When I committed to signing with the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2014/2015 season it was anything but conventional. I was actually on a plane from Detroit back to Pittsburgh, (I was on a Professional Try Out with the Penguins) when I received a message from Stan Bowman and my then agent, Kevin Epp, saying they wanted to bring me back. I was excited and committed immediately because my fiancé, who was pregnant with my son at the time, grew up here and I have always loved and felt comfortable in the city of Chicago.
The terms weren’t important, I just wanted to be close to Ela and our baby in the oven. I had to make the awkward walk up to the front of the plane to tell the General Manager of the Penguins that I had committed to Chicago and that I’d be packing my car that evening and making the drive back to Illinois. I revealed my plans to the fellas in camp and they were all very happy for me.
As I drove back I couldn’t help but feel joyous about what lay ahead. I didn’t realize that I would have to deal with many obstacles that season. The first coming in early November when my aunt passed, followed immediately by the birth of my son on November 24th 2014. Many more changes would follow and many more losses. In December we lost Clint Reif, our trainer and a friend, not to be outdone by the death of my close friend Steve Montador in February. I suffered a concussion in April and the symptoms lingered for longer than I care to remember. In that fog of post concussive symptoms and grief & loss, I penned an article and filmed a video for The Players Tribune entitled Gone. It was a therapeutic tool and a tribute to my friend Steve, as well as a call to arms to both open eyes and create awareness surrounding the issue of helping athletes in transition. I was a part of another Stanley Cup winning team in mid June, donated my time and Cup day to starting Chapter 5 at the end of August, married in September, officially retired from the NHL in mid September and laid my grandfather and #1 fan to rest in mid October; a little less than 2 months into my transition.
In my mind, the key to a successful transition is self assessment and awareness. I have always been blessed with a keen ability to separate who I was as a person away from my job and sport. I’m Daniel who played hockey for the last 12 years, not the hockey player named Daniel. Although I had this knowledge about myself, it was still nonetheless a very difficult 9 months to follow. I had not yet dealt with any of the pain and grief and loss which I had tried to numb out all season long. When you are so singularly focused on being a good teammate and friend, you feel as if you have to put on a happy face when at the rink so as to not affect the room and burden the guys with what you may be feeling on the inside.
This caused me to spiral into a depression which I sat in for the next many months. Waking up each morning angry, sad, resentful and feeling lost and stuck in a victim mentality. It wasn’t until I saw my old teammates at a friend’s birthday party that I got some relief from the mental anguish I was experiencing.
This made me realize that creating a resource network and a net to catch guys in for when they fall abruptly from the safety of sport and the room was most necessary. For the purpose of reading pleasure, I will continue to expand (in daily blogs) on my journey and where I was mentally, what helped me gain relief from that mental hell and what treatments I have discovered. Also, I will expand daily on where I am and what has helped get me to a place of peace and love. Being of service and giving away information that was so freely given to me is key to my continued happiness. The sole purpose when I awake each day, and what drives me to build Chapter 5 into something special, is the belief that through my transparent story telling, it may help someone in the future find relief from that mental anguish and help alleviate the depression, stress and anxiety period that comes with re-purposing one’s life and transitioning successfully into life after the game.