PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Mariners will host a themed night during its game Friday centered around eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health struggles.
Head Coach Terrence Wallin said he has made an effort to check in with his team daily to talk about their lives outside the organization. He said prioritizing players' mental health pays dividends on and off the ice.
"Holding stuff inside can consume you even more, and that's when stuff starts to snowball and dominoes on you. And that's where the dark stuff comes," Wallin said.
He said during his career in college and the pros, there was no emphasis on taking care of one's mental health, leading him to figure it out on his own. He said he found himself focusing on hockey constantly, which he said became unhealthy for him.
"I've had a lot of guys open up to me and I always joke, sometimes I feel like I'm playing a little bit of therapist, which is not a bad thing for me. That's kind of why you get into coaching, you want to help people, so if I help with the mental side, the Xs and Os are secondary to the brain stuff for me."
Players said they notice the effort. They also are leaning on each other.
"It's important to find an outlet to talk to, whether to a doctor, therapist, friend, family. Don't be afraid to get anything off your chest. There's no judgment. Everyone's kind of open. You can talk about anything you need to, especially our coaches, too," captain Connor Doherty said.
Doherty just recently welcomed his first child and said becoming a father comes with its own stresses and challenges that he has to navigate.
"I don't think you can be at your best, whether it's playing hockey or anything in your life, if you're not kind of mentally there," Doherty said.
His teammate, University of Maine alumnus Mitch Fossier, said his time with the Mariners has been the most accepting environment of talking about anxiety, depression, stress, and more in his hockey career.
"A lot of people push it aside, myself included. I've definitely struggled with that, I'll deal with it later. It's important to address. You have to have people in your life that you could trust," Fossier said. "It's something that you have to take control of, and you have to address it, and you can't just let it sit there and let whatever happens, happens because eventually it'll kind of blow up in your face."
The team scored an overtime 4-3 win against Tulsa during the Friday night game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.