Local hockey players facing off for mental health (GALLERY)

Lambton Sting AAA Hockey Club players in their green Face-Off jerseys next to the Sarnia Sting. (Photo from the hockey club's facebook page)

Local hockey teams from the Sarnia Sting to the Lambton Attack have been taping their sticks green this month to send a message that it’s okay to talk about how you’re feeling.

Face-Off for Mental Health, a campaign started by St. Clair Child & Youth Services in 2017, provides coaches, players and parents with information and resources to support youth mental health.

Program Coordinator Liz Page said mental illness impacts one in every five kids, the equivalent to one player on each line of a hockey team.

“Craig McKenzie, one of our directors, sort of had this idea around bringing hockey associations together and seeing if they’d be interested in participating in a campaign to raise awareness for mental health and sort of decrease the stigma and make the rink a safe place to talk.”

Page said as part of the initiative, St. Clair held mental health awareness weekends in various arenas during the month of November.

“We made sure that coaches understood we weren’t expecting them to be therapists or councillors, we really just wanted to help them feel prepared to direct a player or a family to the appropriate resources,” she said. “We have little players as young as four who are getting a helmet sticker and taping their stick green, and coaches are having those conversations around ‘Do you know why we’re doing this? We’re doing it to raise awareness for mental health and we’re doing it so that if you need to talk, you know that the rink is a safe place and there’s trusted adults who can point you in the right direction if you need help.”

So far, the campaign has relied on donations from individuals and hockey associations, but Page said the goal is to make this a part of what hockey is in our community.

She said the initiative is also expanding to other sports and other communities, including Kitchener, Stratford and even in the US.

“So we shared our knowledge and hopefully they can kick things off in their own communities and grow it. I think it has the potential to be something provincially that all associations could participate in or put their own spin on it.”

Associations involved in the Face-Off for Mental Health include the Mooretown Flags, Lambton Shores Predators, Point Edward Blackhawks, Sarnia Legionnaires and the Lambton Jr. Sting — Page said Jr. Sting coach Tom Babcock has been instrumental in getting the campaign going.