Commentary on the death of Terry Trafford

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As shocking as it was to hear of police finally finding Terry Trafford’s body; I think all of us were hoping that the outcome of this dilemma would not be on the tragic. However when reports came out of Terry’s girlfriend saying that he had threatened to commit suicide, I knew right then that this story would not have a peaceful ending.

While at the time of writing this suicide has not been confirmed but obviously rather speculated, I am drawing the conclusion that Trafford did indeed take his own life. As he was in the public eye as a hockey player with the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit, his story is getting a little more attention. The fact is, this happens every day.

 
There are two things I’d like to talk about in this article. The first being depression. The teenage and early 20 years of one’s life is an internal struggle. More so now than ever before. There is an overwhelming societal desire to be the best in one’s life. While that is great to look at on paper and to think the fact is, not everybody is going to be the best. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay.

Society in this day and age throws things at you from every corner. You’re not good enough unless you have a college or university education. You have to be married and have kids by this age. You have to know exactly what you’re doing in life. If you don’t follow these things, you’re looked at as useless. It’s a broad spectrum that most of the media puts out there and after a while, it start to become a normal way to think.

Well, it’s not normal. It’s OKAY to not have a college degree, it’s OKAY if you’re not married, it’s OKAY if you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, it’s OKAY if you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, WHATEVER. Everyone has the right to feel normal without prejudice and live life at whatever pace you feel comfortable.

When it comes to hockey (and this is the second point of this article), we tend to put players on a pedestal. We tend to think “Oh wow, look at how great of a player he is, look at how much muscle he has, he’s a millionaire, he’s probably raking in all the women”, when in reality we don’t know the demons they’re going through personally. (See: Bob Probert.) And that’s more or less society’s fault. I don’t know Terry Trafford’s real story but from reports I’ve read, he seemed to have taken his life because he was afraid of never making the NHL. That’s sad.

We want our hockey players to be manmade machines. Hockey players are some of the fittest and stronger individuals on the planet. Are they mentally? Not by a long shot. They have a lot to live up to and in this day and age at a lot younger age than their predecessors. Team combines are just weeks and months of rigorous testing. That has to put a lot on the stress of a player mentally. (And maybe even physically, case in point Richard Peverley but that’s a whole other topic).

Not only on the ice but off the ice as well. Do you go to major junior? Do you go to school or turn pro? What school should I pick? What workouts should I do? 25 years ago, players didn’t have to worry about this. (Mind you it was a whole different time).

This has pretty much turned into a rant but I’m tired of watching the way we put hockey players (and athletes in general) on such a high pedestal and think everything must be peachy with them because they are living the dream and we aren’t. I’ll bet you good money that there players out there who would PAY to be the little man once again.

We need to throw more into mental health initiates. It’s getting better but it’s not over by a long shot. Not until society as a whole changes its outlook.

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24 Comments Add yours

  1. Adam says:

    Overall, in my opinion I thought that was a very good article you wrote. Although at the time of writing my comment its still not confirmed to be a suicide, we all know that it most likely is. Apparently the Saginaw Spirit sent him home because he violated the team conduct policy (according to his father in an interview he got in trouble for smoking pot), and because of that they sent him home. I myself have dealt with depression for years now and know how crippling it can be, and coupled with his hockey career most likely coming to an end he must have been in a very dark place in his life. I am however, very surprised at how the team just threw him away like that, especially since he had played on the team for four years and his stint there (and probably his career) was coming to an end. I know teams have rules and all, but I believe they could have reacted much better in handing out their discipline (not that anyone in the Spirit staff would have seen this coming). This is speculation on my end, but I do believe he felt that the team (which was his life for the last four years) tossed him away like a piece of garbage (he said they didn’t want him back), and that coupled with depression and the inevitable end of his hockey career…was all too much for a young man living away from home to handle. Rest In Peace Terry.

