Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's never as bad as it seems

These kids are disciplined.  They are driven.  They are focused.  Major junior is an elite level of hockey - the players are the best in the world, at the earliest age to identify that kind of talent & skill. They are asked to behave like professionals, and do so, almost without exception.

They are also teenagers.  Being a teen is tough, and this day and age might be tougher than ever.  I'm not sure if you were ever 17 years old, but I was being a world class shithead, and so was everyone I knew at the time.

It amazes me that we don't hear stories of adolescence gone wrong on a weekly basis.  Sure, you have things like fighting at house parties on occasion.  These are things that kids that age do.  When I was 17 often I drove too fast.  A few times I did some drinking.  Sometimes my girlfriend was involved.  Unfortunately, we've seen this combination turn deadly in WHL country.

The newest tragedy to hit junior hockey is Terry Trafford's death.  He was 20 years old, playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.  By all accounts he was a great kid, and loved as a teammate.  He had been sent home by the team for a rules violation, reportedly for smoking weed.  Do I need to point out that dudes that age smoke weed sometimes?  Five miles north of me its 100% legal to do so (I wonder how legalization has effected the 4 Washington based WHL teams approach to marijuana?).

As a good Ontario boy, he probably played hockey for 85% of his life.  The prospect of the game leaving you would be crushing.  At this elite level, they are players 12 months of the year.  This is what they live for.

I had a friend who became a teenage parent, which is obviously difficult.  During a rough patch with his girlfriend, he hung himself.  One of the saddest parts of this story was that she was about to approach him with the idea of marriage, but his perception was that the relationship was over, and his life was as well.

One positive of his death was that seeing how it changed the folks close to him.  I too, struggled with similar demons of suicidal tendencies in my formative years.  Witnessing the aftermath of this tragedy made me realize what suicide does to your loved ones, and they don't deserve to deal with that.  

His body was found the day after my NHL team was eliminated from the playoffs, which helped me understand that there is hockey, and there is life.  Fans like ourselves can reverse the order of those two things from time to time.

My most recent experience with suicide was a friend from Seattle hanging himself, in the spring of 2012.  This was during the opening round of the playoffs, and the funeral was scheduled for the same day as game 5 of the opening round.  Of course, there was no game 5, as Portland swept Kelowna that series.  This guy was in his late 30's, and his reasoning was over a bump in the road with his longtime girlfriend, which ultimately didn't threaten their relationship in her eyes.

What we should learn from these stories is that its never as bad as it seems.  In a worst case scenario,  perhaps it is over with you and your lover.  There are lots of people in this world, and you'll most likely find someone again.  I've been fired 9 times in the 9 years I've lived in Portland, but somehow I continue to find work.  Gordie Howe had to hang up the skates at age 51, meaning that everyone has to retire from hockey at some point.  Life doesn't end with any of these types of setbacks.

Perhaps the reason that Terry's death is so hard to deal with is that it could happen to anyone close to us.  Junior hockey is a tight knit community, and tragedies like this one & Tim Bozon's are good at bringing us together to support those who need it.  

I don't follow the OHL, and I'd never heard of Terry prior to his disappearance, yet he represents "every man" to me.  I watched Taylor Jordan get cut from his team 3 times, but he fought through it.   What are these two Silvertips dealing with after being suspended for rules violations?  When Jared Schamerhorn was sent down from Lethbridge, what went through his mind?  Terry's passing scares me thinking it could happen to any of these players, as well as countless others facing setbacks in their everyday lives.

Fortunately these issues are rare in the hockey world.  That doesn't make them any easier to deal with.  If you're struggling, there's folks who will be there for you.