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Wolves’ Mental Health Initiative Extending Beyond Weekend

#AHL | January was Mental Health Awareness Month for @Chicago_Wolves, but breaking the stigma requires even more work. @FPHWolves chats with Wolves President of Ops Courtney Mahoney on the path ahead

The Wolves sport their mental health awareness jerseys. Photo courtesy: Chicago Wolves

Wolves’ Mental Health Initiative Extending Beyond Weekend

ROSEMONT, Ill. – January 1st marked the beginning of a month of Mental Health Awareness for the Chicago Wolves. Through the Hockey Talks Initiative, inspired by NHL clubs in honor of Vancouver’s Rick Rypien who passed away in 2011 after his struggles with mental health issues, the Wolves went to work. The team shared resources and positive messages with its fans, including videos from every player on the roster aimed towards breaking the stigma.

The entire month culminated in a huge weekend push at the end of January where, after two weeks on the road, the Wolves would return for a two-game homestand. It was a month’s worth of work and more in the making for Courtney Mahoney, the Wolves’ President of Operations.

The weekend itself was a hit, on and off the ice. For Mahoney and the Wolves, the work is just getting started.

Fresh Threads

One of the bigger eye-opening pieces of the Wolves’ initiatives were their sleek black jerseys that they wore for the weekend set. The black was accented not just by the green trim but also by a multi-colored display of butterflies and positive messages that symbolized the spectrum of mental health.

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Mahoney explains how the jersey came to be: “For us, we try to take a concept, and our [former] designer Troy Mueller takes those concepts and puts them together in the jersey. We wanted to do a black jersey, we have the green as symbolism for mental health awareness. We wanted to put a bunch of the sayings on the sweater as well that we had the players say throughout the month on social media. The butterfly is in there that is just about a transformation like a caterpillar growing. We all grow from within and then the different colors for different organizations that we support.”

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“It’s bar none one of our best jerseys and I think all the elements combined makes it great.”

The jerseys popped on the ice, and they drew serious attention on and off the ice. Following their games on Saturday and Sunday where the Wolves wore them to a 3-2 win in overtime over Rockford and a 5-3 loss to Grand Rapids, the jerseys were auctioned off for donations to local charities.

“We had two weeks off away from the arena and I think everyone was just anxious to get back.” Mahoney said. “There was a buzz in the arena like the teddy bear toss. To wear these jerseys, it just brings another level to the hockey. The game is important but when you put a sweater like this on that has a bigger symbolism, I think the guys take a lot of pride in it and play extra hard for that.”

Giving Back

The initiative reached out on the ice, and the results off the ice were beyond what was expected. The messages from the team’s social accounts and player videos passing along messages of support allowed fans to come out of the woodwork, break away from the struggles in their daily lives and share their fight. It’s made an impact on Mahoney.

“Amazing.” Mahoney said of the feedback she’s received. “We’ve done so many different initiatives and the amount of notes and feedback from fans that said ‘thank you for doing this’ was pretty overwhelming and amazing. If one person feels better about expressing their vulnerabilities or their emotions about mental health awareness: that makes it worth it.”

Mahoney has had her work cut out for her this month, working tirelessly to promote the initiative of the Wolves’ month leading into this big weekend all over local media. She’s met with charities to raise awareness – along with funds – to make a difference in the community.

Yes, it’s her job as President of Operations to oversee the team’s activities day in and day out, but Mahoney takes the front lines consistently to make a difference. As the weekend passed, she reflects not on a single conversation but on the community as a whole that opened up to her and to the world of the difficulties of the issues that we all face.

“Even conversations with players and families you know that this is such a symbolic cause. It felt so well received and to have a whole month dedicated, I was so pleased at the amount we fundraised. I had so many notes and each and every one is very meaningful to me. I always say our fans are so amazing. We wouldn’t have success at any level without them. The way they support these endeavors continues to blow me away.”

The Path Ahead

It’s easy – almost human nature – to turn the page to the next day, the next week, or the next month and leave behind these important lessons that we teach one another and fall back into bad habits. It’s a constant battle for those who struggle with these issues. So how do we take the momentum from this initiative and continue to ride it beyond a fun weekend or beyond a string of social media posts?

Mahoney doesn’t stop working. Doesn’t stop talking about it. Ultimately – kindness is the key.

“That’s kind of why we did it all month with the messages from the players. I do think it’s really important. I continue to hope that people are talking about it. For us, we worked with a couple of new charities that are very different. It’s an important part of our organization to extend that to mental health awareness. It continues to be a larger goal and one of the things we try to focus on during the offseason are acts of service, going out and giving back when we have a little more time than during the season. It certainly doesn’t end, and the more people talk about it the more we encourage others to just start with kindness and understanding. Maybe check in with a player or a fan, err on the side of kindness and I think we’ll all be in a better place.”

This is your reminder to check in. The friend that’s been quiet or the one who always seems to have their stuff together. This is your reminder to be kind to those in your life that might be fighting their own battles in their mind. This is your reminder to never stop fighting for your loved ones and for yourself.

The Wolves have a heavy schedule ahead where they remain involved in the community.

“We’ll focus on Pride in the month of February.” Mahoney said, looking ahead. “One of the things too is balancing. The games are so full – there’s an atmosphere and an energy. We try to extend it outside of the games. March there will be autism awareness, support for military and first responders. Our goal is to have something each and every game for fundraising and give back. We have a brews and bites and a wine tasting. It’s a really good opportunity to interact with the guys and raise money.”

The Wolves will also continue to ride the wave of their momentum, from Project Thrive into future initiatives that remind us all: You are not alone, and there is hope.

Mahoney emphasized: “We’ll continue and mental health will be high in the agenda as a primary focus for the team.”

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    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHWolves.

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