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This article was published 31/1/2019 (1093 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Friends and family of a local hockey player who died this past summer are hoping to honour his memory while sparking a public conversation around concussions and mental health.
Ben Sveinson grew up playing hockey in northeast Winnipeg and Stony Mountain before suiting up for four seasons with the Winnipeg Blues. Following his junior career, he played college hockey before a major concussion forced him to hang up his skates.
"That was a very difficult thing for him to do," said Donna Fabbri, Sveinson’s grandmother. "That was his life."
As a result of his concussion, Fabbri said Sveinson’s mental health was negatively affected. In July 2018, Sveinson took his own life. He was 25.
"It was very difficult," Fabbri admitted. "But you have to just accept it. It’s easy to blame people, but you can’t. You just have to accept the fact that he didn’t want to be here."
"Ben was the kind of guy who would do anything for his friends," said Byron Spriggs, a friend and former teammate of Sveinson’s with the Blues. "Ben had such a wide impact on everyone in the hockey community. The concussions drove him away from the thing he loved the most, which was hockey. I took a step back and realized if I wasn’t aware of this stuff — mental illness — that other people probably wouldn’t be either."
Spriggs and Fabbri wanted to do something to honour Sveinson. So, on Mon., Feb. 18, Bronx Park Community Centre (720 Henderson Hwy.) will host Play4Sven, an outdoor three-on-three hockey tournament in support of mental health awareness and concussion research.
"We wanted to make something that was so horrible for a lot of us turn into something positive, where maybe we can help even one person who is going through something like Ben was," Spriggs said.
There’s nothing more Winnipeg, nothing more Ben than this.
"This was Ben’s place," Fabbri said of Bronx Park. "He would come here whenever he could and just skate and play. It was his hang out."
Teams will compete in three-on-three half-ice games in two tiers: one for recreational players, and one for players who have played elite levels such as AAA, junior, or college. There will be no goalies, teams will ‘play posts.’
"We’re trying to keep it classic outdoor rink style," said Spriggs, who now plays hockey with the University of Manitoba Bisons. "Just stick, gloves, skates and helmets, of course, are mandatory. There’s nothing more Winnipeg, nothing more Ben than this."
Representatives from Mood Disorders Manitoba, Canadian Mental Health Association, and True North’s Project 11 will be on hand to share information about their programs.
"We’re hoping to get the conversations going about this kind of stuff," Spriggs said. "This isn’t just for people who want to play hockey, it’s for the entire community. We want to let people know about the resources available to people dealing with these issues."
The tournament starts at 10 a.m. and runs to 5 p.m. There will be food and refreshments available for purchase on site. Mick E. Moose, mascot for the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose, will be on hand from 10 a.m. to noon to take photos with the kids.
"Ben was just an ordinary guy, growing up being an ordinary kid, then he got that serious concussion that changed his life," Fabbri said. "Parents need to know. Concussions can damage the brain so badly."
"This is serious stuff, but there are ways to get through it," Spriggs added. "There are people to talk to."
Cost to register is $200. All proceeds will go towards mental health awareness and concussion research, with the winners in each tier choosing which group their prize will support.
"We’ll make that donation in their name," Spriggs said. "Everyone has stories and background, certain organizations might hit closer to home for them."
For more information, to register, or to donate prizes to the silent auction, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112