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Behind the Mask

Mental Health & Goaltending

On ice training during the summer in Calgary

A goaltender is known as a few things. Crazy, fearless, weird, quiet, anti-social and pretty much any other negative connotation that can be tied into the position. Originally, the worst player would be forced to play in the net while the better players developed their game. Used as target practice nothing more. Back in those days a goaltender didn't wear a mask to protect him from skates, sticks or pucks. If he was too slow, he was going to get stitched up.

If you dive deeper into the history of goalies and listen to their stories you will find a common trend. The pressure. The weight of a game can fall on a goaltender, if he is sharp you can never lose. If he isn't you can never win. It is a funny spot to be in sports. Tied between isolation and the lime light. The team expects you to not lose the game for them. If they score 1 that should realistically be enough. But, if you give up 1 or more you have assured the other 20 guys in the room defeat. This may sound extreme but as a goaltender we deal with the most concentrated and mentally exhausting position in sports. Closing pitchers would be the closest to what a goalie goes through but the demand placed on them is a much shorter time.

Off the ice the pressures of the game can get to people. We've heard the stories of Scott Darling and Robin Lehner. How coping with these stresses and feeling like they couldn't tell anyone led to abusing alcohol. These are the guys at the absolute pinnacle of hockey. But what about the rest of us?

Guys like me can be moved, dropped, traded and everything else in between at the drop of the hat. Every day when we show up to the rink we don't know what will be in store for us. The minor ranks become very ruthless and sometimes the humanity aspect can be lost. After all it isn't personal it is just business right?

This mental grind of always being focused and hyperfocus on technical details can lead goalies to a very dark place. Who do you talk to that would understand? Would anyone really get what is going on?

In todays game these pressures still occur but luckily, with help, mental health is becoming more and more important in the world and especially in the hockey community. More players are starting to take a stand and speak up. They are starting to take a stand for improved mental health.

Personally, anxiety has played a large role in my life and for a long time before seeking help in my last year of University dictated how I would act. I would remove myself from social settings or keep to myself. The what if's would creep into my mind keeping me up at all hours. Being around large groups would put me in fight and flight mode leaving me mentally exhausted at the end. When your job revolves around focus, control and not showing emotion it is difficult to open up and let people know what is going on. 

Now, with some help and looking back I can see that the best thing I have done for myself is seek help and open up about my experiences. I hope that more people step forward to support athletes that are struggling. Everyone needs a hand up or an ear to listen.

Now, almost 4 years later and having worked in mental health during that time I have a new appreciation for mental health. The strength these individuals show, the joy they produce and how genuine their reactions are to the world around. As I continue my hockey journey it leaves me feeling a little more at ease knowing we can all be strong, we can all ask for help, we all face our own struggles but at the end of the day we need to be there for each other. Goalie to goalie and human to human.