The Secret Level Of Hockey Counseling

If I approached you and told you that you should look into seeing a counselor, would you be offended? Would you quickly dismiss the notion and become uncontrollably defensive? And would you join the millions out there who think seeing a counselor is only for the “crazy” people?

It was reported from the Boston Herald this morning that former NHL player, coach, and general manager, Mike Milbury, was being charged with assault on a 12 year-old youth hockey player. The incident supposedly took place at Larz Anderson Rink in Brookline, MA. The full details of the encounter are still a bit hazy but more information is surfacing as time passes. Those who wish to read about it can do a quick Google search to find up to the minute news releases on this issue. Rather than cover the story like the online masses, it was brought to my attention that maybe the National Hockey League should step in. But not in the way you might think.

The Milbury disturbance will be one of the last problems the hockey world will face in the 2011 calendar year. Before that, we’ve seen issues arise left and right with current or former hockey players. Matthew Barnaby was charged with a DWI in addition to facing criminal mischief charges. We unfortunately witnessed the sudden deaths of Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, and Derek Boogaard. And the concussion era has blanketed the past two seasons of professional hockey in North America. Saying this year was tough might be an understatement.

Following the deaths of Rypien and Boogaard, it was reported that the league would look into behavioral programs for the players to lean on in tough mental times. The already in place untitled NHL-NHLPA support program was deemed to be very strong but was under improvement evaluations. Since that point, nothing has been openly published on how they’ve improved that program. It almost has become a don’t ask – don’t tell issue for those not involved. How tragic.

Any inquiry to the league offices and they may purposely direct you to their NHLA Break Away Program that helps players redefine themselves once their playing career over. Sure, counseling is technically a part of the program, but the major focus is skill development, workshops, and mentorships. The dark door of mental and emotional help category is sealed tightly. Entrance is by invitation only and nobody makes it out into the public airwaves again.

In a lot of ways, I’m glad there is such an effort by the league to keep things hidden from the media and general public. I do not believe that the players who participate in the program should be put on a list to be released. Such programs deal with personal matters and thus should be kept on a personal level. What I am disappointed in is the lack of support from the league to promote mental and behavioral help. Whether someone suffers from depression, anger issues, or a complete mental collapse, the NHL should publicly announce that it is in players’ best interest to seek help no matter where you are in your life. Would it be too much to ask for an ad campaign to promote this – especially with all post concussion situations the league will be faced with this season? How long will we have to wait before what many consider abnormal to become normal?

Mental and emotional help is never something to be swept under the rug. And while we may never know all the details about the program that is in place, I sincerely hope they have found something that works. The last thing we need are more devastating headlines.