Officiating hockey games has been more than a fun pastime for Greater Victoria resident Shayne Heinekey: it has also saved his life.
Heinekey, 21, officiates in the Junior A level B.C. Hockey League. He’s been on the ice since he was four and as a young teenager went into officiating to get more time on the ice and earn some money.
When he was 14, however, he started having trouble with his mental health.
“I started struggling with depression, anxiety and at one point I was suicidal,” Heinekey said.
He went for treatment at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health and was put on antidepressants. While the medication helped alleviate some symptoms, it also caused him to gain a lot of weight, pushing him further into depression.
“It was a vicious cycle that I felt no way out of.”
At 17 and weighing 250 pounds, Heinekey was selected to officiate at the BC Cup tournament in Salmon Arm.
“My anxiety was so bad when I went there, I almost backed [out] and went home.”
Luckily his mother called his mentor, Galen Brewer, a man Heinekey said has always had his back.
“I ended up talking to him and the next thing I knew I was getting ready to go on the ice,” he said. “I am so glad I did! I received great feedback and this is where my life turned around.”
After that day Heinekey knew what he wanted: to be a professional linesman in the NHL. In order to do that he knew some things needed to change.
He spoke with his family and doctor about getting off of his medication and together created a support plan which included continued therapy and an overhaul to his exercise and diet regime.
Since then, Heinekey has lost over 100 pounds and spent more time on the ice, officiating four times per week on average. When he’s not on the ice or exercising, he can be found researching hockey games, reading rules, re-watching games and listening to feedback from others.
Senior officials noticed the change: Heinekey was nominated for Hockey Canada Officiating recognition award and was BC Hockey’s winner for 2021 of the Hockey Canada most improved official award.
“I first found out when I got a call from (B.C. Hockey referee-in-chief) Sean Raphael, and I was super excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of officials in B.C., I’m sure there were a few who deserved it more than me.”
Knowing the difference a mentor can make, Heinekey is now one himself in the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association, where he officiates and teaches younger officials.
“I have been able to relate to the younger officials when hearing someone is struggling and have even made sure I work with them to let them know what I went through.”
While keeping a balanced life is key for supporting his mental health, he said his experiences have helped him grow in his own on-ice work, which can present stressful and combative situations where officials need to keep level-headed.
“It was a hard time in my life, but I would not change it,” he said of his difficult years. “I truly feel that this made me who I am today, and that is reflected in the awards and opportunities I have had since that time.”
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