  2. Sheila Bauman says:

    OHL Guelph Storm team coming together TONIGHT to sponsor and support “Youth Mental Health”….#Get In Touch For Hutch (www.getintouchforhutch.com) will be there in full force ….the battles continue for so many. It is these stories that inspire us to know our work is not over.

  3. Ontario says:

    We live in a world where everyone is too busy to take a little time to reach out and spend time with those who find themselves depressed.

    I’m so tired of hearing the medical profession, law enforcement and other emergency response personnel repeat, “no matter what you would have done, they would have found a way.”

    I do not believe this to be true in all cases. What I believe we need to do is find a way to get society to be less about me.

    Today, oganizations within communities claim they have difficulty finding volunteers. Is it any wonder why? The most sincere person that often steps up, is given the crappiest of assignments but, is never really part of the “team”. Those same people would never be included and truly be part of other social opportunities.

    These are the walls that need to come down.

    Regardless of your profession – you are a human being – who has the same basic needs as anyone.

    Take time to reach out – maybe you can make a difference in someone’s life and be responsible for one less tragedy.

    RIP Terry.

  4. OHL hockey mom says:

    I know too well how the OHL treats our young sons as a piece of meat, it is a business after all. Too bad that they don’t think about these boys being in the most critical time in their lives. They up rooted from their families, living in someone else’s home, juggling that as well as going to school and playing high level hockey. Very few teams care about school or how the boy’s are doing, it is all about winning. It is stated that school is important, but over 160 boys in the OHL are traded during the school year, that is not stating school as important. Saginaw knew Terry struggled with depression; but yet they send him home for a few days as a penalty, a five hour drive by himself….Don’t tell me that they had Terry in mind when they instilled this penalty. Rest In Peace Terry.

    1. Caring parent says:

      Well stated, OHL hockey mom. Unfortunately, this treatment of these boys begins much earlier than Major Junior and by the time they reach Terry’s age, they have endured years of being treated like garbage, yet still holding tight to the dreams and aspirations that they are pursuing. These young athletes are at the most vulnerable time in their lives and the “hockey culture” continues to make it acceptable for coaches and administrators at the elite stream level to treat young athletes in this abhorrent manner, using draconian methods to destroy their self esteem and belief in themselves all in the name of player development. Hockey Canada needs to have the courage to change this culture, ensure awareness of the impact of these practices on young, vulnerable athletes and put policies in place that require all those involved in hockey at every level to treat the athletes with respect, compassion and decency. Terry’s life should be worth at least that much. Rest In Peace Terry.

    2. Ex OHL player. says:

      It’s not really fair to blame the OHL for the mental health of a player. It is sad to hear that this player took his own life but it sounds like the team was doing their best to give him every chance to succeed. As none of us were in the dressing room day to day we are all just going on hearsay. It has been stated that he had a tough past, or was a troubled kid. It has also been stated that he was living with the GM of the team which an OHL mom would know is very uncommon. This shows me that they knew he had troubles and were trying to help him. Also the team lays down general rules for all of the players to give them the best chance to succeed in hockey and in life. There are curfews, if class is missed there are punishments. There are dress codes and a strict schedule to follow. The teams are doing their best to prepare these teens for a professional adult life. If you choose to break these rules you are choosing to risk your status on the team all by yourself.
      To say the league doesn’t care about the kids education because they make trades is a blind statement. It is, after all, the Ontario HOCKEY League. Kids are there to play hockey. If it was up to most kids playing in the league they would focus even more on hockey and less on school. The teams encourage post high school players to continue on in college and have standards with grades and attendance that the players must uphold or there will be repercussions in playing time and or a spot on the team.
      It’s a very tragic situation and I feel horrible for his family and friends and his teammates. To say it is the teams fault however, in my mind, is wrong.

