Former top 10 pick explains the heartbreaking reason why he decided to walk away from the game of hockey

Published March 16, 2023 at 3:07 PM

Slater Koekkoek had a promising career coming out of junior after being drafted in the first round, tenth overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012. Unfortunately the 6'2 193lb defenceman from Winchester, Ontario has been carrying around a secret of sorts for the majority of the time he's been in the National Hockey League.

Koekkoek who has been away from the game for just over a year released a statement sharing the following details.

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 else is feeling shame towards their anxiety. You are not alone.

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 the games. Hockey Night in Canada on a completely empty stomach? Lets 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.

I 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 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.

Slater has admitted to dealing with anxiety and along with that the inability to eat, which caused him to feel shame as comments from General Managers, coaches and teammates about his weight loss and lack of appetite were central discussions within the organizations he's played for. The twenty-nine year old would isolate himself on the road because he knew he'd be asked by teammates to go for dinner the night before a game and he just wasn't able to.

Society looks at professional athletes in a different light than themselves and has an unrealistic expectation of them. Without realizing it, the public puts pressure on individuals expecting them to perform at a certain level while never really considering that they're regular people too. It's great that Koekkoek was able to open up about his struggles. It's possible that his hockey career is over, but he still has the rest of his life ahead of him.
March 16   |   148 answers
Former top 10 pick explains the heartbreaking reason why he decided to walk away from the game of hockey

Do professional athletes need to live up to unrealistic expectations?

Yes, athletes are held to high standards9765.5 %
No, they're paid to deal with these things5134.5 %
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