Saskatoon

Hockey school working to prevent youth suicides in northern communities

About 100 young hockey players from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan are taking part in the Shoot-to-Score Hockey School in Flin Flon, Man., this week.

Shoot-to-Score Hockey School in Flin Flon, Man., taking place this week

About 100 young hockey players from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan are taking part in the Shoot-to-Score Hockey School in Flin Flon. (Tom McDermott)

Youth suicide has scarred Thomas McDermott's heart.

McDermott's nephew died by suicide last year. His daughter has also made an attempt.

There have been several other suicide attempts in the last few weeks on the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation — which includes McDermott's home of Amisk Lake, Deschambeault Lake, Kinoosao, Pelican Narrows, Prince Albert, Sandy Bay, Southend, Sturgeon Landing and Kiskaciwan — McDermott said.

His family history with suicide prompted McDermott, a paramedic and helicopter pilot, to do something about it.

"What can I do to prevent it?" McDermott said on CBC Saskatchewan's The Afternoon Edition.

'What can I do as a father?"

He said hockey helped shape his life in a positive way. He thought the game could help children who feel lost and hopeless.

McDermott became the director of the Shoot-to-Score Hockey School in Flin Flon, Man. Around 100 young hockey players from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan are taking part this week.

Former NHL player Reggie Leach and his son Jamie run the Shoot-to-Score Hockey School. (Wayne Vallevand)

The school is run by former NHLers  Reggie and Jamie Leach and is in its second year.

The kids are learning all about hockey. Perhaps more importantly, they're learning life skills. That includes trying to prevent youth suicides.

"We're in crisis right now and the unfortunate part is there's more to come," McDermott said. 

"When you don't have a seed or a dream you're floating … you're just lifeless, you don't know where you're going. And this is why I'm doing this."

I'm going to get them out at an early age and make sure that you know they don't go down that road.​​​​- Thomas McDermott

The goal of the school is to give players tools to become self confident and flourish in a supportive environment. 

"They're learning life skills, getting along, meeting new friends," McDermott said.

Participants get to try on a Stanley Cup ring during the camp.

"You should see the lights going on the faces. You can't help but get emotional."

McDermott said the skills you learn as a kid go with you throughout the rest of your life.

"Right now this is suicide prevention and this is my part. I'm going to get them out at an early age and make sure that you know they don't go down that road."

McDermott gets emotional when he talks about the feedback he gets from the kids.

"It's really touching," he said. "The kids are happier, parents are coming up to me and saying, 'Hey, this is great.'

McDermott said they are going to be evaluating the kids and checking on their progress over the next few years.

"This is my cause now. I went from paramedic to this. Now I'm on the prevention side. I'm not doing the cutting down of bodies anymore. I'm going on the other side to see what I can do to stop that."

About the Author

Scott Larson works for CBC News in Saskatoon. scott.larson@cbc.ca

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