  5. Another OHL hockey mom says:

    I, too, am an OHL hockey mom and my son has played with Terry in the GTHL and against him in the OHL. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. Although, my son does not suffer from depression, he has had his ups and downs playing in the OHL, questioning his ability and worthiness of playing at the OHL level because he wasn’t putting up points. This season he was on the first line, moved to the second and third lines, then put on the trading block and when a trade did not come to fruition, was told he would be on the fourth line and if he didn’t like it, he could go home. OHL teams provide the tools to keep their players physically fit and practice their game, but nothing to help with the mental part of the game. We all know, especially from the recent winter Olympics, that athletes need be mentally, as well as physically strong. Teams may not be able to afford to have sports psychologists or therapists on staff, but the OHL could certainly afford to have them available to players and teams to call upon confidentially to properly diagnose, help and offer the players support. Drug, substance and alcohol abuse is often a way people self medicate when suffering from various mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, and OHL players aged 16 to 20, being away from home and under pressure to perform are no different.

  6. Magic Man says:

    Sorry hockey parents, I have a hard time feeling sorry for you. You have plenty of opportunities to research where you want your son to play (CHL or College) And yet you still decide to let them move away. No one is forcing you or your son to play in the OHL or even to play hockey for that matter. There is a reason why you want your son to play in the best developmental league in the world and that’s because you want your son to play in the NHL. If you didn’t think they had the slightest chance of making it to the show then you would explore other options. Don’t expect others to feel sorry for you because it didn’t work out for your son.
    As for the 10 players being traded, that number is actually much lower. And how many of those were requested by the player (or parents or agent).
    Trafford broke team rules, to say the team could have done this or that instead after the fact is hindsight. But really, no one here knows that they said, or did or tired leading up to the suspension (and that’s what it was .. he was not ‘kicked off the team” As well, it’s quite possible that the Spirit didn’t know Traffords mental state. In a lot of depression cases there are no signs

    1. Hockey Mom says:

      I’m sorry Magic Man I have to question which OHL team you are associated with. As this is hardly the place for your comments. A young man has died please show some respect.

    2. J says:

      Not trying to be disrespectful, but you are just plain wrong. Kids going to the OHL were the best players on all of their younger teams, they are just chasing their dreams of playing in the NHL going to the O. That has to be the toughest part mentally, going from a superstar to a nobody, and these OHL teams do not give a **** about the kids. With that being said hind sight is definitely 20/20 I don’t think you can blame Saginaw for this tragedy. I played with Terry growing up on multiple teams, he was always a great hockey player and he will be missed.

  7. Hockey Mom says:

    Excellent points from the hockey Moms. I too have a son who played in the OHL and is in his final year of JR B. Hockey has been his life since he was five years old. I worry in a month when he is done playing hockey for life that he won’t know how to handle it. They need to offer these players who are at the end of their JR careers some type of exit counseling also as this has been their whole lives for the past 15 years.

  8. Adam says:

    Magic Man, according to his girlfriend the last conversation Terry and her had he said that “they don’t want me back”, and his father has since said the same things. The Spirit are the ones saying that he wasn’t permanently kicked off the team-what else are they gonna say after this tragedy? When you devout four years of your life to a team, switch schools, move to another country and play your heart out for a team…you’d expect that they would treat you a little better than throwing you out on your ass for smoking a joint. I believe a warning would have sufficed, and believe me if that’s the worse he did he was probably not near as bad as half of the rest of the players in the OHL.

