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In efforts to raise awareness for mental health in hockey, goaltender Connor MacKenzie established a mental health campaign during his last year of junior hockey with the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The 21-year-old launched the campaign, Lift the Mask on Mental Health, in September 2022 in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association. MacKenzie set an initial campaign goal of $25,000 and has since surpassed it. Currently, donations have reached close to $40,000.
On February 25, the Storm hosted a mental health night, in honor of MacKenzie’s campaign.
Storm players wore jerseys designed by MacKenzie that were later auctioned online, raising an additional $8,500 for the campaign. Prior to the start of the game, MacKenzie presented the head of the Grande Prairie Canadian Mental Health Association with a cheque for $35,000. MacKenzie said he is appreciative of all of the support he has received from friends, family, and teammates.
“It's pretty special using my platform to do some good and spread some positivity in the world,” MacKenzie told Hockey of Tomorrow.
Since he was a young kid, MacKenzie has witnessed the harmful hockey culture firsthand.
“When you're young and growing up in hockey, you get that stereotype in your head that you want to be the tough player,” he said.
MacKenzie recalled the mentality of wanting to be a tough player, both physically and mentally. Often players feel the need to hide their feelings and emotions, he added. The player discussed the importance of valuing mental health as an athlete.
“We need both the mental and physical side to be just as valued.''
Growing up, there were few resources available for players, MacKenzie explained. Fortunately, there has been a shift in mental health support over the past few years, with MacKenzie being a part of the change.
While playing in Alberta, MacKenzie and his other team members were provided with resources and staff allocated for mental health support.
Beyond bringing awareness to the hockey world, MacKenzie has spoken about mental health at local elementary schools around the Grande Prairie area.
“In turn, it has been great for my own mental health, talking to others,” he said. As a goalie, MacKenzie explained how he often faces pressure.
“There are times you can feel isolated after having a bad game as a goalie,” MacKenzie said, who often relies on talking to family and teammates. “I think the biggest thing for me is just talking to people and knowing I got people behind me.”
MacKenzie said being able to make an impact on people has been gratifying. “There's no better feeling than knowing you're doing good, helping others, and making a positive impact,” he said.
In late April, MacKenzie was named one of five finalists for the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top Goaltender Award for this 2022-23 season. He was also named the AJHL’s top goaltender and team MVP for the 2022-23 season.
Last month, MacKenzie committed to the University of Vermont to play D1 hockey.
Despite moving to Vermont in the fall for school, MacKenzie said he is hopeful to continue his efforts there. “My next step in Vermont is to find a local charity there.”