Hockey Talks: Interview with Zac Rinaldo

Hockey Talks: Interview with Zac Rinaldo

Since its inception in 2012, the Hockey Talks campaign has inspired and encouraged conversations about mental health among young, and professional athletes, as well as fans of the sport.

In collaboration with our community member, Calgary Flames Foundation, CMHA Calgary is one of many Calgary-based mental health agencies that has benefited from the Hockey Talks initiative.

As part of the annual project, the Calgary Flames hockey team dedicates one of their regular-season games to raising awareness about mental health and the stigma associated with mental illness.

This year was no different.

The Calgary Flames are one of a select few of NHL clubs participating in the Hockey Talks initiative.

On Friday, February 19, 2021, the Calgary Flames played the Edmonton Oilers, otherwise known as the widely anticipated game known as the Battle of Alberta. Although the seats in the Saddledome were empty, the support of Calgarians came through in the 50/50 raffle that came to a total of $291,720.

A portion of the 50/50 total was distributed to mental health initiatives across Southern Alberta including CMHA Calgary. In 2021, we are once again very thankful to receive $25,000 from the Flames Foundation to support mental health in our community.

Hockey Talks Advocate: Zac Rinaldo

Calgary Flames players, Matthew Tkachuk and Zac Rinaldo are advocates of the Hockey Talks program.

Zac Rinaldo knows exactly what it is like to see family members experience mental illness.

“As a child growing up in a household surrounded by house members who went through periods of anxiety and depression—I saw it first hand,” Rinaldo said.

Although it was upsetting for him to see his family members struggle in times of need, he was present in the moment and helped when he could.

“I wanted to be that positive person to help my family members in difficult times. This is what [initiated] my need to help others [with their mental health].”

It wasn’t until Rinaldo turned 16 and started playing junior hockey that he felt bursts of anxiety in different social situations on and off the ice.

“I was playing a role on the ice as a tough guy who could hit and fight naturally, and people would think that I was just as rough, tough and kind of unpredictable off the ice. I didn’t like that and that didn’t sit well with me and it started making me think that people were judging me in a different light. That social anxiety crept up on me and it made me worry about what other people thought of me.”

Although his perception to others was that of a rough around the edges kind of guy, Rinaldo has turned that attention to good use by using his voice to reach others.

“Being a [professional] athlete, I have such a big platform and mental health is such a big topic so I believe the more people I can reach, the better. I can use my platform on a big stage to bring a positive light to a dark situation.”

Along with changing how people see him, Rinaldo also wants to bring attention to how damaging it is when people talk about those with mental health illnesses.

“We can change our language to put a positive spin on the mental health challenges that we are all going through.”

Normalizing Mental Health

As a player and advocate for Hockey Talks, Rinaldo has seen the positive changes Hockey Talks has made, when fans see that even their heroes experience mental health challenges.

Knowing that he has community members, especially youth, looking up to him and his team, Rinaldo is not afraid to talk about and normalize his journey with mental health.

“[The fans and I] can relate on so many different levels, and not just hockey. It makes them happy to hear that we also go through [tough times] just like them.”

Zac Rinaldo | Hockey Talks Player & Advocate

Growing up, Rinaldo had his father as an outlet when he needed to let off some steam. He encourages everyone to find that person, whether a professional or someone in your inner circle, who can absorb that energy and talk you through a tough situation.

“When I was experiencing ups and downs and feelings of frustration, and feelings of that judgement, I had my father to talk to and I would just literally vent. To have someone who can lend an ear when you want to let some steam off and have someone listen, and not necessarily give feedback but listen, is important.”

Rinaldo manages his social anxiety by relying on his family and teammates for support.

For more detailed information about the Calgary Flames Foundation’s Hockey Talks initiative, please visit their website.

Our Peer Support program services can be accessed over the phone at 403-297-1402 or through email at peer@cmha.calgary.ab.ca