NHL can lend help, if a player wants it

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2011 - 1:02 AM
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Fans gathered at a makeshift memorial for Rick Rypien outside Rogers Arena in Vancouver in August.

Photo: Darryl Dyck, Associated Press - Ap

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The NHL and NHL Players' Association will spend much of training camp reinforcing to players that there are resources available if they have problems with addiction or depression.

The offseason deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak also caused the parties to say they would examine each death and conduct an evaluation of existing programs and practices.

"I know they're taking a beating right now, but they've had programs in place for years to help," former Florida Panthers fighter Peter Worrell said. "I think a lot of it is the mentality that guys don't want to take that leap, to make that phone call and say, 'Look, I need help.'

"Hopefully now guys will say, 'I don't want this to be me.'"

Boogaard, a former Wild enforcer, entered the program for an addiction to painkillers for a second time in April. One day after being released, he died of a toxic mix of alcohol and oxycodone.

"Personally, I thought they offered Derek quite a bit in terms of helping him out with his problem," said his brother Ryan Boogaard, a Royal Canadian Mountie. "They picked up all the bills, they offered him counseling after, they were always keeping in touch. Ultimately, it comes down to the person, and Derek had everything there for him essentially. He didn't want to go."

Still, veteran Andrew Brunette feels improvements can be made.

"Whether it's paying a guy to take care of him or, I think, getting Derek out of downtown [Minneapolis] and into a place like Woodbury would have helped," Brunette said. "I just think there needs to be a higher protocol. I just don't know how you can send a guy to two weeks of rehab and think their life's changed."

Costs for the program are covered for current players and family members, as well as retired players until two years after their playing career.

Former Wild bruiser Todd Fedoruk battled drug and alcohol abuse for years and entered the NHL and NHLPA's program in April 2010.

"It's a strange, gray line. We've got to hit bottom to crawl out of it," Fedoruk said. "Unfortunately, sometimes bottom is death. That's the reality of addiction and depression."

Worrell was arrested twice for drunken driving during his playing days. Today, he's a hockey coach for Florida Atlantic University and North Broward Prep.

"Part of the locker room mentality is we can fight through everything," Worrell said. "We kind of get down on guys if they show any weakness. I hope with these tragedies this summer that as players and union members, we look out for each other a little bit more."

Said Fedoruk: "You never want to see somebody die because of something that you might have been able to prevent. Nobody should be afraid to say anything because it ultimately comes down to caring about your brother."

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