respect can see the signs.”
At the same time, he admitted: “Yes, it’s an easy problem to ignore.”
But, regardless of what happens at the CHL level, he doesn’t plan on ignoring it.
“In light of the recent string of tragedies,“ he said, “we plan on stepping up our mental health awareness options to our players at training camp, and showing them it is not a point of weakness but a point of bravery to seek counsel if it is needed."
With these most-recent deaths it would seem the time has come to do more than whatever already is being done.
It is doubtful we will ever know what drives a young person to take such a drastic step; obviously, this isn’t a simple issue that can be broken down to one thing.
But it seems to have become a much more frequent occurrence in hockey circles, and perhaps it’s time it was discussed more openly. Perhaps it’s time for a national dialogue on the subject.
One mother who is heavily involved in hockey and who has seen her family impacted by mental illness told me this week that she will write Tom Renney, the new president and CEO of Hockey Canada, in an attempt to get that organization more involved in educating its coaches.
A recent situation involving her son “was a debacle,” she said. “Not saying his coach wasn’t a nice person, just uneducated and inexperienced.”
Perhaps she should also write to David Branch, the president of the CHL, and Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, and Bruce Hamilton, the owner of the Kelowna Rockets who also is the chairman of the board of governors.
There was a time when the media shied away from reporting on suicides; in fact, the subject was all but taboo.
As Steve Ladurantaye, then with The Globe and Mail, reported in December 2011, that thinking began to change, at least in part, in 2009 when Gerry Nott, the editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen, assigned reporters to write stories on two teenagers who had killed themselves in a rural Ontario community.
Nott explained his decision this way:
“With such a significant number of deaths in terms of young people, if this were anything but suicide, we'd write about it incessantly. If there were a preponderance of deaths related to mountain bikes, we'd write stories about it daily, and I take the position that suicide is no different than that. Unless it's on the table respectfully, it's not going to be addressed by the mental-health system or any of the oversight agencies.”
Ladurantaye reported:
“The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that suicide has accounted for 2 per cent of annual deaths in Canada since the late 1970s and the group most at risk is the 15-to-19-year-old population.
“Although rates of adolescent suicide in Canada have declined since the early 1980s, it remains the second-leading cause of death among teenagers, after car accidents. In 2007, the most recent year with available data, 218 people 10 to 19 years old committed suicide.”
There are professionals who are concerned with what they call contagion, which in effect is copying someone else.
While I am most aware of that situation, I am more inclined to agree with Nott. If we don’t have a dialogue about this problem, how will we ever come to grips with it. There has to be a way that we can get young people to understand that ending it all isn’t the answer, that even with the speed bumps we encounter, life still is the most precious thing we have.
Ladurantaye’s story from 2011 is right here.

Dan Hamhuis, who owns a piece of the Prince George Cougars, was back home in Smithers, B.C., this week. In fact, he appeared at City Council on Thursday. It’s a day the Vancouver Canucks defenceman won’t forget as councillors voted to name a section of First Avenue after him. It’ll be known as Dan Hamhuis Way. Kendra Wong of the Smithers Interior News has more right here.
The Prince George Cougars have signed F Ethan O’Rourke, a Penticton, B.C., native who was a third-round selection in the 2014 bantam draft. . . . Last season, at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, he had 35 points, 18 of them goals, in 58 games. . . . O’Rourke’s father Steve is a former WHLer (Tri-City, Moose Jaw, 1991-94), who now is an assistant coach with the Red Deer Rebels. . . . The Cougars have signed three of their 2014 draft picks, with F Justin Almeida of Kitimat, B.C., and D Max Martin of Winnipeg having signed earlier. Almeida was the fifth overall selection; Martin was taken with the 27th pick.
Joey Perricone, a goaltender who played five seasons (2003-08) with the Moose Jaw Warriors, has gotten into the coaching game. On Thursday, he was named the goaltending coach with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. . . . Perricone, 27, played four seasons with the St. Francis Xavier U X-Men, who play out of Antigonish, N.S. . . . With the Huskies, he will work alongside GM/head coach Gilles Bouchard.
F Jake Virtanen of the Calgary Hitmen, who had off-season shoulder surgery, is back on skates, but he has yet to be cleared for contact. He’s skating and shooting in Vancouver these days and tells Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province right here that he hopes to be back playing for the Hitmen in early October. Virtanen will attend the Canadian national junior team’s summer camp in Montreal and Sherbrooke next week. He’ll skate but won’t take part in contact drills.
Former NHLer Jeff O’Neill started an interesting string of comments with this tweet:

If you track down O’Neill’s timeline on Twitter, check out the comments.
The cost of playing minor hockey is becoming a hot-button issue.
On Tuesday, Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post did an interview with Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban that included this exchange:
Fitz-Gerald: How much of a threat do you think the cost of playing hockey is to the future of the game in Canada?
Subban: (jumps in quickly) Huge threat. Huge threat, because you’re missing a big part of the population, in terms of being able to afford to play the sport. So what does that mean? That means you’re missing out on talent for the game, you’re missing out on potential interest for the game, you’re missing out on growth for thew game. You’re missing out on a lot of things. When you look at soccer, it’s the most popular sport in the world. Why? Because everybody can play it . . . so everybody feels welcome.
(That complete interview is right here.)

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