Hockey passion leads to new purpose for soldier with PTSD
Scott Stroh helps hockey and hockey helps him
A former soldier says his passion for junior hockey in Manitoba is giving him a new purpose in life, after he was medically discharged in 2013 due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scott Stroh, 38, started providing coverage to the junior leagues last fall through his Hockey Night in Manitoba social media sites.
His posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram include game previews, scores, standings, player profiles and video. The graphics are crisp and professional.
Stroh doesn't make any money from the sites, and he's not trying to.
He just wants to put a spotlight on the talents and passions of the players.
"They deserve it," he says. "There's some great talent out there — not only what they do on the ice, but what they do off the ice for the communities. They're in the schools, they're in the hospitals, they're fundraising. So it's all around just a great thing."
So far, he is regularly highlighting the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, the Manitoba Women's Junior Hockey League, the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey league, the Keystone Junior Hockey League and the Hanover Tache Junior Hockey League. He also promotes the Flin Flon Bombers and the Thief River Falls Norskies in Minnesota.
"The best experience is once people start to figure out who I am and that I try to be professional and I do this from the kindness of my own heart," he says.
"It's having people come up and either thank you or ask you to do work on their team or a particular player. It's just that appreciation factor that makes me feel really good about what I do. And it's my way, in my condition, of giving back to the community."
Stroh left Manitoba for Nova Scotia in 1996 for a career in the navy. For most of the time, he absolutely loved it.
He went overseas twice, but the seven months he spent in Afghanistan in 2010 took a huge mental toll on him.
"We saved many, many lives by being able to notify these troops on the ground that they're going into a nefarious area," he says.
"But the problem with that, where everything is live and in real action, you see things that you don't want to see. And on top of that, you're making calls that affect peoples lives," he says slowly, while looking away.
"And I think that is the primary reason why people like myself who are in that position have what I have — because you are essentially making that call to take somebody out."
After more than 16 years in the military, he got a medical discharge in 2013 and returned home to Manitoba. He says he's grateful for the help the military and others have given him to help cope with his condition.
One of his biggest supporters is his wife, Stephanie. They met a couple of years ago and are now married with a one-year-old son, Spencer.
Scott says he told her about his condition on their first date.
"I open up right away," he says. "Unfortunately, some people have that stigma of A, 'I just don't want to deal with that,' or B, 'You know, is something going to trigger this guy that's going to end badly for me,' which is not the case."
Stephanie didn't run.
"So right away, we felt this bond that we both have empathy for each other, and that chemistry has worked magic for us today," he says.
"He's my best friend," says Stephanie, 32. "He's super sensitive, super caring. He has hope for the world. He just wants the world to be good and people to be kind to each other."
After returning to Manitoba, Scott looked for work. While his military benefits meant he "didn't have to worry about his mortgage," he wanted a job, he says.
He tried selling cars but felt it was "too scripted" for him and didn't allow him to be himself.
Then he got his long-distance bus driver's licence. He worked for Greyhound and a charter service for a while, but he found driving a busload of people, late at night, made him anxious. He also found it difficult to be away from home.
Then came his "Aha!" moment. He could combine his skills in computer graphics, which he learned in the military, with his love for junior hockey.
Stephanie Stroh says it's a seamless fit.
"He gets lost in it," she says.
"He spends endless hours working on it, and he knows the statistics, and the people and the players and he's just — he's happy," she says, smiling. "And that's really to me what him being able to find his passion is. He's calm, and he's happy."
Joy in the house
Scott works on his Hockey Night in Manitoba social media pages on a laptop at a standup desk next to a large window in the living room of their modest rural Manitoba bungalow. It's a bright space full of light and activity.
The couple's giggly baby, Spencer, plays with toys nearby.
Scott's toys are in the room as well. He has a shrine to Kermit the Frog, which includes a cuckoo clock that plays the Muppet Show Theme every hour.
Kermit is his personal hero. He even has a tattoo of the green fellow on his forearm.
"Coming home from Afghanistan in 2010 … it wasn't a good point in time for me. A friend of mine suggested we go watch the Muppets movie, and you know, in minutes, I was laughing again," he remembers.
"I felt rejuvenated, like a kid, and I noticed that this frog, Kermit, embodied everything that I wanted to be, you know? He's a friend, he's a leader. He's not without his own issues, his own problems. I looked at him and thought, 'That's who'd I'd love to be if I could be anybody.' So he became an iconic part of my life."
Across the open room, sitting on the dining room table, is the huge hippo head of the Hockey Night in Manitoba mascot, Hip Hop. One of Scott's great joys is dressing up as Hip Hop and interacting with crowds at games and events.
Hip Hop has been invited to Hockey Day in Canada festivities in Kenora this weekend, and he — and Scott — can't wait.
Despite the obvious joy in the house, the PTSD is never that far away.
A white dry-erase board on the wall has the heading "Spencer and Scott." From bottles to naps, it gives an hour-by-hour breakdown of what Spencer will need throughout the day while Stephanie is at work.
"I have a short-term memory problem, which isn't fun," he says.
"Years ago, when I did what I did at the peak of my career, I was able to multitask. Things came very easily to me. But now, as you saw, on the kitchen wall, there's a schedule of things I need to do to make sure my son gets through his day."
Stephanie also helps him keep track of the schedules of the different junior hockey league teams.
When she returns home, he sometimes heads out to cover a game. He loads up his cameras and laptop and prepares to give the best possible coverage.
That includes live tweets of highlights and scores using pre-set graphics he's carefully crafted.
He hopes his coverage brings more people out to watch junior hockey.
"Do yourself a favour and go watch it," he says. "It's fast, it's exciting and these kids are putting everything into it. They're playing every minute. Plus, it doesn't cost a lot to go."
Scott says the players, parents and team officials he speaks with are grateful. The Selkirk Steelers — an MJHL team currently struggling with attendance — frequently shares his posts. He also gives extra attention to the OCN Blizzard, a team at risk of folding at the end of this season.
Doing something that is needed is important to him.
PTSD can steal confidence, he says. One of the reasons he wanted to do this is because his computer graphic skills have remained sharp despite his condition.
"It's the one thing that I have left that I know I'm good at, you know, and I'm not putting myself down. It's just the unfortunate circumstances of someone with this condition. So I know I'm not going to fail at it, and I know it excites me, and it's hockey — it's our sport here in Canada."
And he's loving it.
"It means a lot, because it keeps me engaged. It keeps me focused," he says.
"It gets me out of the house. It gets me into the communities, interacting with these players, their families, coaches, friends, fans, and that's ultimately what I like to do," he says with a huge smile. "I like to engage with people."
- Hockey Day in Canada in Kenora is on Saturday. A photo cutline on an earlier version of this story said it was on Sunday.Feb 17, 2017 9:20 AM CT