With all the excitement that is the NHL, people often forget that hockey players are human too. Sure they get payed to play the great game of hockey, score goals, make big saves and probably will earn more money in a year than you will in your entire life, but their still people. You look a the the deaths of Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard and realize that professional athletes go through the same problems as you and I. They battle depression, they get hurt, they have surgeries, bills to pay and families. On top of everything else going on in their lives, they’re asked to play a gruelling 82 game season in a quest to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, which takes every ounce of energy and willpower.
What one often forgets is the much less glamours life of a junior hockey player battling to get to the AHL or NHL. You see guys like Connor McDavid who are NHL ready superstars as they are pushed to their furthest limits and trained like robots. Often we forget these junior players battling it out and riding busses in the CHL, OHL, QMJHL and WHL are mere kids between the ages of 16 and 18. They go through the same life battles any other teenager does, yet often times they have no one to talk to and feel they must keep a brave face on “For The Boys” while they slowly die inside.
That’s what happened to Terry Trafford the former Saginaw Spirit forward who took his own life after being cut from his OHL team. Trafford didn’t know what his life without hockey was and wasn’t prepared to face what was next for him. He battled depression yet never told anyone, not even his parents. When he got cut from his team he feared his career was over and instead of talking to someone and exploring other options for a future in hockey, he gave up.
The death of Trafford opened a window into the problems that face junior hockey players when things go wrong. Where do they turn and what do they do? How should the team handle the situation and what can be done to prevent what happened to Terry Trafford?
With a cloud hanging over the junior hockey ranks, a red flag was raised when Windsor Spitfires goaltender Dalen
Kuchmey pulled himself mid game and drove away. He told his brother that he wanted to be alone and the situation was somewhat similar to Trafford’s. The Spitfires didn’t want their goalie back and no one quite knew what was going through Kuchmey’s head and what drove him to walk out on the team. The team’s support staff did reach out to the netminder to make sure he was okay after the incident which has driven Kuchmey away from the game of hockey.
Kuchmey didn’t like the way he was being treated by the Spitfires and had been debating quitting junior hockey following this season. Being left in the game while down 8-1 was the final trigger in the goaltenders mind and he decided that junior hockey was no longer for him.
Young junior hockey players are called upon and forced to act like much older and more mature men then they truly are. That is why so many of them end up getting in trouble, they’re just kids and they want to act like kids. There is immense pressure on these young players, so much so that hockey becomes their whole life.
As more and more issues arise from junior hockey, people are getting a better look at what goes on behind closed doors and sometimes things are not the best. Hockey is a great sport but it might be time the CHL and the rest of junior hockey change their policies when it comes to dealing with these young men. What do you think, is there cause for concern in Canadian junior hockey?