Scherger shares his mental health story

Eric Scherger in action with the Summerland Steam during Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action. /Dunsmoor Creative photo

Former Summerland Steam and Kimberley Dynamiters goalie Eric Scherger is feeling better these days as he focuses on himself and taking things day by day.

Scherger started to struggle with his mental health the summer before COVID-19 impacted the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season. With changes taking place in Summerland with the coaching staff, the Devon, Alberta native also felt a change was good for him, so he requested a trade to a KIJHL organization that gave him a chance to win the KIJHL’s Teck Cup championship. However, Scherger had to wait until late in the offseason before being moved to the Dynamiters and that stress played a factor in his mental health issues.

Scherger, who is currently working for a framing company called Kause Kore in Edmonton, while also working as a goalie coach at hockey schools, said when you’ve played the game since you are three or four-years-old, it becomes a big part of your life. You wait every summer to get back on the ice. Heading into his final junior hockey season with the Dynamiters and a season filled with uncertainty that was eventually cancelled because of COVID-19 also weighed on him mentally.

Not initially understanding what he was going through, Scherger didn’t reach out for support until being in Kimberley and talked to his parents about everything. It was hard for him to see teammates be able to practice when he couldn’t because there were players on the Dynamiters who had to quarantine.  Many things started going through his mind.

Eric Scherger played one game for the Dynamiters last season after joining the organization in a trade from Summerland.

With the Dynamiters, Scherger didn’t reach out for support because he felt weird about what he was feeling.

“I didn’t want to reach out, but I knew if I did, I would have got the support that I needed with the coaching staff there. They were all great,” he says. “Looking back, I wish I would have done it – spoken up, talked to them about it.”

Support was there if Scherger needed it as he remembers during his rookie season with the Steam that Myles Mattila, founder of the MindRight for Athletes Society was helping provide resources for players. 

“If I was going through things back then, I would have reached out to him,” he says. 

Scherger has a message to current and future players to focus on bettering themselves. 

“Focus on the whole picture, but you can’t control everything,” he said. “I couldn’t control if COVID-19 was going to take the season away, I just focused, day-by-day, bettering myself.”

When the Dynamiters season came to an end, Scherger was asked to join the B.C. Hockey League’s Cranbrook Bucks for their Pod Season, but ended up not playing. Before leaving the team, he was working out with the players and practicing, getting ready as if they were still going to play.

“I wasn’t really ready to play hockey because of this stuff that I went through mentally. It was just the day before we were going to the Penticton bubble, I went to the coach and just said, ‘I’m not doing too good mentally, I think I just need to go home and take a break from hockey.’” 

The Bucks coach understood and said Scherger’s health was more important than the game. The coach offered to help in any way he could, which Scherger said was great.

Playing hockey made Scherger happy, however, going through the season he did, falling into bad habits and not treating his body right, not doing the things he should took a toll. Now he’s finding happiness in other ways. 

“I like going for walks, doing stuff with buddies, just sharing laughs is kind of what I need right now,” he said.

For players dealing with mental health issues, Scherger encourages them to talk to their friends on the team. 

“Everybody goes through stuff on a day-to-day basis, just talk to your buddies, kind of break it down and then if you’re struggling, reach out to organizations that will definitely give you the help that you need,” he said. “I was always the happy guy around the dressing room, if someone was having a bad day, go up, pick them up. At the end of the day, if you’re going through something you have got to let people know.”

When reflecting back to his three years in the KIJHL, he said it was probably the best years of his life with his buddies.

“Having a good time going to the rink, you’re always smiling, but on the days that you’re going through something, just reach out to reach out to someone, just start up the conversation,” said Scherger, who was a recipient of a KIJHL bursary.

Scherger said guys in the league that know him know he was always a goofy guy, who liked hanging out, never really having a bad day. He said those types of guys do go through stuff mentally.

“A lot of buddies that I know, they were the same as me, they have the same mental health problems that I went through,” he said.

His rookie season he played with his older brother Everett on the Steam.

“Yeah, that was a crazy experience,” he said. “We had like six or eight sets of brothers on the team. That was the best year of hockey in my life. All the guys were so tight and we just had a blast on and off the ice, it was a good time.”

Scherger also enjoyed his brief time in Kimberley, as they take their hockey seriously. 

“You are there to get better,” he said. “That kind of went through my head where I’m gonna progress a lot this season, make a good year out of it and then unfortunately COVID-19 kind of takes it away. You feel sad about everything. You have all the ingredients on the table to achieve what you want to achieve.”