Preface to “Just Trying to Win Every Day”
Our society talks about the importance of mental health all the time. Taking action and speaking up about our personal struggles takes a tremendous amount of courage and bravery. Nowadays we hear the word resiliency thrown around and automatically assume the pitfalls that one encounters from time to time build resiliency and that every teenager needs to develop that characteristic or trait in order to be successful. Nick Blagden’s journey in the game of hockey had a foundation built on resiliency.
From a far Blagden’s success story was writing itself. From being passed over in his first year of QMJHL draft eligibility to being drafted at 16, to making the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and fulfilling his role as an energy player and enforcer, everything seemed to be falling into place. His resiliency and work ethic was paying dividends on the ice, nevertheless Blagden was protecting a secret. His life away from the rink was anything but successful. He was lost. Lost in the darkness of his own thoughts.
I knew Nick Blagden’s hockey story, I knew how far he had come, I scouted the kid for two years. His story of perseverance and persistence was a story I wanted to continue to follow. Ironically, when I saw him like a few of my posts on Twitter a few years back, I decided to give the young gritty forward a follow.
Our paths actually crossed once during his rookie season in the Q after a game at the Avenir Centre.
Nick wasn’t in the lineup that night, but was helping pack up so the team could hit the road. We spoke briefly that night while I was waiting to talk to Luke Henman. I had no idea he was struggling. No idea what he was going through. I saw a kid that I thought was on top of the world, living out his hockey dreams.
At that point Nick Blagden was in a very dark place for a long time.
I didn’t know about his struggles, no one did. On Bell Let’s Talk Day 2021, that all changed.
In three heart felt tweets on a day that we all share our personal struggles, Nick Blagden courageously shed light on his own dark times.
Since then, he’s been trying to win each day.
“Just Trying to Win Every Day”
Nick Blagden knows what it takes to be successful in the hockey world. His relentless work ethic and attitude is infectious. You see Blagden was never the most skilled player coming up through the ranks, he was a hard worker, a player that would go through a wall to help the team win. A player and person that would do anything for a teammate.
Often times those types of players get over looked or undervalued. Nonetheless, as that player climbs each rung of hockey’s ladder their role and identity becomes invaluable.
That’s what makes the Saint John, New Brunswick products ascension to the QMJHL level so special. He worked for every ounce of success that has come his way.
“Growing up I was never the best player on my team, I never played for the best team everyone of my first years until Midget.”
“I went from Atom C to Atom AA, PeeweeAA-AAA, Bantam AAA minor- Bantam AAA major.”
In his first year of Midget, Blagden got cut from the famed Saint John Vito’s program.
“I was the last cut from my team and got called back the next day saying a player quit so there’s a spot open for me.”
Blagden has always relished the underdog role. If he anything he’s embraced it.
Blagden went undrafted in his first year of eligibility, but kept preserving and never gave up on his hockey dreams.
“My hockey career hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t change a thing because it made me who I am today.”
“Just having a mentality to never give up and never take no for an answer means a lot to me.”
As for his role at the QMJHL level, well the 18-year-old wouldn’t change that for the world either. Blagden’s unconventional path in the game isn’t lost on him.
“It has honestly been that best thing that can happen to me. I always say if I could score fifty goals I would, but no way would I give up this role. It’s the best role in the world, I love it,” Blagden said.
Fighting on the ice is one thing fighting with your thoughts are another.
Nick Blagden like many others thought it was just the way he was wired. He didn’t know why he felt so down and low all the time. Behind the charismatic ultra passionate hockey tough guy lived a personal loathing that couldn’t be described.
“This is my first time going public about it.”
“I struggled mentally for three to four years before I finally came out and told my story to someone.”
“Throughout that time I was in a very dark place in my life.”
“I didn’t want to be here.”
“To be quite honest if not for hockey I don’t think I would be here right now,” admitted Blagden.
“I was very lost.”
“I was in a dark tunnel with no way out.”
Trapped by his own thoughts and feelings Blagden went inward.
The search for the reason why he felt like he did, didn’t seem to matter, it was all about survival, surviving and playing the game he loved.
Blagden is all heart and soul.
He’s the ultimate teammate who is always willing to stand up for what’s right. An enforcer, an energy player, a difference maker. Blagden is a “glue guy” through and through.
You see the kid from the Port City wore the mask that many do when suffering from depression, but that somehow changed when he arrived to the rink. Obviously, he felt compelled to keep things quiet due in large part to his role on the team. Most “glue guys” do. Team is family, team is everything to Blagden, but sometimes it’s extremely difficult to share not because of the perceived code, just because everyone has to see those types of players full of positivity, full of enthusiasm.
