The 100 Mile House Wranglers had a special guest deliver a keynote talk during their Feb. 18 game against the Revelstoke Grizzlies during their Kootenay International Junior Hockey League regular season game, on behalf of the United Way. The guest was former NHLer Corey Hirsch, who is now a mental health advocate and colour commentator on Vancouver Canucks radio broadcasts.
“Corey is actually a friend of our boss at the United Way, so the idea came up to have him speak up at the event because he has a very powerful story to share on mental health,” said Laura Dewer, United Way’s community wellness manager for the 100 Mile House region.
“He suffered when he was playing in the NHL… He didn’t know what was wrong with him. Of course, those days with the stigma around mental health he was very scared he would lose his whole career but he just got to the point where he couldn’t play anymore.”
Hirsch started his junior career with the Calgary Canucks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League before joining the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League, where he was instrumental in helping the team to two WHL championships.
He was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1991 but didn’t make an appearance for the Rangers until the 1992-93 season, where he played four games and spent the majority of the season with the team’s affiliate, Binghampton, in the American Hockey League.
In the 1993-94 season, he was high off winning an Olympic Silver Medal with Canada and the Rangers were in the running for the Stanley Cup.
Hirsch was 21 at the time and was hanging out with his teammates in the Big Apple when he said something just broke in his mind.
“It was repetitive thoughts, over and over. Deep dark thoughts that I couldn’t get rid of. I didn’t know how to get rid of it,” he recalled in his keynote. “So we win the Stanley Cup, I just ended up going home trying to get help. That summer, I made an attempt on my life and thankfully I am here today talking to you people.”
Dewer said the idea for having him come here and do his talk was because young men are a hard target to reach when talking about mental health. She figured someone like Hirsch would have more clout among that demographic than she would, or the average mental health professional.
It wasn’t until the goalie was with the Vancouver Canucks that he decided to seek out help after asking a trainer, and then telling his coach that he couldn’t start during a game in New Jersey. He was 24-years-old at the time and prior to telling the trainer, he decided to hide his suffering.
“Part of the reason I didn’t reach out was the shame of what it was to be a man. Men didn’t reach out for help, they just suffered in silence… I felt less of a man than everybody else every time I walked into the locker room. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed,” he recalled. “I tried to take my own life twice. I suffered in silence for three years and all I had to do was reach out and talk to someone.”
At one point, Hirsch was playing in net at only 140 lbs. after he lost 30 pounds due to the anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Eventually, he got in to see a mental health professional when he got back to Vancouver from that New Jersey game. It only took them 15 minutes to diagnose Hirsch.
“It’s such an important topic, it really is,” he said about the stigma surrounding mental health. “The thing about mental health is it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, if you work at the mill, or a hockey player. I didn’t ask for a mental health issue but I got one… The key point for me is that if you are struggling, talk to someone about it because suicide is not an option.”