You may not immediately make a connection between the NHL and the OPP, but retired members of both organizations say that retired officers and retired players both need more mental health supports.

The OPP and the NHL Alumni Association recently held their second annual Putting Stigma in the Penalty Box event, which promotes their partnered mental health awareness campaign for former OPP officers and NHL players.

While the work of an OPP officer and an NHL player have quite a few drastic differences, the two organizations stress that there are more similarities than you may think. The most significant, being the difficulty to seek mental health supports and to ask for help.

“We’re a very strong team, but we’re both highly-afflicted. When you think of an NHL player, you think they’re perfect and they’re doing something everyone would love to do, but we’re not perfect. It’s the same with an OPP officer,” said NHL Alumni Association President, Glenn Healy.

Healy played in 15 seasons in the league - winning a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1993. The netminder also served as a former Hockey Night in Canada host, a Sportsnet, CBC and TSN host and an NHL colour commentator.

“As an NHL player, it's full-speed ahead, it’s nonstop, and then it comes to an end. It’s a hard day to hand in your uniform. Likewise with a police officer, you have hard calls, you can’t make a mistake, and it’s high stress. When the badge goes in for the last time, that’s a really hard day.”

Former first overall NHL draft pick and Stanley Cup champion Joe Murphy is currently living on the streets of Kenora after receiving treatment and care in Thunder Bay earlier this year. He has long-been battling concussion-related issues and addictions, after retiring from the NHL in 2001.

While Healy reserved comment on Murphy’s situation specifically, the former Oilers, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Blues, Bruins and Capitals winger would be an excellent example of a former player in need of help and supports.

“Every and any player that wants to reach out and get help, it’s a matter of a phone call and it’s a matter of saying those three words – I need help. It’s okay to say that you need help. Reach out and get the help that you need,” added Healy.

Current NHL players are taking the message of positive mental health to heart. Former New York Islanders goalie and now Chicago Blackhawks netminder Robin Lehner won the NHL’s Masterton Trophy this season for his leadership and advocacy work surrounding ending the mental health stigma.

“The first step is to say that you need help. We’re willing to help anyone that needs our help. Having Robin come out and say it’s okay to not be 100 per cent mentally strong, I applaud him. He is a beacon and a role model to everyone in the league, and I would say in all of society. He’s made a big difference,” said Healy.

Lehner revealed his addiction and mental health issues during training camp at the beginning of the last NHL season, before leading the Islanders to a second-round playoff berth and setting personal bests with a 2.13 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and six shutouts.

“Our goal is to do everything we can to end the stigma around mental health, and people suffering from mental illness,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum. “It’s so important to get help. We need to support each other. We joined with the NHLAA so we can learn from their organization and what they’re doing, and hopefully we can support them with what they’re doing.”

The OPP held their second campaign event in Orillia. Retired NHLer Jim McKenny was also a part of the event, as well as retired OPP Detective Superintendent, Dave Truax. Deputy Superintendent Ken Leppert began the campaign, and is retiring this week.

For more information:
Players should be ‘taken care of,’ Murphy
Retired NHLer battles concussions