Before the Terry Trafford tragedy gripped the hockey world this month, there were Dan Michalsky and Michael Webster. You should get to know Michalsky, a former Barrie Colts left wing, and Webster, a current Colts defenceman.
They didn't know each other a year ago. But because Webster can grow one heck of a mullet and they both have Facebook accounts, fate brought together the hockey brothers from past and present for a good cause last March and they reunited for an encore this month.
"It was a year-and-a-half ago I was sitting around with some friends and we were talking about Movember," said Michalsky, referring to the November moustache growing challenge that raises money and awareness for men's health issues like prostate and testicular cancer as well as mental health.
"An idea popped into my head and I asked by friends, 'What if I grew a mullet in March? Would you donate money?' They overwhelmingly got behind the idea."
That's how the March Mullet was hatched.
Michalsky's idea, however, gained a tremendous boost when the calendar flipped its page to March last year. Webster got some attention for his head of hair back then.
If you follow junior hockey you know that players on teams bound for the playoffs like to exhibit their team unity by styling some similarly crazy hairdos. Some get buzz cuts. Others get tints or peroxide jobs. Webster went with the time-honoured hockey tradition and shaped his long mane into a mullet.
Michalsky caught Webster's coiffure in the news one day. So he contacted the defenceman via Facebook to see if he was interested in joining the March Mullet cause, which last year raised money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Webster went all in.
"He responded immediately. It speaks to his character and the quality person he is," said 26-year-old Michalsky, who now lives and works in Barrie.
About a dozen others joined Webster and Michalsky to grow a mullet and the inaugural March Mullet raised $5,225.
'Touched by mental illness'
This year, the two turned their attention to mental illness. Michalsky reports that 35 people have shaped their head of hair into a mullet. Webster cajoled five of his Colts teammates - Jake Dotchin, Zach Hall, Brendan Lemieux, Liam Maaskant and Justin Scott - to join the cause.
The March Mullet: Rockin' Mullets for Mental Health has raised more than $11,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association. But this is just the start, Michalsky hopes, because he plans to take March Mullet across Canada in the future.
By no means are Michalsky and Webster trying to capitalize on the heartbreak of the Trafford tragedy. They decided to focus on raising awareness and money for mental illness months before the 20-year-old Trafford went missing after he was kicked off the Saginaw Spirit for a second violation of team rules.
His car eventually was found in a Saginaw parking lot. An autopsy revealed that Trafford, a native of Toronto, had died of self-inflicted asphyxiation.
Both the 18-year-old Webster and Michalsky have been touched by mental illness through family members, friends and teammates.
"With the Colts, our owner Howie Campbell encourages us to get out and help in the community," the thoughtful Webster said. "For me, I've been touched by mental illness in three aspects: I've seen it touch relatives; I've had teammates and friends affected when they couldn't play after injuries like a concussion; I've seen friends and teammates deal with depression."
'I found myself kind of lost'
Michalsky has family members who have been touched by depression, too.
"One family member, in particular, I know who has suffered and people look down on him," Michalsky said. "It's a lot more than that. He's had to battle this disease for a long time."
While Webster and the Colts have begun their playoff run last week and lead the Sudbury Wolves 3-0 in their first-round series, Michalsky admits he missed the game and he had a difficult time when his playing days ended at Concordia University in Montreal a few years ago.
"I would not even try to compare my situation to what happened to Terry Trafford," Michalsky said. "But it was a difficult time.
"I found myself kind of lost. The thing that got me through was my family and friends."
If you would like to donate to March Mullet you can do so through the charity's website, marchmullet.org.
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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