Hockey and mental health advocates in British Columbia have partnered to develop what's being described as the most comprehensive mental health program for amateur sport in Canada.
On Tuesday the Canadian Mental Health Association and the B.C. Hockey League announced their new initiative, Talk Today, which offers confidential support to players in need.
"It's really about taking down, taking away that shame and the stigma so that young people can reach out for help," said Canadian Mental Health Association CEO Bev Gutray.
Player speaks out
The toll that the wins, losses, and the pressures of hockey can take is something hockey player Myles Mattila, 16, is familiar with.
The powerful forward and leading scorer was drafted last year by the Vancouver Giants.
"I want to let as many people as possible know they have resources and they are not alone," said Mattila.
A couple of years ago, when Mattila was only 14, he recognized something was wrong with one of his teammates, who was eventually diagnosed with depression.
"It wasn't just a bad hockey game," said Mattila. "It was something inside that was really bothering him. So, that's when I realized he needed to get help."
Mattila's story isn't much different than that of his idol, Kevin Bieksa. The former Vancouver Canuck — now Anaheim Duck — regularly speaks of mental illness in memory of Rick Rypien.
Rypien had a history of depression. He was found dead in his home just weeks before he played his first game with the Winnipeg Jets.
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Since Mattila helped his friend, he has been a spokesman for mental health awareness in the league.
"I'm encouraging everyone, especially youth, to talk about the subject," said Mattila.
Culture of silence
Amateur hockey insiders know the kind of support Mattila offered his friend isn't what usually happens when teammates appear to be struggling.
"There is a culture that has existed for years that doesn't make it okay to talk about that stress," said Rob DeClark, chairman of BCHL's Player Support Program.
"In fact, you might get scratched."
In one month of operation, the minor league program has already had calls from four players.