Mental health conversations are sweeping through the NHL, deeply affecting hockey fans everywhere, including here at home.
SEATTLE — Gabriella Smith said hockey has changed her life in more ways than one.
“I saw it live and thought, This is unbelievable,” said the Tacoma resident. “I was in love after the first day.”
Learning how to skate at Sprinker Recreation Center soon evolved into playing on club teams and playing a team goalkeeper role. But she said, there was also a sense of fear. Gabriella explained that she would have panic attacks and couldn’t understand why.
“I felt like I wasn’t good enough, it’s kind of my anxiety is going to kick in,” she said.
Then she read about National Hockey League goalkeeper Robin Lehner, now a Vegas Golden Knights star, who took home a famous award in 2019 and talked about his struggles with his health. “I’m mentally ill, but not mentally weak,” Lehner said at the event.
“I honestly had never heard an athlete talk about that,” said Gabriella, back in Pierce County.
“Up until that point, I was still a little embarrassed to talk about anything to do with mental health, just because I thought, ‘No, I’m the weird kind. I shouldn’t feel that way. But hearing him talk about that.’ “And how open he was, I was like, wow, this is a good conversation to have,” said Gabriella, who would meet Lehner later in training and share how he affected her.
It’s a trend throughout the league itself, and one that now includes the Seattle Kraken.
On Saturday, the franchise will roll out a series of “Hockey Talks” between players about mental health. The NHL has traditionally raised the issue in January. The talks include Kraken attacker Riley Sheahan, who has made his past troubles public.
“I think a lot of people struggle with keeping things internal and not opening up to themselves because they think they’re going to be a burden to others, or they think it’s somehow weak. I think I’m just trying to make it clear to people that it’s okay to reach out, it’s okay to be vulnerable,” Sheahan said this week from a hotel room in Dallas, about the tipping point many years ago. “I just had a weekend where I couldn’t really function as I wanted. I was really unhappy. We were going to play three games and travel and I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t there mentally. .”
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Sheahan was later diagnosed with depression. He has since started a podcast on the topic, saying he was more than willing to be a part of the Kraken-led effort.
“It used to be like an old boys’ club where you shake things off by having a few beers and forget about it. I guess that was just a band-aid for me and abusing myself that way just didn’t work,” he said. . “I’ve gotten older and as I matured and learned what really works for me, I started to realize that as I sort of sort these different things out, my relationships started to get stronger. I started to think more clearly. Even my body started to function a little healthier.”
“I think I just understand that when things are good you still have to work to keep those feelings. I think when things are bad it’s easy to really love seeking to be healthier and seeking to train and seek to treat your body better,” added Sheahan.
Back in Tacoma, Gabriella says she applauds the Kraken effort and that it’s another example of how sports can transcend culture and society.
“Everyone has to do with something, the degree and what it is differs, but in the end that doesn’t make a difference,” she said. “The more mainstream conversations like this can be, the better it is.”