  9. seasoned veteran says:

    Well Magic Man, you seem to have all the answers. It is not that easy. Looking back , hindsight is 20/20. You have great expectations of the people who are promising to look after your prized possession. Feel like you left them in good, experienced and professional hands. They leave as children and come home as men, heard it all. Rhetoric. They provide the basics, and teach your kid to suck it up, bleed team colours and do whatever it takes for the good of the team. Which really means for the good of the coach. If your lucky your kid gets a good billet family. If not they are on their own mostly. The coaches don’t provide any emotional support. These kids are supposed to be like rocks, do their job, produce, not be offended or disappointed when they are traded at a moments notice, leaving one city for another, sometimes 4 times from age 16-20. Yep, just suck it up. And to be corrected, we don’t all think our kids are going to the NHL. Some of us feel this is a life event, experience, a chance to meet other kids with passion and purpose. And most times the kid decides they want to go. But really at 16, do you know what awaits you, absolutely not. I feel hockey has provided many life experiences for our sons, some good, some not so good. Coaches, the media, fans etc, aren’t always kind to these young men. Obviously you have a son up and coming, I wish him good luck, but for us seasoned veterans, there are no insults or comments to offend us, we’ve lived through it all vicariously through our young men. And it is not always pretty.

  10. Duncan Gibbons says:

    I have 3 sons that went through minor hockey. None of them was quite good enough for moving on beyond Rep, so perhaps that was a blessing. But I also was quite aware of their moods and put issues front and center so they could be dealt with. Depression for Terry started well before this month, and I have to ask at what point could more intense involvement with therapy have helped him. Here in Ottawa we have the DIFD campaign, in honour of a young female hockey player named Daron who was also team captain. She also ended her earth life due to unknown pressures (unknown because we still ask why), and now we try to pay attention in hopes that we spot who is following her lead. Given the very recent medical emergency Peverley experienced, and the fact that appropriate medical staff were on the spot, could the lesser leagues pull in the right people at the right time at the first sign of trouble?

  11. billy says:

    Saginaw is lying to cover their butts,my kid played in the O also,its filled with drugs way worse than weed,the coaches cover it up for the stars its all about winning,this is not saginaws first time sending a player home either.I guarntee sagnasty told Terry he would not be coming back and their hands are dirty

    1. billy says:

      Oh,and why would you send a player home with a week left in the season knowing the player is in his last season and unstable.Oh and he was not the only player busted FOR SMOKING POT just the only one punished

  12. Tracy says:

    I too am a mother of an OHL graduate and have been deeply saddened by the death of this young man. I believe the ultimate well being of any player begins with the parents. Throughout my sons career I have remained a part of his development both on and off the ice. At one point he struggled with confidence and it showed in his play on the ice and in his day to day life. I knew my son well enough to be able to recognize this despite living over 4 hours away. One phone call to his coach and he began seeing a sports psychologist paid for at the teams expense. All OHL teams should not be painted with the same brush and in my experience with my sons team, it was always one of support and concern for the well being of the players. You can not just send your 16 year old off, wish him well and hope for the big pay cheque to come. Take some responsibility and when you see a problem, act on it. Make sure your son/ daughter knows that they are more than hockey and it does not define who they are. That even without it you love them and are proud of them and they can have a life full of joy and accomplishment.

  13. Brad says:

    I am not an OHL parent nor am I related or have ever known anyone personally in the OHL or any Major Junior leagues. The unfortunate thing is that beyond the minor hockey days, hockey becomes a business. The OHL, or other Junior Hockey leagues are there to allow the kids to take their game to the next level. If the OHL was not treated as a business, it would be too much of a shock for players to jump to the NHL where it is ALL ABOUT BUSINESS. I agree as you are dealing with much younger individuals there are obvious amenities that should be in place and players should have access to. You also have to realize that, in the OHL, you are dealing with the top 400-500 players in Ontario and 20-40 from over seas. These players are not going to accept “You can always go to school” as an alternative option. These players are going to do anything they can to achieve their dream and when its taken from them, its life shattering. There is obviously a lot more to this story then people are being told because Saginaw is a playoff team this year and would have no reason to get rid of a 1994 player for the remainder of the season.

