Growing up a cowboy, former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk was taught to be tough.
Malarchuk was in Williams Lake Wednesday giving a pair of presentations at the Gibraltar Room as an advocate for mental health on his life in, and after, the NHL while struggling with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and suicide.
Born and raised in Alberta and now living in Nevada, Malarchuk, 58, told the Tribune he’s passionate about the issues people suffer with and wants to share his story with the hope of helping those affected recover.
The presentations — one for adults and another for youth — were put on by Denisiqi Services Society and partners Punky Lake Wilderness Camp Society, the Cariboo Friendship Centre and the Tshilqot’in National Government.
“My story helps people feel they’re not alone and can get help,” Malarchuk said, noting he speaks in roughly 50 different communities a year in Canada and the U.S.
Malarchuk played 12 seasons in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres. After retiring he went on to coach with four NHL teams.
In 1989, Malarchuk was involved in one of the most infamous, gruesome sports injuries in history while playing with the Sabres when a skate blade from an opposing St. Louis Blues player slashed his carotid artery on his neck.
Already dealing with mental health issues, however, translating his obsessive compulsive disorder into work ethic on the ice, Malarchuk began to spiral downward.
Malarchuk said had the skate blade cut one quarter of an inch deeper, he would have died instantly.
“I was back to play in the NHL in just 10 days,” he said, noting while the support and admiration from the Buffalo fans helped him through his return to the ice, he never dealt with underlying issues regarding the incident.
Malarchuk, still suffering years later following his career, attempted to take his own life in October of 2008 where he suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound that would, ultimately, require surgery to repair his jaw, tongue, mouth and palate.
“The OCD had become so enormous,” he said. “I was self medicating with alcohol, and today I still have a bullet lodged in my skull but, after I survived that, I knew I had a purpose.”
Also having a passion for horses and animals, Malarchuk competed during his NHL career in bareback riding and bull riding in the Calgary and Alberta area.
Malarchuk said he’s never attended a Williams Lake Stampede, however, has heard it’s ‘the best thing going.’
“I never got the pleasure of riding here,” he said. “But all my friends who had said it’s one of the best rodeos around.”
Following his NHL career Malarchuk went to school to become a horse dentist and chiropractor.
On Tuesday he spent the day at Tl’esqox (Toosey) where he worked with children in the community’s youth horse program.
“What they are doing with those kids out there … right on,” he said.
Just this past week, other former NHL players Jordin Tootoo and Theoren Fleury were in Williams Lake speaking about their own personal struggles.
Malarchuk said it’s great to see so many high-profile athletes using that platform to spread a positive message.
“Anyone that’s high profile, like Jordin, the NHL gives us a platform to be heard,” he said. “More and more celebrities and people are starting to speak out and it makes it easier for others to get help.”
In 2014, Malarchuk wrote an autobiography titled The Crazy Game where he documented his own life.
“I put my e-mail address in the back and, five years later, I still get several e-mails every day from people struggling with mental health issues,” he said.
“I say the two most important things in life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why you were born.”