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Break the silence

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
When Alex Burrows was approached about becoming the new spokesperson for Hockey Talks, an organization encouraging conversation about mental health, he didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no.

He asked to phone a friend.

Filling the shoes of former spokesperson Kevin Bieksa seemed like a daunting task with how much involvement Bieksa had in creating and supporting the initiative, so Burrows wanted to get the blessing of his former teammate.

Bieksa said he’d be honoured Burrows fill his shoes - under one condition: “He told me to try and speak English and not butcher the messaging,” laughed Burrows, adding that Bieksa is a “real funny guy.”

“In all seriousness, Kevin feels that I can do a good job spreading the word and he was more than happy to let me do it, he knew how much I cared about Rick too. It is very important for all of us to make sure we’re raising awareness about mental health and ensuring people are open and aren’t afraid to talk about anything that is bothering them.”

The Canucks host their fourth annual Hockey Talks Day this Saturday, February 6th, when Vancouver welcomes Calgary to Rogers Arena. As part of the night, Burrows’ face and message will be here, there and everywhere.

Another face you’ll become familiar with belongs to Myles Mattila.

The 16-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., learned how to skate when he was three and has been playing hockey for as long as he can remember. When he was 14, a teammate confided in Mattila that he was battling depression. Mattila did what he could to get his friend help and upon realizing others may be suffering in silence, he vowed to make a difference.

Since then the Okanagan Rockets (BCMML) forward has done just that. In 2015 alone, Myles was the recipient of the YMCA Youth Initiative of the Year award and was the first recipient of Northern Health Community Health Star award. He was also a torchbearer at the Canada Winter Games, as well as nominated for Champions of Wellness award.

Mattila is also a youth advocate for, a website focused on providing free mental health resources for youth, all while concurrently going to high school. He’s doing as much as he can to ensure anyone who needs to heard, will be.

“A lot of people, some hockey players and many athletes included, think you’re just supposed to be tough and play the game, but sports are emotional and it should be okay to show that side of it,” said Mattila, who will be in attendance Saturday at Rogers Arena. “Especially for hockey players, showing that emotion and crying is maybe looked down upon, but at the end of the day, it’s important to show emotions and work through them.”

Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness and Mattila used Rick Rypien as an example of an athlete who didn’t feel he could fully expose what he was going through. He suffered in silence and paid the ultimate price.

“Educating people on all aspects of mental health can help reduce the stigmas that exist, so in working with Mind Check I’m just trying to be a resource for anyone who needs it. It’s important people know they always have someone to talk to.”

With one in five Canadians experiencing a mental health or addiction problem each year, the Canucks salute those like Mattila going the extra mile for mental health.

You can too.

Use #HockeyTalks to lend your voice through social media; personal photos can be uploaded here to get a Hockey Talks overlay. Social media messages using the hashtag #HockeyTalks will appear as part of an online mosaic to showcase a united voice.

Every Canadian NHL team will host a Hockey Talks game, but that’s far from the end of encouraging positive conversations about mental health.

The Canucks will host BC Children’s Hospital’s third annual "Balancing Our Minds" on February 11, 2016. The free, one-day workshop is for 1,500 high school aged youth in BC to learn about mental health and engage in fun activities and thoughtful dialogue.

Click here for full details of Hockey Talks.

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