IGNITING CHANGE IN MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE MISUSE BY SETTING THE HOCKEY WORLD IN MOTION
Igniting change in mental health and substance misuse by setting the
hockey world in motion
"PUCK THE STIGMA"
To create powerful conversations surrounding the topics of mental health
and substance misuse. Using hockey as the vehicle, partnering
with like minded people and organizations to create lasting and
impactful change. The Puck Support Co. kicks back a portion of each
sale directly to The Puck Support Network Non-Profit Organization. More
info coming soon.
A Letter From Our Founder
My name is Brady Leavold. Growing up in the suburban area of Port Coquitlam B.C., I had the same dream that almost every Canadian boy has, to be a star in the NHL. Looking back now, I don’t know if I ever would have made it, but I do know that I was a promising player whose addiction and mental health issues sealed my fate. A combination of childhood trauma and an inability to cope led me to the kind of destructive behaviour that conspired against me having an NHL career or even a stable life.
At the age of five, I was sexually abused and that event would haunt me through out my entire childhood and into my teens and 20s. And now, at the age of 34, I am finally on a path of healing. One of the main components in my healing journey has been the game of hockey and, more importantly, the hockey community.
My response to the trauma of being abused and my efforts to dull the pain caused me to do a lot of destructive things in my life, but it also pushed me even more to hockey. When I had my stick in my hand, it allowed me to escape my own pain and suffering. This led to countless hours in my driveway honing my skills with my sights set on making it to the big-time. Hockey has been the vehicle that has taken me to every great place I have ever been, but the demons of my past were always right there at every corner. As I grew older, those demons progressed in ways I would have never thought imaginable. Instead of sharing my feelings honestly, I bottled them up and did whatever I needed to do to hide my own reality from the outside world. I was able to cover it up for many years and any small amount of peace and serenity from the reoccurring nightmares that were a constant inside my head came from playing the game.
My mental health started to deteriorate rapidly as I entered my teens and, even though hockey was there as an outlet, there were times when it wasn’t enough. At the age of 16, I signed with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League and made the team at 17. I was even named the team’s rookie-of-the-year despite leaving during the season for a short period of time for what would now be considered a mental-health leave. After just seven games in my second season, I packed up my 1990 Ford Ranger and drove 14 hours straight back to Port Coquitlam without saying goodbye to any of my teammates.
And it was then that my life took a dramatic turn. Shortly after returning home, I was introduced to drugs for the first time and my life was never the same again. As is the case with everyone who struggles with this, I was an addict waiting to happen.
I returned to the Broncos as a 19-year-old after begging then-coach Dean Chynoweth to let me attend training camp. He told me it was a long shot, but I literally fought my way back on to the team on and off the ice. But nobody knew what was actually going on with my mental health and addiction. I faired pretty well on the ice that season, but struggled mightily of it. My drinking was spiraling out of control and the team was starting to take notice. After more off ice troubles, I was traded to the Kelowna Rockets just two games in to my overage season.
Kelowna was better for me, but I continued to suffer in silence. I played on a line with Jamie Benn that season and earned myself a contract with the Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. I was one step closer to my dream, but off the ice things raveled out of control. The summer leading into my first year pro, my addiction took over my life. By the time training camp came, I was nowhere near ready to take on the world’s best at Tampa Bay’s camp and then in the American Hockey League. Just four games into my first season, I blew my knee out, which sidelined me for three months and led me down the road to OxyContin. What I didn’t know at the time was just how strong a hold that medication would have on my life. They are painkillers, designed to manage physical pain. But I used them to manage emotional pain as well. This was the beginning of the end for my hockey career, and it would change the trajectory of my life for the next 12 years.
The following season, I fell off the pro hockey map and headfirst into the life of an addict. It was not long before I became addicted to heroin. Though I made a comeback in 2011-2012 to the now defunct Central Hockey League, I immediately fell into my life of addiction the following season. I had multiple suicide attempts that led me to the psychiatric ward on several occasions, one time for six months, another for three and many shorter stints in between.
