First responder with PTSD organizing hockey game to help Sheshatshiu after suicide crisis

Larry Baker is hoping some families can take their minds off suffering and enjoy a hockey game on Saturday night in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The game will feature the Sheshatshiu Eagles minor hockey club going against a team of first responders, like Baker himself. The idea stemmed from the rash of suicides in the small town of Sheshatshiu northwest of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

After the suicide death of a young woman in October, 10 people reportedly attempted suicide in a place with a population of 1,200.

Baker recognizes the grief they are all dealing with. In 2014, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a grueling career as a peace officer and firefighter on a deadly northern highway in Alberta.

"For me, hockey has been an escape as part of my healing with PTSD and my mental health," he said.

We want to create an escape. - Larry Baker

Before going on mental health leave, Baker was part of Discovery Channel's Highway Thru Hell, which documented crashes in northern Alberta.

While taking a break from his career, he began organizing hockey games between kids and first responders as a way to raise money for mental health initiatives. He's partnered with the National Hockey League to put off charity games in Ontario.

Sheshatshiu Innu School/Facebook

Now living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay as a municipal enforcement officer and firefighter, Baker thought the idea of a charity game could help the ailing community.

"We want to create an escape," Baker said. "If [families] can come and watch a game and they can escape from what they struggle with for just a couple of hours and win some prizes and have some fun, then in a nutshell, that's what it's all about. We're just here to support the community."

Chief Eugene Hart told CBC News the suicides were a wake-up call, which came on the heels of 14 residents dying of natural causes.

Hart said recreation was in high demand, and felt more of it would help the youth in the community.

Baker feels the charity event carries a bigger meaning than just a hockey game.

"What's more important for these young men on that hockey team is that they are playing for their peers," he said. "They're playing for everybody who has struggles with mental health."

The event starts at 5 p.m. at the arena in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Admission is by donation, with proceeds going toward Teen Challenge — a chain of mental health and substance abuse centres.

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