OHL taking It Beyond The Ice With New Mental Health Program


When people think of hockey players they often think of strong athletes who can withstand any kind of injury or disappointment. On the ice they show no weakness, off the ice as long as they keep quiet no one much cares what they do. But what people forget most is that hockey players are still people and the OHL is ready to take the game beyond the ice as they announce a new mental health program.

The announcement follows the death of Terry Trafford was found dead from suicide following news he had been cut from the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.

Perhaps the biggest thing to remember about hockey players, or any other athlete for that matter, is that while they may play through numerous injuries the injuries not seen are often the most dangerous.

Ones involving the head or the dreaded concussion are the ones that can really affect a person in the long run. When your mind starts playing the oppositions role but physically there is nothing wrong, it’s easy to lose the balance of life.

Mix devastating injuries in with 16-20 year-old young men willing to do anything to achieve their goal of reaching the NHL and the life of a junior hockey player can be a crazy one. News that your injury will keep you our long-term or that your team is cutting you from their roster can be significant blows to the dreams of many young players.

After a rough offseason which saw the league lose Terry Trafford, they have decided to engage in a mental health program for their entire league which help players cope with their often stressful lives.

"“It’s an extensive program. It’s all-encompassing. We’ve always taken the position that it’s important to educate, it’s important to support. It’s in its final stages and we think it will be an excellent addition to what we bring to our players currently to support their best interests going forward.” ~ Dave Branch"

At the time of Trafford’s death Dr. Neil Widmeyer was the leagues only sports physiologist and he was employed by the Guelph Storm. He too is happy the league is taking this next step in educating players and coaches on the warning signs of depression and suicide.

"“It’s more proactive than anything we’ve ever had,Is it the be-all and the end-all? The final product? No. But it’s more than a baby step, it’s a good step.” Did anyone know the triggers with Terry Trafford? Did everyone know the symptoms? That’s what I would wonder. ” ~ Dr. Neil Widmeyer"

The Guelph Storm have had their own issues dealing with players in 2010 when defenceman Adam Comrie struggled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Comrie stopped taking his medication which contributed to some troubling behaviour being observed, including a fight with a teammate at a billet home.

Comrie later moved in with Jason Brooks and his family who helped him maintain his schedule and consistently take his medication. There were no further issues with Comrie following the move.

The NHL has also had it’s fair share of mental illness following the suicide deaths of Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard in 2011. All had suffered multiple concussions and brain injuries over their enforcer careers. These deaths once again reminded us that hockey players, no matter how tough they seem, are still people.

With only 2 percent of NHL players going on to long-term NHL careers, the feelings of disappointment are often an all time high. While the OHL had policies in place, their new program will take it a step further and hopefully players will be comfortable enough to get help with the new program.

With this new announcement one can hope that the other CHL leagues also up their mental health policies so that the indestructible hockey players know they’re not alone. Great move by the OHL.