When the puck drops, Kevin Raine is still the hard-nosed, hard-hitting defenceman fans remember from his OHL days.
Off the ice, however, the former Sudbury Wolves captain has come to understand the value of letting his guard down.
“I have struggled with depression and anxiety, and I have carried that along for quite some time — I would say as far back as junior,” said the Dryden, Ont. native, now 27 and coming off a three-year run with the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the U.K. “There came a time for me where I wanted to get to the root of why I was anxious, or why I was upset, and that led me to deciding OK, I’m going to sit with somebody, to tell them how I feel and they’re going to professionally tell me why I might be feeling that way.”
Once he did open up, some solutions almost seemed almost obvious: Eat better, get more sleep. Other, more weighty topics, required a lot more discussion, but he found it was worth the effort.
“For a long time, I found ways to kid myself that there was nothing wrong, but I finally came to terms with it, like hey, I have to do this for myself,” Raine said. “My whole life has been performance-based, so why have I not been concerned more with mental performance?”
But he didn’t stop with himself. Finding his schedule open after the EIHL cancelled its 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Raine returned home to work at a local elementary school, where he assists children with special needs, and he started working on a video series, consisting of one-on-one conversations with friends, family, and mental health professionals and service providers.
Recent guests have included Derek Mathers, a fellow OHL alum and professional hockey player, also known for his toughness and team-first focus, who spoke about his own struggles. In a previous episode, Raine spoke with Ashley Apland, clinical director at Firefly, a Kenora, Ont.-based organization whose aim is to support and strengthen the health and well-being of families, children and youth through emotional, physical, developmental and community services. His mother, Michelle Raine, was the featured guest in an earlier instalment.
“As soon as you make the choice to help yourself, then maybe you share with others that you’re doing that,” Raine said. “Then, maybe those people say hey, I did that once and I’m glad I did, or maybe I should do that, too. And the more you speak to people, you realize they can relate to how you’re feeling, or maybe they’ll tell you about a family member of theirs, who they wish would get help. Or, like in the case of Derek Mathers, it’s something another hockey player goes through.
“Back to the question of why I’m doing this project, it’s because I think it’s important. The more I have spoken to people, the more I have come to realize that mental health affects people either directly or indirectly, but I think it affects everyone. It’s the foundation of everything we do. If you have issues in productivity, if you feel like you’re limited, then maybe you should look at how you’re handling yourself mentally.”
In almost every situation where he could have done better, Raine believes he would have, had he been in better shape mentally.
“That could be in a relationship with a girlfriend, maybe a fight with my parents where I put a lot of blame on my mom, but now that I have taken a serious look at my mental health game, I have realized I was out of line,” Raine said. “There’s an accountability you gain when you tackle it. And I think in these times, when we’re spending so much time away from our family and friends, we need some encouragement. We need to hear these types of messages. Hopefully, these messages resonate with people and it allows them to make their own strides in deciding how they move forward, rather than believing they’re going backwards.”
Mental health care values emotional vulnerability, which may seem at odds with ideals of mental toughness long prized in the sporting world. But the perspective Raine gained by reaching out, by seeking guidance and advice, has allowed him to put his goals into sharper focus, and he expects to compete more fiercely than ever when he returns to action, hopefully in 2021-22.
“In hockey, yes, you want to have toughness, grit, determination, but there’s you at the rink, there’s you, the hockey player, and there’s you, the human, the person,” he said. “I think we fear that if we show weakness as a person, or what we believe to be a weakness, we don’t want to express those issues, because we don’t want it to affect how people perceive us in our work environment, but we have to disassociate those two. You can show up and work hard and do everything you can do for your teammates, but just because you do that, it doesn’t mean you don’t go home and have struggles you face in your real world.
“It’s redefining what tough is, or when to be tough, so to speak. When you’re showing up for work, when you’re competing, you’re on the ice, you’re battling for pucks, be tough. Be as tough as you can, within reason. But as a person, be tough by facing things, talking about things, address things. Don’t run away from things and don’t hide things. If you can identify who you can talk to and put on your team that way, share a thought with, share a concern with, open a debate with, and really speak with, that’s being tough.”
He’s conscious that as a hockey player, he has a platform that lends more weight to his words, and he wants to use that platform wisely.
“If you hear from the right voice, that can have a positive influence on you,” Raine said. “As a kid, I looked up to hockey idols, maybe somebody in my position. When the Dryden IceDogs came to my school, they could have said anything. Meanwhile, they’re saying the same thing as my teachers, my parents, the people who are trying to get me to do these things — do my homework, eat right, show respect — but because it was them saying it, it was like OK, yep, because I was in awe, just in awe of them.
“If there’s anybody willing to listen to me, if I’m a role model to anyone, hopefully what I’m saying can resonate with somebody and it can help somebody. That’s the whole purpose of the videos.”
For a full list of Raine’s videos, visit www.linktr.ee/kevinraine. Find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kevin.raine.90, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/makeitraine11 and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/kevinraine.