Haydn Fleury and his Kraken teammates team up with Premera to promote mental health awareness
Nine years later, Kraken defender Haydn Fleury is still struggling to find words for his teenage friend’s suicide.
He had last seen Kale Williams a few days before, playing a board game with him called Crokinole the night before Fleury’s Red Deer Rebels junior team embarked on a road trip. Fleury then had dinner at a family friend’s house on February 10, 2013, when his Rebels coach Brent Sutter called to tell Fleury that Kale had taken his own life.
“Honestly, I didn’t know how to deal with it,” Fleury said, searching for words. “I was instantly in shock. To be honest, talking about it now, it’s still hard to put into words what I felt at the time, other than being completely in shock and thinking that this was not real.
He had broken down at Williams’ funeral upon seeing a photo of him in a blue car as a young boy, realizing he would never see him again. Guilt soon followed, wondering why he hadn’t seen the signs. For a 16-year-old from small town Saskatchewan, living away from home in Alberta, it was all a bit overwhelming.
“You’re really confused at first,” he said. “You ask yourself ‘How?’ and why?’ and all that other stuff. And, ‘What could I have done?’ ”
And that’s why, as hard as it still is to talk about, Fleury isn’t shy about talking about his friend as part of a larger NHL effort to raise awareness about mental health.
Saturday night’s Kraken game against the Los Angeles Kings at Climate Pledge Arena is part of Hockey Talks Mental Health Awareness, an annual league initiative led by various clubs. The Kraken and sponsor Premera will hand out 18,000 team flags at the game, with 80% being teal and 20% white to indicate how one in five Americans struggle with mental health issues.
Premera is also launching a campaign this month with videos of Fleury and Kraken teammates Riley Sheahan, Brandon Tanev and Chris Driedger discussing mental health issues and how to seek help. Fans are encouraged to share messages of support on social media using the hashtag #HockeyTalks to share on the Kraken and Premera channels.
Video of Sheahan discussing his mental health journey will be shown on both scoreboards in the Climate Pledge Arena during Saturday’s game, after which fans with white Kraken flags will be asked to wave them.
As a minor leaguer in the Detroit Red Wings system a decade ago, Sheahan was arrested for drunk driving in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Soon after, he fell into a depression that threatened to derail his career until he sought help.
He now hosts a mental health podcast ‘Speak Your Mind’ and says it’s crucial to seek help today during the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that a constant barrage of social media and advertising algorithms makes life more difficult for everyone.
“I think sometimes we get into so many habits, and it’s hard to think for yourself and think normally,” Sheahan said. “We always compare ourselves to other people on Instagram or whatever.
“I just think there’s a lot more stress and a lot more competition in the world right now. In terms of how much money you make and how you look and all those materialistic things. I just think it’s things that can bog people down.
Fleury still texts his late friend’s parents on every anniversary of his death.
He sports a tattoo on his left arm made three years after Williams died. It features four playing cards, two of which feature the initials “K” and “W” of his late friend, as well as a two of hearts and a ten of spades for the day he died.
Two dice below the cards show a “4” and a “6”, representing Williams’ favorite No. 46 uniform worn by Colin Fraser, his favorite Red Deer player. Fleury recently sent Williams’ parents a Kraken jersey with the number 46 and their son’s name on it as well.
Williams was not a hockey player and suffered from a neuromuscular disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease which affected his nerves and limbs.
His stepfather was a longtime Rebels employee, and Williams, the same age as Fleury, hung around the team and attended parties with them.
“He was a great dancer,” Fleury said. “I couldn’t dance, but he was always dancing or doing something.”
Fleury had been introduced to Williams through a mutual friend, and they and two others formed a close-knit circle.
Blackjack was one of the many games Fleury, Williams and three Rebels teammates in their band used to play, hence the card-themed tattoo.
“We hung out almost every day,” Fleury said. “We played board games. Everything you could think of, we did.
That’s why he and other members of their group were so devastated. The team advised them, but Fleury said it was their coach, Sutter — a former player from a hockey-playing family that gave birth to six siblings in the NHL — who really made a difference. difference.
“I think he realized how dire the situation we were going through was, so he was really good,” Fleury said. “He helped me and my three teammates through the process.”
That’s why Fleury, like Sheahan, believes it’s important to use his hockey platform to spread awareness of the benefits of asking for help. Over the next few years, Fleury realized that his friend was likely battling his own internal struggle over sanity that ultimately prevailed.
“I think I’m very aware of how I feel or what my loved ones feel,” Fleury said. “That’s kind of the most important thing. That I can be there if anyone ever finds themselves in a situation like this or needs someone to talk to.