  14. Chris MacKinnon says:

    I read this article and it really hit home. I myself played in the OHL and went through spouts of depression and the crazy emotional mood swings that an OHL player goes through. I really struggled at times and felt I as if I was not only failing myself but my family, my friends, my coaches, my teammates the fans and anyone who you feel has a vested interest in you.
    Many people do not understand the mental ups and downs that young men face when they are thrust into the spot light and on such a massive stage. When you get to this level of hockey, it almost seems as if it becomes your defining feature, a representation of who you are as a person. Your identity is completely intertwined with your intrinsic evaluation of your hockey game. Things are always great when you have a string of good games, a couple ginos and apples. However some people do not have the personality to deal with the negative aspects that goes along with playing at this level and they need help to understand how to deal with the crazy amount of stressors that are associated with it.
    It really comes down to your personality type. Every player as this level is a perfectionist in some way or another. Some people (many of the professionals) are labeled as adaptive perfectionists. I had the honour of playing with players such as Jeff Skinner, Gabriel Landeskog, John Moore etc. Not only were these guys physically incredible they were also mentally so strong. Their motivation was very even keeled. In the result of failure, they would be the first one on the bike after the game. They would be the one that was watching more hours of video, and striving to the get better at every aspect of the game. They determination was flawless.
    Then there are people who are neurotic perfectionists. Looking back now with 4 years of schooling under my belt and taking a great class called Sports Psychology I now realize that I would part of this classification. Throughout my career, I was very unstable in terms of my behaviour. When things were going extremely well I was so happy and motivated. However, when things went poorly I was a completely different person. I was angry, self-destructive and had very poor ability to cope with negative events.
    The biggest event that shocked me into a depression spiral, was being traded from the Soo. I was so happy there, and in the flash of a moment you get dealt to a foreign environment. I could not handle the emotions that I was feeling. I felt like everything I worked so hard to achieve had been flushed down the drain. The honest truth is that at that age, you are still a boy in terms of mental development. Some people can handle the stressors while other just seem to implode. This is just a part of your genetic makeup.
    After that trade I was not the happy person I used to be. My family could see this, but I shut them out and did not communicate to them how mentally distraught I was. For the next couple of years, I was just on an extreme roller coaster ride of emotions. Some days I would be so excited and motivated, and others I could barely get out of bed. The thought of doing harm to myself crossed my mind on several times. I felt like I could not tell anyone about what I was feeling because I was embarrassed and ashamed of another flaw I found in myself.
    The honest truth is that looking back now the best thing that I ever did to help myself get out of this spiral was open up to my parents. I did this about two years ago, and told them about how I was feeling, the thoughts that were going through my head and how I needed help to figure out how to deal with the negative stressors.
    I think that the OHL teams need to promote having a Sports Psychologist readily available to talk to players. They need to promote the availability to talk to someone who can examine their mental makeup, and help them deal with many of the events that take place in a young person’s hockey career. When a player has a life altering event happen in their life, whether it be a trade, a breakup, a death in the family, a negative event like DUI etc, they need to dealt with as a person, rather than just a piece of faulty machinery in the company.
    Simply saying “You messed up, pack up your gear and you are kicked off the team” is not a solution to these problems. I think that a sports psychologist would be extremely beneficial (I am not psychology major btw, and not looking for a job) to help debrief situations like this. It will allow for players to talk about their emotions and make a game plan for the future that they can be motivated to achieve.
    I really want there to be more attention to the mental health of players that parallels the commitment that teams have at assessing the physical makeup.
    I never met Terry, but I have heard story’s about him being a great teammate, a beauty and a pleasure to be around. His legacy will be instilled with the future impact he has on helping so many others that are facing mental demons with an inability to express them.
    My deepest condolences to his family, friends and teammates. If you are experiences moments of doubt, sadness, or not feeling like yourself, there will always be help for people who ask for it. Do not be afraid to open up, because from my personal experience it was the best thing I have ever done. It allowed me to turn my life around and realize the glass is always half full.
    Chris MacKinnon

    1. Another OHL hockey mom says:

      Chris, thank you for sharing your story. My son (and Im sure many other OHL players) are going through exactly what you did. Btw, I wish you were a psychology major because I am looking for a Sports Psychologist for my son, especially if he chooses to play his over age next year. I will send him your comment and ask him to read it, along with a few of the others, and trust he will benefit.

