McCreary, Malts share struggles with mental health for #BellLetsTalk

by Casey Bryant

DANBURY, CT– Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks head coach Billy McCreary and culture/mindset coach Vinny Malts presented a recorded video message detailing their struggles with mental health Monday afternoon. McCreary and Malts hope to continue the conversation started with last week’s “#BellLetsTalk” campaign and this week’s Concussion Awareness Week regarding mental and emotional health stigmas that exist in the game of hockey.

“We’re all experiencing a challenging time in our lives right now,” said Malts of his video message. “What we’re looking for is to open up and share a part of our lives that we feel our world needs to hear right now. We know how much of a struggle mental health can be at times, but we also know that with the right tools, plan, knowledge and people by your side, you can live a mentally healthy and productive life.”

In their video messages, Malts and McCreary detail how concussions and other factors led to thoughts of suicide and depression. Their hope is that by sharing their stories, they may serve as an example to other members of the hockey community that mental health issues and self-harmful thoughts are normal, and can be overcome with the right support.

“Playing the game at the NCAA and professional levels was a dream come true for me,” McCreary says in his video address. “But that dream took a toll on my mind and body. During my playing career, players were not allowed to talk about mental health.”

McCreary goes on to detail about how a slew of concussions altered his playing style and personality. Rather than receiving support from his coaches, he was labeled “soft,” “not willing to push through the pain,” and a “bad teammate.” As a head coach in the North American Hockey League, McCreary hopes to change hockey culture for the betterment of his players.

Malts is a former 7th-round NHL Entry Draft pick, selected by the Vancouver Canucks in 1998. Since retiring in 2008, he has become one of the most successful mental performance coaches in hockey, lending his talents to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, minor-league affiliates of the Chicago Blackhawks, for four years.

Billy McCreary comes from a prolific hockey family. His grandfather, Bill Sr., played 309 NHL games and served as head coach for three seasons for the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and California Seals. His father, Bill Jr., played 12 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His uncle, Bill, is a Hall of Fame referee.