EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Brantt Myhres doesn’t sleep at his office in the Los Angeles Kings practice facility in El Segundo, Calf. But it’s a place where he feels at ease – since he spends so much time there
“There’s food just down the hall,” Myhres said about the creature comforts of the plush locale.
Myhres actually stays nearby at the Marriott in Manhattan Beach when he’s not with the team. But this is simply where he rests his head to sleep. He’s almost always on call with the Kings. If a player needs someone to talk to Myhres is there. All the time. His phone is always on.
“All hours,” he said.
When he’s in El Segundo, he slips seamlessly from his windowless office next to the team’s washer/dryers through the locker room and other parts where only players and coaches go.
The 41-year-old Myhres compares his access to that of an injured player. He’s not quite a part of the team, but he’s also around enough to feel like a member of the group. This is the best way Myhres can gain the trust of the players – if he feels like he’s one of them. Myhres, a recovering addict and former NHL enforcer, played a total 154 NHL games between the San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. Overall he’s been suspended five times for substance abuse – the last one in 2006 giving him a lifetime hockey-playing ban in North America.
It’s now his job as the Kings’ newly created Player Assistance position to make sure the team’s current players don’t go down the same path. Players are encouraged to talk to Myhres about any topic – drugs, alcohol, contracts and the like – with knowing that whatever they say stays between them and Myhres. According to Myhres this role is the first of its kind in the NHL.
He’s around the team close to 20 days per-month. The rest of the time, he’s in Edmonton with his young daughter. No matter where Myhres is, the players have an open line of communication to him.
“He’s developed a personal relationship with the guys. I know for myself, I’ve talked a lot with him about a lot of things,” Kings forward Milan Lucic said. “We all enjoy having him around. He’s a guy that’s been through everything. He’s doing what he can to help others so they don’t go down the same road he went down and you have to give a guy credit that’s trying to make a difference in other people. I think he’s helped this team out by having his presence around. He brings a positive attitude to the rink every day and that’s something you get to have as well.”
In 2008, Myhres was in rehab and started to type on his laptop. He began to think of how he could help hockey players – to prevent what happened to him from happening to others. It was in here where Myhres started to formulate a specific plan.
Myhres constantly found himself being drawn to drugs and alcohol. He would enter treatment, leave and then have nobody around the team to talk with. He felt alone and scared, and he found the stress difficult to deal with.
“When I was playing in the NHL, when I got out, I was going back to an organization that had nobody in recovery and nobody – people could sympathize with that, but there wasn’t a guy who went through it who was in recovery I could hang out with,” Myhres said. “So I sort of felt like the black sheep. And the stigma was still there too. I had to be the big, tough guy on the team but yet I had a weakness and I didn’t want to show that weakness.”
Myhres said cocaine was his drug of choice, and it wrecked him at the most inopportune points of his life. After being in and out of rehab for several years, in 2005-06 Myhres had been sober for two years and was ready to resume his NHL career with the Calgary Flames.
In a preseason game against the Edmonton Oilers, Myhres fought Georges Laraque and got crushed in the eye.
“The orbital was smashed so bad that my eye was sinking back so they had to go back and build up the eye again underneath a plate and basically the doctor told me right after the surgery, because I was a left handed fighter and most guys I fought were right, that the chances of me getting hit again were really good and if I got hit there the plate would break,” Myhres said.
After surgery, Myhres went back into a spiral.
“If I can’t fight, what am I going to do? I can’t make a lineup based on skills,” he thought.
He eventually failed another drug test, his fifth dirty result, and was then banned from North America.
Myhres played five games in the UK, and then returned to North America where he sunk lower.
On Feb. 17, 2008 in Edmonton, Alberta Myhres went on a bender and blacked out. When he came to, he was being handcuffed in the snow by two cops.
“I never really wanted to be that out of control,” Myhres said. “It was getting to the point where it was like, ’wow, I don’t remember five hours, that’s pretty scary.’”
The NHL paid for Myhres to go to a treatment facility for eight months. Shortly after Myhres checked in, his daughter Chloe was born.
After Myhres left the facility the league paid for him to go to school where he got a certificate in substance abuse and behavioral health from Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.
Then Myhres decided hockey people needed to see his work that he started while in rehab. Every year on Feb. 17 (his sobriety date), he would send the NHL and the NHLPA a package of his proposal. Every year he wouldn’t hear back, but it was important for Myhres to at least hope they reached some eyeballs.
