Calgarian Zee Hamilton, 28, says “tough guy” attitudes in hockey sometimes push honest conversations about mental health under the radar.

“You feel really ashamed about talking about it, you feel embarrassed. A lot of people just don’t feel okay about sharing and sometimes it ends in tragedy.”

Hamilton has experienced that tragedy first hand. “I’ve lost quite a few friends to suicide. It’s something I really wanted to say like, ‘Hey, that stigma is no longer there.’”

Hamilton and his friend, Joe Copeland co-founded Lights Out last summer, a company that puts on events to raise awareness for mental health.

 MG 2809 1 copySAIT alumnus, Shane Lust (left) with Never Skate Alone organizer Zee Hamilton (right) before the start of the game. Hamilton’s organization, Lights Out, aims to help people who suffer from mental illness realize that there are people who will help. Photo by Jackson Reed
Lights Out’s third event, Never Skate Alone, happened Thursday night at Stampede Corral, drawing players including NHL alumni, SAIT Trojans and beer-league players — all aware of the positive mental health benefits of having supportive teammates.

“Everyone is from everywhere. Essentially, doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, where you’re from; skin colour, sexual orientation … you’ve got a team behind you,” said Hamilton.

Colin Patterson, who helped the Calgary Flames win the Stanley Cup in 1989, participated along with Mike Rogers, who had three consecutive 100-point seasons in the NHL.
Rogers said he was happy to help out.

“That’s what it’s all about, is the cause and just the awareness. So many people suffer from the illness and suffer in different ways, so any little bit we can do to help out, that’s what we’re here for.”

Participant and their struggles

Head coach of one of the teams, Brad Van De Walle, a 38-year-old realtor and friend of Hamilton, knows how important it is to talk about mental health after suffering from depression and anxiety.

Jackson2fix copyHead coach Brad Van De Walle addresses his team before the start of the game. While telling his experiences battling depression and anxiety, Van De Walle reminds the players that the game is all about raising awareness. Photo by Jackson Reed
“It hasn’t been debilitating, but at times it can be,” said Van De Walle.

“When I get in a pretty big hole, it’s hard to get out. It’s something that’s close to my heart because I’ve been suffering for it for about 24 years now.”

Van De Walle said he’s always been open about his struggles and was happy to help raise funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“I’ve been okay talking about it my whole life, but there’s a lot of people who aren’t. So [the game] is for all the people who, maybe, don’t have a voice. There’s a lot of people who understand and are here to listen.”

A portion of the ticket sales proceeds will go directly to the CMHA. Hamilton said Lights Out is still finalizing numbers and will make their donation.

Update: Never Skate Alone donated $3476.75 to the CMHA.

Editor: Sam Nar |

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