  15. SP says:

    As a college basketball athlete in Canada, I was always extremely grateful to my coach, who went out of his way to procure a sports psychologist for our team every year– and what a difference it made.
    For people wondering if OHL teams can afford one, let me just say that if a Canadian College on a shoestring budget can, a corporation with an income dedicated to athletics MOST CERTAINLY can. Not only does a sports psychologist help people dealing with depression and anxiety, but they teach your team visualization exercises and mental toughness, two major keys that can put a talented team over the top for a championship.
    For all of you dissecting the reasons kids play hockey to this level in this country, don’t forget to bring up cultural pressure. In Canada, we pump hockey into our kids. Every time I talk about basketball (a growing sport here, where our men’s National team has a very good chance at competing in the 2020 Olympics) or soccer (look at the success of our women’s team), I get laughed at. “Those aren’t real sports, the only sport is hockey”. With such a mental attachment as a whole nation on one activity, it’s no wonder we have kids who have their entire identity wrapped up in two skates and some pads.

  16. billy says:

    Wow,Chris that was amazing,my son had the same issues,I still worry about my sons mental health a year after aging out,We Call or text him 2 to 4 times a day to try to get him to open up,he covers it up but we can tell he is not a happy person

  17. EX USHL and AAA Compuware Player says:

    First off as a michigander hockey player and someone who choose the college route instead of the ohl route I will be the first to say that the college route is just as bad if not worse. I played with and against terry and also dalton younge who as we all know stabbed his gfs dad in the back and tried to shoot a damn police officer with his own gun. Something is happening in Saginaw and I will tell you this right now, out of all the kids that I played with on that team including kids like sutch, ross, trochek, and a handful of others terry was an angel and one of the nicest kids I have ever met. I can only imagine being with a scumbag like sutch and some of those other kids who are just total meat heads on a daily basis made terry become depressed and especially when he found out he wasn’t going to make it to the show. This game is extremely mental. The college level is even worse. Everyone is arrogant as hell and it is a dog eat dog world mentality. To anyone who is planning on playing juniors you have to hunker down and get ready. I’m surprised all the vets on this page haven’t even addressed anything about the bullshit that goes on in the teams court or what crazy ridiculous hazing the vets make you go through and I can tell you 100% without a doubt that with arrogant kids like trocheck and especially sutch, I can only imagine what terry and Dalton and other kids had to put up with on a daily basis. Not to mention the fact that while they have to deal with this mental hazing and constant bullshit of court and fines and vet crap they are trying to put up consistent numbers in the ohl. Terry smoking a joint is the most lenient thing that Saginaw has had to deal with over the years especially when kids over the last three years were using girls and doing crazy party’s and all this other shit. And i could see that a nice kid like terry and glass and lopez and some of the other kids not wanting to get into that stupid shit so they were totally chastised for it. If your a parent take it from a kid who played 3 years of tier 1 juniors and is playing d1 now, billet ur own kids keep them the fuck away from the vets and get them into a community college while they’re in major junior so they can become something just in case they don’t make it and they don’t end up like low life scum neanderthals working construction. There is a reason parents, that Susie gramaldi takes her kid Rocco everywhere. Can u imagine what a Godly kid like that would go through being around arrogant pricks like that when he told them he loves jesus and wants to spread Gods word through the nhl? I’m no church goer myself but I respect that because I don’t fuck with kids lives because I’m not an asshole. Other kids in the ohl and juniors will continue to fuck with ur kids. Every kid in juniors is Sean Avery and if you have any depression or anxiety about not being able to make the show, you wont make it. Trust me I almost didn’t.

  18. billy says:

    Its all starting to come out Now

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