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Penguins battle mental health stigma with Break the Ice Night

by Naomi Shimada / Pittsburgh Penguins

As the Penguins took on the Florida Panthers Sunday night, they also combatted mental health with the first ever "Break the Ice Night powered by EMBRACE Pittsburgh" through the NHL's Hockey Talks campaign.

Hockey Talks, a mental health awareness initiative, was started by the Vancouver Canucks with the goal of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health and creating an environment where people feel comfortable talking about it. Now, this season, there will be 15 teams across the NHL participating in Hockey Talks. Pittsburgh is certainly a strong city. Now, the Penguins are working to make it mentally strong too. 

"We're really excited because EMBRACE Pittsburgh has partnered with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation to break the ice," said Cindy Citrone of Citrone 33, who was one of the featured speakers at the event. "This campaign, this movement, is for every one of us. Every one of us can contribute, and every one of us can benefit from it. Just like you get up in the morning and you go for a run or know what's healthy to eat, we want to start having those same conversations about what's good for our mental wellbeing. We want to be able to support each other and make sure we're taking time focusing on our emotions. Today is about making that known."

Video: Break the Ice Night powered by EMBRACE Pittsburgh

The Break the Ice Summit was held prior to the Penguins' game and it featured two special announcements. 

First, thanks to a commitment by EMBRACE Pittsburgh, the Penguins Foundation will be constructing five more C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming Obstacles & Limits) Zones in the region with the sixth set to open in mid-January. The COOL Zones welcome children facing a behavioral/mental health diagnosis to the "igloo" for therapy, which provides a safe space for children.

Tweet from @pensfoundation: Humboldt Broncos��� Tyler Smith, our host for the #BreakTheIce Summit, missed last night���s @penguins event but his support & resiliency were still felt here in Pittsburgh. Tyler, thank you for your kind words. You���re truly inspiring & the strongest person we know 💛 #HockeyTalks

"We've had a relationship with the Citrone Foundation now for three or four years with the COOL Zone," said Penguins Foundation president Dave Soltesz. "The COOL Zone is a very early intervention program for troubled kids in the schools. It's been unbelievably successful. We have five COOL Zones right now, another five planned for this upcoming year, so it's very, very successful dealing with that early intervention, helping with some of the skills kids need in school."

Secondly, with EMBRACE Pittsburgh, the Penguins Foundation is launching a video series called Mindhacks. The series, featuring Pittsburgh celebrities and sports personalities, includes seven videos that will teach skills such as how to self-soothe and how to be wise-minded. The series will launch into local middle schools shortly.

One of the Mindhacks videos was shown at the Break the Ice Summit as well. It featured local athletes Troy Polamalu, Colby Armstrong and Bryan Rust who offered up some ways in which they self-soothe when stressed.

A video featuring Tyler Smith, one of the Humboldt Broncos players injured in a bus accident that killed several of his teammates a year and a half ago, opened up the Summit, and Smith also sent a pre-recorded video from his hospital room.

"The work that EMBRACE is doing with the Penguins Foundation is incredible," he said. "You'll learn about two initiatives that assist kids with their mental and behavioral health that also provide them with the skills to cope when needed. Let's break the ice and break the stigma."  
So how do you "break the ice"? Well, you can break the ice by checking-in with a friend, family member or teammate. It is that easy. Just see how they are doing. Ask about their day. Share some kindness. 

Everyone can join in the conversation at #BreakTheIce and #HockeyTalks on social media. The Penguins Foundation and EMBRACE are ready to chat.

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