Anything for the team.
Blagden’s dark misguided thoughts would briefly subside when he was at the rink. The game of hockey and his team provided moments of clarity.
“Playing hockey was my therapy.”
“Being in the dressing room with the boys just made me forget about everything bad going on,” stressed Blagden.
Life away from the rink was becoming more and more challenging. The dark thoughts, emotions and anxiety wouldn’t shut off. Time and time again he just thought that’s the way things were going to have to be until he had enough.
Something had to change. The darkness had become overwhelming, too hard to handle even for the resilient forward. The monster within that haunted his thoughts had to be exposed.
Family meant the world to Blagden, it always has so being away from home brought on more dark negative thoughts. In a way his love of family potentially saved his life.
“It was hard because I didn’t know why I felt so down and bad about myself and why I was having so many negative thoughts I just thought maybe it’s the way I am, but I never would have guessed I had mental illnesses.”
“It was January 2020 and it was just Bell Let’s Talk Day and at that point I thought maybe I have something wrong, but I was to nervous to come out and talk.”
“It wasn’t until it was just my nephews birthday and I had another nephew on the way and not being there with them killed me and I needed to get this things of my chest.”
The rollercoaster of emotions made him feel defeated and demoralized.
“I would spend the night having so many negative thoughts there were times where I’d have a game the next day and I’d only sleep one or two hours a night.”
“I was getting sick of it, I needed it to change,” confessed Blagden.
The relationship, trust and bond between teammates lasts a lifetime. The same could be said about players and athletic therapists.
Francis Denis became Nick Blagden’s lifeline.
“I finally told my story to Francis.”
“That opened up a little light for me at the end of the tunnel.”
“Francis would always tell me, ‘just try to win every day.”
Such a simple yet profound statement. Blagden was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and ADD in February of 2020.
“I like that code a lot,” said Denis of the phrase he told Blagden.
“I use ‘try to win the day, every day a lot with the athletes, it works in life as well,” Denis added.
Denis has been a trusted ally for players for thirteen seasons in the QMJHL.
He started his career with the Montreal Jr’s for three seasons and moved with the organization when it relocated to Blainville-Boisbriand riand and became the Armada.
You could say it’s been a match made in heaven.
“My main job with the organization is to take care of the physical health of the players, but we can’t forget their mental health as well.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to pick up on the mental side of an athlete, if the player doesn’t open up to you, so you think everything is going well.”
“Sometimes athletes with mental health issues don’t always talk about it,” Denis said.
“They sometimes keep that stuff to themselves for too long and that applies to live in general with everyone not just athletes,” stressed Denis.
“Sometimes it tough to open up and talk about your personal issues or problems.”
“Like I said my main job is to take care of the injuries, it’s not written in my contract or job description to take care of the mental aspects of the guys, but I’m always there for them if they need it.”
“My phone is always on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The players know they can call me anytime or come into my office to talk.”
“When Nick came to me and opened up to me, it was really important to me to take it seriously.”
“I thought to myself that day that Nick must really trust me.”
Denis is proud that he was the first one Blagden told.
“It was only a few months that he had been on the team that he approached me.”
“I felt privileged to be that person that Nick trusted enough to open up and talk so we could move forward.”
“I try to be really close with the players, I want them to respect me, but I always have a lot of respect for my guys,” Denis said proudly.
“Of course we are trying to win hockey games , but what’s important to me that sometimes it’s not all about hockey.”
“One of the main objectives of the organization is to ensure that we are developing good human beings when their career is over and they have success in life and good values.”
“I know Nick is heading in the right direction, I’ve seen all the improvements.”
“Seeing him do that is very special to me,” said a reflective Denis.
“I’m so happy to see his progression as a hockey player and person, but especially with his mental health and anxiety that he had experienced.”
“I have a lot of respect for Nick, it’s not always easy to open up and talk about it, but that’s always the first step.”
The first step in trying to win the day.
“I’m sure Nick is going to be very successful.”
“I can definitely see him becoming a advocate or model for kids on the topic of anxiety and mental health moving forward,” Denis said.
“I’m nowhere near clear of my problems, but I feel comfortable finally telling people,” said Blagden.
“That’s why I want to tell my story. One out of five people have mental health problems that means on average four or five players per team are suffering and if I can help just one of them I will.”
“My passion and advocacy surrounding mental health comes from my past experiences. I have been through a lot since then with injuries, having COVID-19, multiple quarantines, but I feel much better now just by speaking out.”