My life of hockey was completely over, but my life as an addict was just beginning. By 2013, I became an intravenous drug user, and by 2014 I found myself homeless on Hastings Street on Vancouver’s downtown east side, a place widely regarded as the worst neighbourhood in North America. I could have never imagined becoming an addict and never in a million years would I have ever believed the streets would where I would end up. I had completely given up and I had pushed everyone I had known and loved out of my life completely. I had just recently lost my children in a custody battle. Before long, I was homeless and my drug addiction was costing anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a day. I was then introduced to a life of crime, which I was forced to live in order to sustain my drug addiction. Fentanyl caused me to overdose over 10 times. There was a time when people knew who I was because of my exploits in hockey, but by 2015, people were familiar with me only because of my multiple appearances on the local Crime Stoppers. That year, I was arrested and convicted on a number of charges and spent 21 months behind bars. My mother said it was the first time in years that my family wasn’t worried about me because at least they knew where I was.
Upon my release, I moved to Ontario, but my mental health and addiction problems made the trip east with me. After a year, I found myself behind bars once again, this time for a year. While I was in there, I did some major soul searching and decided I really needed to get honest and ask for help. It was not a quick and easy process by any means but by the time I was released, I had a new outlook on life. The problem was I had no idea how I could rebuild my life, and for a short time I fell back into addiction.
But something was different this time.
In February of 2020, I went back to the game I loved and the one that provided me with all the positives I’ve ever had in my life. I decided to put my skates on again for the first time in close to a decade and that’s when everything changed for me. I decided to start a podcast that focused on my recovery, but I had absolutely no clue where to start. I took a chance and was brutally honest. I am so lucky and grateful for the response I received. Sportsnet and The Hockey News picked up my story and the support started to pour in.
What happened next though was completely unexpected, but looking back now it only makes sense. I soon learned I was not the only one in the hockey world who was struggling with mental health and addiction issues. The number of people who reached out and continue to reach out is overwhelming. I began to hear stories about people I knew and others I had never met before who were not so lucky. I found out my roommate from the AHL overdosed and died and my coach my first year pro had committed suicide. I couldn’t believe what I was uncovering. The list of names of those we have lost continued to grow and still continues to grow. Our brothers and sisters are dying and the more I heard their stories, the more I felt compelled to take action.
It was when I learned Mitch Fadden, a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick and a good friend of mine, had died as the result of a fentanyl overdose that I knew I needed to do something. And that was what led to me establishing the Puck Support Network six months ago. Puck Support is for everyone in the hockey community. Mental health and addiction issues are prevalent everywhere, but I could not believe how common they were inside our beautiful game of hockey. It is now my mission in life to do everything in my power to provide each individual with the education and resources to try to put an end to these needless tragedies. The goal of Puck Support is to provide resources, support and education to everyone throughout the hockey world, whether they’re players, coaches or parents. Mental health and addiction are complex and serious issues, that are not easy to discuss. But it’s only when you bring them out into the light that they lose their power over us. It is my goal to change the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction. In fact, it has become my purpose in life.
My story is only one very small part of Puck Support. There are so many others we have lost and even more who are still living in their own hell. I am willing to go to any lengths to in order to bring the issues of addiction and mental health to the forefront. I continue to press forward and work as hard as I can every single day. The past year has truly changed my life. I have been blessed and a huge part of my continued recovery lies in being of service to others.
We recently we launched a Puck Support clothing line. Each piece of clothing has a memory of one of the individuals from the hockey community that we have lost related to mental health or addiction. Each article of clothing is embossed with the name of someone the hockey world has lost. The list continues to grow and it ranges from former NHL players to minor leaguers and even junior and minor hockey players. I have attached a picture that we feature on our website. This is my personal side mission, to honour those we have lost.
My resources are extremely limited. I have basically built this thing entirely by myself. From the website to the clothing, I have done it all. There have been some amazing people such as Dave Gilmour, Doug’s older brother, who have stepped up and raised money for our cause. It allowed me to order a heat press, a vinyl cutter and some blank clothing. Over the last month I have been pressing the clothes and personally stamping the names on each item myself. I will continue to work as hard as I have to until I break through the necessary barriers.
And I will not stop until I take my last breath.
I’m doing this because I want everybody to receive the support they need. And with the help of the right people, I know we can change the world, we can save lives. I am one of the lucky ones who have made it through to the other side. Feb. 8, 2021 marked one year clean off of all the hard substances. It is an accomplishment I never thought I would be able to achieve. I feel like I have no other choice but to serve the hockey community and I take great pride in everything that I do. But I do need help. There are hundreds maybe thousands of men and women in the game who are suffering and we won’t be able to reach all of them without some help.
I appreciate you taking the time to read about my story, my mission and my life’s purpose.
"Have a great day, if you so choose"
The Puck Support Co and The Puck Support Network