Moorhead youth hockey program aims to help ‘break the ice’ on mental health issues

“Don’t take swimming lessons when you’re drowning, and don’t talk about mental health when you’re in crisis,” said M3 founder Amber Ferrie.

It’s no surprise that hockey moms started this program. There are hats all over Morehead, urging skaters to break the ice. Many of them erupted after the death of Elle Johnson, who was Spud and Cooper who committed suicide.

“Don’t be embarrassed, because everyone has it at some point, and you just have to tell a trusted parent, or someone that you feel love for them and everything will be OK,” hockey player Weston Rosenfeldt said.

Thanks to an Offutt Family Foundation grant, M3 is now able to participate in hockey tournaments in December that focus on mental health. The Eli Johnson Memorial Squirt Championship is the weekend of December 4th in Morehead.

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“There will be mental health professionals in the building (during the tournament), and each team will talk about the team (about) what to do when you need help, (and) what to do when a friend needs help,” Ferry said. “(There’s) a lot of material stuff coming home with the kids. Not just brochures and flyers, but bracelets that open up a conversation so that parents at home can say, ‘Hey, tell me about that, what’s that, you know what that’s, what that means’ is yours? “

There is now a research-proven curriculum for these kids, and there will also be an app, all designed to let kids know that it’s okay not to be unwell.

“We want them to realize that mental health is not a terrible, great thing,[and]it is just about forming relationships and managing big emotions,” said Kelly Gast, M.D., a mental health practitioner. “We’re really trying to make it natural, have them talk and hopefully be like, ‘This is nothing out of the ordinary.'”

“I think it’s great and it’s something that hasn’t been done before,” said hockey father Thad Stafford.

Stafford is a former police officer in Morehead and knows all about it. Public DUI arrest, job loss, but then got help.

“It really gave me a way to be a little more comfortable — because it’s private stuff,” Stafford said. “This helps me with my recovery and the struggles I’ve dealt with in terms of mental health and addiction.”

He has kids into sports, he’s a coach, and nothing makes him happier than seeing mental health become part of Moorhead Youth Hockey.

The project is so attractive that even other cities are looking into the program. The hope is that M3 will build trust and motivate young players, but also let them know that there is a welcoming safety net and hundreds of people willing to listen and step in.

“I think it would be easier to talk about it now, because people are more open to listening than they were a couple of years ago,” said Sam Cragg, Pewy hockey player at Morehead.

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