September is here, and the shortest (yet longest) summer ever for Canucks fans is coming to an end. And while normally Canucks fans as well as hockey fans around the globe would all be abuzz about the upcoming season, the dark cloud of what has truly been a summer to forget has once again rolled in following the shocking news about Wade Belak yesterday. 3 NHL enforcers in 4 months, all meeting tragic ends. And including San Jose prospect Tom Cavanagh, 3 who died by their own hand. Much like the agonizingly slow response the game had to dealing with head shots, the game of hockey seems to once again be plodding towards dealing with the issue of the mental well-being of current players, and those who leave the game as Belak did this summer when he announced his retirement. I'm not so naive that I believe they can provide a magic fix to cure this overnight, but a sign of urgency from both the NHL and the NHLPA would send a huge message right now. More after the jump...
I haven't been on to talk about Rick Rypien, simply because I have struggled to come to terms with it. Between another tragic death of a Canucks player and the fact that I could relate to Rypien's struggle with depression, this one hit me hard. The words haven't been easy to find. Back in February, I used a national day to discuss mental health issues as an opportunity to share my own battle with depression, and mentioned Cavanagh and Rypien. I had hoped the next time we would talk about Rypien would be to discuss his first game back in Vancouver as he moved on to the next phase in his career after signing with Winnipeg.
What is causing this sudden, shocking turn of events? Why are athletes, players of the game we love so much suffering so badly from mental anguish that they would turn to that most drastic of responses? Was it because of the physical and mental toll that fighting takes on these players? It's interesting, because while fighting is the common bond, each of these 3 players are different cases. Derek Boogaard had dealt with substance abuse issues in recovering from injuries before the accidental overdose that took his life. Rypien's battles with depression have been well documented. But Belak seemed to be different. He had recently retired and was by all accounts, happy and healthy. He had commented publicly after Rypien's death and was in training to appear on CBC's 'Battle Of The Blades'. So why are we mourning his loss?
Former Phoenix Coyotes 4th liner (and current broadcaster) Tyson Nash said on Twitter yesterday "Hard for people to understand but retirement is the hardest thing a player will ever go through. Nothing can prepare u for it... Ur entire life is dedicated to hockey and then one day it's all over and ur kicked to the curb! And the NHLPA does nothing to prepare u... People its my opinion from someone who has been through it. I don't expect sympathy but it is an issue for retired players is all... Depression and heartache doesn't discriminate! Money doesn't = happiness. Job loss is terrible but I'm just airing an athletes view". As expected, Nash received a lot of flack for his comments, but did he really say anything so bad? All it does is highlight that more talk is needed, and soon. The game, and the players that put their bodies on the line for our entertainment can't afford more silence, or uninformed dismissal and ridicule when it comes to their mental well-being. And everyone in the game has to have a say in this.
As for me, I am happy to report I have made a full recovery from what was a near 2 year ordeal with this. I am now off medications, back working and feeling like my old self. I look forward to what should be a great NHL season, in spite of a summer that brought so many of us heartbreak.