Bieksa carrying on Rypien's legacy with mindcheck.ca

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Bieksa carrying on Rypien's legacy with mindcheck.ca

VANCOUVER Kevin Bieksa is a tough guy, playing in a tough-guy league.

Be strong, keep a stiff upper lip: thats the mantra of so many sporting types. Talking about sensitive subjects, such as a serious illness like depression, happens rarely.

Bieksa, for one, has had enough of the silence in and out of the locker room. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman lost one of his best friends, Rick Rypien, last summer when the young forward committed suicide after a long battle with depression. So Bieksa is doing his part to help shed the keep-quiet stigma of mental illnesses.

One week ago Bieksa spear-headed the relaunch of mindcheck.ca, a website designed to bring more awareness and get people talking about mental illnesses. The site features various categories as well as a Reality Check quiz to help people identify symptoms.

Bieksa said it was important that he do this for Rypien, who wanted to help others battling the same illness he was.

What he always talked about doing was giving back, doing something that could help other kids who were in the same situation as him, sharing his story and struggles, he said. This is just kind of lending that ear, showing there are other people out there. Its kind of me carrying on Ricks legacy.

And it needed to be done. The stigma surrounding mental illness goes well beyond sports locker rooms. Millions suffer from depression, yet there is not nearly enough awareness, or talk, about it.

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott lost his close friend, enforcer Derek Boogaard, to an overdose last summer. Boogaard was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy a degenerative brain disease that can cause dementia, depression and memory loss. Scott commended Bieksa for his work with the website.

Its so hidden, especially among athletes, Scott said of the stigma. We try to be so tough, to hide everything and not show feelings around the guys. Just to make it known that lots of people deal with it, its needed.

Scott admitted he was affected by Boogaards death.

Ive had nights where I was depressed; luckily I had my wife to talk to, he said. A lot of guys dont have someone to bounce feelings off of. Its good that its starting to come out into the open. Its good of Kevin to do that.

Response has been strong. Bieksa said he didnt have the exact numbers, but he estimated that mindcheck.ca gets more than 40,000 visitors a day now compared to the few hundred per day it got previously. Teammate Henrik Sedin wore a mindcheck.ca T-shirt at the All-Star festivities in Ottawa last weekend.

Bieksa has also received heartfelt messages on his Twitter account.

A lot of people are saying how much they appreciate it, that its a good idea. Some people are admitting theyre currently struggling with depression or anxiety and the website is a great help, he said. That means a lot to get those responses.

The mindcheck.ca website is bringing awareness to mental illness. It could save lives. Bieksa is doing it this for everyone but especially for his friend who never got the chance.

(Rypien) kind of became a brother to me. I got close with him and his family, he said. Its obviously the biggest loss Ive ever had to endure.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.