Did his role with the Armada play a part in his ongoing battle with anxiety?
“It’s always going to be in the back of your mind no matter who you are,” Blagden said of fighting.
“If you say you aren’t afraid to fight you are lying.”
“For me I turned the fear that I had into excitement.”
“I love fighting, it’s something I’m passionate about and because of that I turned my fear into excitement.”
“When Nick first arrived with the team, we felt that he was wanting to fight too much,” said Denis.
“Nick is a good hockey player and I think everyone in the organization wanted to play hockey to.”
“I told him that he didn’t have to fight all the time during some of our talks.”
“I think it was always in his head that oh I’m going to fight this guy or that guy.”
“I just told him that you’re a hockey player first and that he was a physical guy and brought energy to the game.”
Denis’ talks undoubtedly changed Nick Blagden’s trajectory on and off the ice. “We saw that a lot this season when he played that he was gaining confidence, making hockey plays and being a real force on the forecheck, instead of always thinking about fighting,” explained Denis.
“I think once Nick understood that he could still be that physical force and in your face type player without always fighting, that’s when we saw a big improvement in his game.”
Blagden is quick to credit his family and a plethora of coaches throughout the years that helped him get to this point of his career, but especially Armada Head Coach Bruce Richardson.
“Every coach has taught me so many different things and instilled so many abilities I never had growing up,” Blagden said.
“From Bruce Richardson in Blainville giving me an opportunity to play in the Q and fulfill a dream, to Randy Jones in Midget with the Vito’s.
“Randy was the first coach to give me a role and that’s where I started to see improvement.”
“I also had Marc Hussey for three years, he was the one who made sure I worked my hardest every night and if I did I was always rewarded.”
“Andy Bezeau has really helped my game a lot as well,” Blangden said.
“Andy has helped me with my work ethic and added an element of consistency to my game.”
“He’s invested a lot of time and effort on my development.”
“As far as mentors go I always say my brother and my dad are mine. We are close and we always have some type of competition going on.”
“It just seemed like they always kept pushing me to be better and better.”
Blagden’s love for his teammates and the Armada organization run deep.
“It’s means everything,” Blagden said of playing for the Armada.
“I would go through a brick wall for Bruce and everyone in the organization.”
“From the general manager to the players, to the security at the rink everyone has been so kind and helped me a lot up there not being from the province and being far away from home.”
“They all made me feel like it’s my second home.”
Speaking of home, Blagden gets emotional when thinking about the impact his parents have had on his life. “I can’t even describe what my parents have done for me.”
“The early mornings at six am before middle school, to them never missing a practice or game for four years straight.”
“They are the real reason I am where I am. I don’t say it enough, but Mom and Dad, thank you for everything you do for me, you made me the man I am today.”
Blagden’s road to clarity started by telling someone, started with simply sharing his thoughts and feelings. That trend continues each and every day.
“It’s very important,” Blagden said when asked about getting professional help for his mental health issues.
“It was hard for me at the start getting help and talking to people, especially with the pandemic and everything.”
“I’ve had five different therapists.”
“I want everyone that’s struggling to trust me, when I say take that leap of faith when it comes to professional counselling.”
“I would tell anyone that’s struggling to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. You don’t know how much of a weight off your shoulders it will be when you finally say something especially when talking with professionals.”
It’s clear that Blagden’s unrelenting passion and love for the game and time in the QMJHL has paid dividends in his life.
“I’ve felt I have matured a lot playing in the Q on and off the ice.”
“From moving away living in a different province with the best billets in the league.”
“The entire experience has really made me grow up quick and I love that.”
What advice would Blagden serve up for young aspiring players or those that might be flying under the radar that still have big dreams to fulfill in the game.
“Never take “no” for an answer,” confessed Blagden.
“I’ve been told I was never good enough, not fast enough, not skilled enough, but I never took no for an answer.”
“Hard work will get you as far as you want it to and all of your on ice abilities start in the gym.”
“I can’t express how important the off ice aspect is in the game.”
Blagden’s advice for any player or person struggling in the darkness and despair of their anxiety and thoughts is truly remarkable.
“Speak out or say something.”
“I know it may feel like you can’t, or no one will understand, but trust me the moment you speak about your mental health, is one step forward towards being healthy and clear.”
“Tell someone you trust and are comfortable with, it will make it easier for you,” he said.
From the darkness to light, the journey continues every day. Nick Blagden’s path in the game and life continues, all he can do, all we can do is “try to win the day, every day.”