In the meantime, Myhres started Greater Strides Hockey Academy in Alberta. Below is the organization’s mission from its website.
At Greater Strides, we understand the obstacles many Aboriginal players face. Whether it is peer pressure, financial, home, school, and/or team environments. Our mission at Greater Strides is to provide a facility and the opportunity for high achieving student athletes to flourish, develop their skills and become the leaders that they want to be! Our cultural grounding, commitment to excellence and life skills practice will enable these young people to grow strong and prosper in whichever field they choose to establish themselves.
Eventually it was a trip to Los Angeles early last April that got Myhres on the Kings’ radar.
Myhres was at a Kings practice at Toyota Sports Center and tried to find general manager Dean Lombardi. He was Myhres general manager when Myhres was with the San Jose Sharks – a team that was also coached by Darryl Sutter, the current Kings coach.
It was the first time Myhres and Lombardi had talked in 13 years. They chitchatted about “old times” and then later, Myhres emailed Lombardi his proposal.
This was before former Kings center Jarret Stoll was arrested for drug possession in mid-April. It was before former Kings forward Mike Richards was charged for possession of a controlled substance following a border-crossing situation in June. Earlier in the season, former LA defenseman Slava Voynov was charged, and eventually pled no-contest, in a domestic violence case involving his wife.
“In the middle of July was when I got an email to come to LA and sit and have a chat,” Myhres said.
Myhres’ knowledge of addiction comes from both his own experiences and the program at Mount Royal. He has a unique understanding of how different types of medication affect hockey players.
“I think any time you’re going to be involved in anything that has contact to the body that you’re going to get, I guess exposed to the pain medication,” Myhres said. “Unfortunately with guys getting injured that don’t have addiction problems, those opiates are meant to make you feel really good. So whether you have a problem or not you’re still going to feel good. And then all of a sudden you find yourself being on these opiates for two weeks. And now the body becomes physically addicted to it so if you don’t get them you start to have withdrawal symptoms and the only way to cure that is to take more.”
Since he started the position in September, Myhres has needed to gain the trust of the players so when they tell him something, they have to know he won’t run to Sutter or Lombardi to tell them about the conversation.
Overall, it’s taken some getting used to.
“When you throw a guy with his capacity in the room, it’s not going to work right away,” captain Dustin Brown said. “He’s been around weeks at a time. Guys I think get to know him on a personal level and that’s kind of how it works really. You kind of build on top of that. It’s just getting comfortable with him in the room and around the room, that’s how it has to work. Our room has been together for a long time and the trust is there and when you throw a new guy in – that’s why from the hockey side of things when we get a new player it’s pretty easy to involve him in. This capacity is a little different, so it’ll take a little bit longer to get that trust factor.”
Myhres refused to reveal program specifics when asked. This is another part of the trust he knows he needs to have with the players. Myhres also wouldn’t say how he would handle a potentially dangerous situation with a player – if he would go to Lombardi, Sutter or the authorities.
“I literally can’t divulge one letter of the proposal,” Myhres said.
Other teams have called Myhres to pick his brain on what he does, but he intimated he's wary about telling them everything. It’s not to give the Kings a competitive advantage, it’s so he doesn’t betray the players’ belief that what they tell him is strictly confidential.
A few months can’t fully determine if Myhres program is working. It’s not defined on if Kings players get arrested less than before. The contributions are more in how the players go about their lives one day at a time.
“I think he understands,” Brown said. “He was an NHL player for a long time, and understands the intricacies of the day-to-day of being a hockey player on good days and bad days, I think you can always – when you know he’s been through it as well, it’s one of those things where he can relate with you and that goes a long way.”
The program isn’t just therapeutic for Kings players. It also gives Myhres structure to his life. As a former enforcer, there’s worry about concussions and long-term brain damage from head injuries. He said he once had an MRI of his brain, “which came back looking good.”
He’s also aware of the fact that the degenerative brain disease CTE, which has been linked to concussions, is found posthumously.
But by focusing on helping players with their day-in, day-out issues and his daughter Myhres it keeps those fears more to the back burner. So far the program appears to be a win for both Myhres and the Kings.
“I deal with my job, my daughter, my health, with everything like I do my sobriety. That’s just right now today what am I looking at now until I go to bed tonight,” Myhres said. “I’ll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”
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