Slater Koekkoek details 'unbearable' anxiety he suffered throughout NHL career
The former Lightning, Blackhawks and Oilers defenceman provided an update on his health after walking away from the game last fall.
Despite still being under contract with the Edmonton Oilers this season, Slater Koekkoek has yet to play a game during the 2022-23 campaign.
The 29-year-old was absent from training camp, with general manager Ken Holland telling reporters he needed to prioritize his mental health. No further updates had been given out since, though Holland did mention at the time that the defenseman had hoped to return to the team at some point later on in the season.
As time passed, it seemed less and less likely that Koekkoek would be returning, and a recent update provided by him on his personal LinkedIn page seems to confirm just that. In fact, his post, which helped explain why he stepped away from the game, seems to insinuate that he may be done with the game for good.
"I left the game just over a year ago and thought I would share a little bit of my story throughout the next while in case someone is feeling shame towards their anxiety. You are not alone," Koekkoek wrote. "I left the game because my life inside of it had gotten to a place that was unbearable and unhealthy towards my mental health. I would say I played a majority of my professional games without the ability to eat much, if anything, the night before and the day of games.
"Hockey Night in Canada on a completely empty stomach? Let’s do this, I guess. Anxiety shows up in all shapes and forms, one of the ways mine did was the inability to eat. I would get comments from teammates saying ‘hey Kooks you know the meals are free’ due to my weight dwindling, without them knowing the pain I was going through. I would hear from GMs and coaches that I needed to put on weight if I was to battle in the corners with the elite of the league not to mention the energy needed to complete these tasks as well. That just put on increased pressure."
"would be asked to go for dinner with teammates on the road. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to eat, I would isolate myself and usually walk the streets settling to discreetly bring takeout to my hotel room so nobody would know if I ate or not. I kept this in as much as I could my entire career. My dad had a nervous tummy growing up, I thought that is all I had.
"But when being continuously scrutinized for my on ice performance it caused a downward spiral. A vicious cycle of needing to eat but physically being unable. Be kind to one another because you never know what someone might be going through. And stop commenting on people’s weight…it’s friggen weird."
This is a very important message for Koekkoek to share, as it seems we often forget that these athletes, while special in their particular craft, are just regular people who go through things like any one of us. Whatever his future holds, best wishes go out to Koekkoek moving forward, whether that be a return to the ice or other endeavours.
If this is the end of his playing career, he caps it off having played in 186 career NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Oilers.