“We need to address this stuff at the junior and midget hockey levels. We’ve got these kids under tremendous pressure to make it to college or make it to the NHL or to get drafted.”
— Former NHLer Clint Malarchuk
Clint Malarchuk. To most hockey fans, he’s known for the chilling accident that he endured on NHL ice on March 22, 1989.
A goalie for the Buffalo Sabres at the time, Malarchuk was against the St. Louis Blues when a player slid into his crease and an exposed skate sliced deeply into Malarchuk’s neck.
Malarchuk threw his helmet on the ice and cupped his neck, which was gushing blood.
The severed artery required 300 stitches to fix. Had the skate sliced a quarter inch deeper, he would have been killed immediately.
Decades later, Malarchuk now travels around North America speaking about his accident, his life in the NHL and his struggles with mental health and addiction.
Last weekend, Malarchuk was in Yorkton as the guest speaker at the Yorkton Terriers’ annual sportsman’s dinner on Saturday night.
He spent Friday morning speaking to hundreds of students from schools in and around Yorkton, and Friday night with members of the media in Yorkton to have a smaller scale discussion.
In 2014, Malarchuk released a book titled “The Crazy Game: How I Survived the Crease and Beyond.” The book focuses on his life, from childhood days at the rink, to his life in the NHL struggling with mental health issues that he didn’t even know existed, to coaching in the NHL, to his attempted suicide in 2008.
His presentations and interviews over the weekend touched on all of these things, but more than that he focused strongly on mental health and the stigma that still surrounds it, especially in sports.
Malarchuk is a man who has seen a lot of hardship – both physically and mentally. But he said that writing his book was the hardest thing he’s ever done.
“I quit writing that book 12, 15 times. It was that tough,” said Malarchuk. “A lot people say, ‘Was it therapeutic?’ I did the therapy. I went through therapy and got well. And then to go back into that opened up a lot of healing wounds that were scarring over and getting better, so it was very, very, very difficult to write. It opened up a lot of wounds.”
Now he spends his life reopening those wounds all the time, in front of crowds. While it’s hard to relive his story over and over, Malarchuk said he loves what he does.
“My purpose was not to be an NHL hockey player or an NHL coach. My purpose — and I didn’t know it at the time — was to write the book and to be where I am today, and to talk to students and to talk at banquets,” said Malarchuk. “I love talking.”
Mental health in sports
One issue that Malarchuk focuses on regarding sports and mental health is the idea that athletes are often perceived as ‘weak’ if they struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD or other mental health problems.
“We need to address this stuff at the junior and midget hockey levels,” he said.
“We’ve got these kids under tremendous pressure to make it to college or make it to the NHL or to get drafted.”
“When you’re a hockey player, what are you going to do? Are you going to say, ‘Hey, coach, I’m sad. I’m blue. I’m homesick. I’m anxious.’ Not a chance, because that would be perceived as weak.”
Malarchuk said he won’t be happy until people understand mental illness in the same way physical injuries or illnesses are understood and accepted.
“We have the stigma that it’s not an illness, it’s a weakness. And it’s not a weakness, it’s an illness.”
At the end of every talk, and at the end of his book, Malarchuk has his email posted. He does this so that anyone who is feeling alone can reach out to him.
“Every day, I get e-mails, and I make it a priority,” said Malarchuk. “If I can make a difference, that’s what I try to do.”