Hardness has been instrumental in John Camp’s more than 35 years as a coach.
Players have to prove it and coaches have to instill it. In hockey, toughness is a component of success. As head coach and general manager of the Georgia club hockey team, Camp understands that well.
“We are hockey players. I’ve been a hockey player. I’m a coach, “said Camp. “It’s been ingrained that if you’re a hockey player, then you’re tough. They pull our teeth out. We can have a fracture, [but] we go back to the ice because that is the mentality we have. “
Because the pandemic wiped out any chance of Georgia having a postseason last year and stripped student-athletes of a typical college experience, the harshness of the parade was replaced by accepting vulnerability.
“Everyone I’ve talked to (our students, interns, players) is anxious,” Camp said. “Anxiety turns into depression, depression turns into many other bad things and how is this being addressed now? Everyone is alone. “
Mental health concerns led Camp to Nuçi’s Space, an Athens-based mental health advocacy organization last spring.
Camp wanted to make sure the team helped the Athens community cope with the mental health stress caused by the pandemic. In June 2020, Ice Dawgs and Nuçi’s Space announced their partnership to raise awareness about mental health and demonstrate the need for positive mental health practices within the Athens community.
“It’s hard to be a college student and a lot of people, not just members of a hockey team, struggle with all kinds of problems. [that are] hard to talk about, “said Mariah Caldwell, a partner in the development of Nuçi’s Space.” It was just a good opportunity to bridge that gap and create a conversation about [mental health]”.
Founded in 2000, focused on musicians, Nuçi’s Space began as an advocate and assistant for people living with mental illness.
Nuçi’s Space “maintains a health and resource center for musicians as a safe space to seek support and guidance, provides access to affordable, barrier-free professional care, actively participates in treatment, and educates about awareness, prevention, and risk factors “for mental illness, according to its website.
Few Ice Dawgs players knew about Nuçi’s Space and its mission when the partnership was announced, said Cameron Campbell, the Ice Dawgs’ junior defender. Hockey players are usually around other hockey players, he said. Many musicians are the same way.
After Nuçi’s Space made a Zoom call with the Ice Dawgs to explain their mission, offer mental health tips, and open their doors to help players and interns, they began planning special events for next season.
Nuçi’s Space hoped to dedicate an Ice Dawgs game to mental health awareness and include a presentation that explained its purpose with contact information. Due to the pandemic, it never happened. All but five games of the Ice Dawgs 2020-21 season were canceled and headed to Athens.
Nuçi’s Space and Ice Dawgs adjusted their collaboration plans to accommodate COVID-19-related restrictions. The Ice Dawgs began using their social media accounts to provide mental health advice from Nuçi’s Space. From March 16 to 29, the Ice Dawgs held a design contest for their upcoming “Classic City Hockey” jersey, with 25% of the proceeds going to Nuçi’s Space.
Together, they held a “Skate Night” at the Classic Center Pavilion on Feb. 4 with at least 120 people in attendance during the five-hour event, Camp said.
“One thing that was really amazing about Skate Night is that it showed that everyone is fighting for something and that you’re not that different from people who seem to be very different from you,” Campbell said. “How often do you see hockey players and musicians hanging out, right? But on that night of skating, we all skated together [and] having a good time. “
The Ice Dawgs and Nuçi’s Space hope to bring their partnership to next season. Caldwell said both organizations still intend to have future events and games dedicated to mental health awareness.
“A lot of people I talk to who aren’t musicians don’t really know what we’re doing,” he said. “So I think this will be our approach to move forward and into the future to find out how we can connect with people from outside the music community who already know we’re here.”
The Ice Dawgs were aware of the effect the pandemic had on Athens-based musicians, Campbell said, and collaboration is the team’s attempt to help in any way they can.
The partnership also improved the way Ice Dawgs sees the stigma surrounding mental health. Campbell said every player who has an “open door policy” to get help is the reason for this. He said most would not seek help, instead choosing to bottle their emotions.
Now, players get help they may not have had in the past.
“I know, personally, that if we didn’t have that partnership, I wouldn’t even think about reaching out to any other resource and asking for help,” Campbell said.