Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Stéphane Richer Autograph Card

The Tampa Bay Lightning are still on top of the Atlantic division, so that's one reason to showcase this card; but last week was also Mental Illness Awareness week, which has kind of became a Bell publicity stunt in the last couple of years, but whatever helps, I guess.

But in the last few years, retired hockey player Stéphane Richer has also had a great impact, starting with a revealing interview with TSN's Michael Landsberg, but also opening up to various newspapers, getting the word out.

To this day, Richer remains the last member of the Montréal Canadiens to have scored 50 goals in a single season (a feat he achieved both in 1987-88 and 1989-90), and the two-time Stanley Cup winner (Habs, 1986, and New Jersey Devils, 1995, when he finished second leading scorer in the playoffs), and his extremely accurate and heavy 100-mph slap shot combined with speed and strength always seemed like he could have ended up in the Hall Of Fame, though his statistics ended up falling short: 421 goals and 819 points in 1054 regular-season games, and 54 goals and 98 points in 134 postseason games. He does rank 39th of all-time in game-winning goals, and his two 50-goal seasons ranked him just outside the league's top-5 those years.

But the reason why he seemed disinterested are clear and out in the open now: he battled extreme depression. Four days after his Cup parade in New Jersey, he attempted to kill himself by driving at top speed in his Porsche 911 on a highway with his lights out, hoping a missed curb would end his days.

In regards to his hockey career - the stats of which are two paragraphs ahead, a very successful one for almost anyone - he had this to say: "I would have loved to have been able to play just a few games with no doubt in my mind (that) I could be a good hockey player. I always had that doubt, that thing about every game, telling yourself (that) day, ''I'm still good''. I would have loved to see just one year, or six months, whatever it is, (that there were) no problems, where I don't think about anything (and) just play the game. How good could I have been?" That's food for thought.

The thing about depression is that there's still a stigma attached to it, it's still viewed as a ''weakness'' more than an ''illness', but like Landsberg said: "This is not leaving unless you push it away, unless you proactively do something to get rid of it. And that always starts with one thing: sharing. If you don't tell anyone else about this ever, you will never get better and tomorrow will never be better than today. So the hope is that the more you share, the more support you will have, the more people that will come to you with treatment options and the less isolated you will feel."

And that's true of a lot of things in Life. The world isn't that great a place for a regular schmuck, full of wars, bad people, crooks, thieves (in the street or in public office); you buy a car to get to your job that barely pays enough for you to pay for the car, the house you're never in and the food that sustains you just enough to keep the cycle going. But when all those schmucks decide to band together, they might realize they're the majority, and that might affect change.

Same thing with women, who have lost a decent chunk of headway and ''rights'' in the past two decades, yet there's more of them (they make up 52% of the population), they're smarter (they make up 75% of university students in many places), and they're ready to take over from the dinosaurs who can barely hold their positions by making the most rules changes they can before the inevitable happens.

Any group will realize when just opening up about their experience that they are far from alone, and in fact might be a majority. We just live in a ''divide-and-conquer'' world that somehow put it in our brains to not band up or ask for help.

That was my two cents. I hope I didn't alienate too may fine folks.

But back to the man responsible for taking me on that train of though, Stéphane Richer, featured here with the Lightning's white (then-home) uniform:

It's the signed insert (and Gold variant) of card #133 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, featuring a black-sharpied autograph with his jersey number (44) tagged at the end. The team named him alternate captain to mentor a young Vincent Lecavalier, grooming their first-overall pick to become the face of the franchise.

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