As a professional hockey player, Toledo Walleye defenseman Kevin Tansey thinks it’s important to take advantage of his visible platform to help others.
The second-year pro spearheaded a charitable effort in December, raising money through a signed jersey auction to benefit an organization that raises mental health awareness among young people.
“I think that it’s an honor to be a pro hockey player,” Tansey said. “It allows you to have a platform. People want to hear what you say. You can get your word out more easily. So why not do it for the good? It makes sense. I just want to do it if I can.”
Tansey, 24, took it upon himself to put together the project that raised $750 for Do It For Daron (DIFD) — an organization that encourages young people to talk openly about mental illness and to ask for help.
“It’s a charity that is close to me,” said Tansey, who is in his first season with the Walleye. “I’ve had friends and family that have struggled through those things. So it hits home.”
DIFD was founded by former longtime NHL defenseman Luke Richardson, whose 14-year-old daughter, Daron, committed suicide in 2010. Daron’s parents, Luke and Stephanie, transformed their private pain into a public call-to-action and started the charitable group that supports young people who struggle with mental illness, according to the group’s website. The organization raises awareness of teen suicide and depression in hopes of preventing further tragedies.
“It’s so important, especially nowadays, to help these kids,” Tansey said. “There is a stigma attached to it. To a certain extent, it can be cured if we talk about it. People need to be aware of it.”
Tansey has raised between $2,000 and $3,000 annually for DIFD. In December, he purchased two jerseys from the team’s souvenir shop, then had every Walleye player sign the jerseys. He put the jerseys up for auction on eBay, and got the word out about the effort on social media.
Tansey, who grew up in Hammond, Ont., said the Richardsons are active in the community in his hometown province. Luke Richardson played his final two seasons for the Ottawa Senators.
“I didn’t know them personally. It’s just something I thought I could do to give back,” Tansey said.
Tansey said he started his initiative when he was a freshman at Clarkson University in 2011. He has held ball hockey tournaments to raise funds. Last year when he was a rookie with the Missouri Mavericks, he auctioned off his ECHL all-star jersey and stick. After Toledo’s home game Friday, he awarded the two Walleye jerseys to the winning bidder.
“I also gave her a stick,” Tansey said. “She was very happy. It turned into something very good.”
At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, Tansey’s physical style of play is in direct contrast to his charitable personality off the ice. Tansey ranks third on the team with 35 penalty minutes. But he also has the second most points among Toledo’s defensemen with 12 in 32 games, including six goals.
“I bring a lot of toughness to the table,” Tansey said. “I have size and strength as well on the back end.”
Tansey said he prides himself on having a “steady stick.”
“I want to make a good first pass,” he said. “I play hard and work hard. I believe success comes through hard work.”
A year ago this month, Tansey was selected to play in the 2017 ECHL all-star game. Tansey had 10 points in his first 16 games in his first full season as a pro. Last season with Missouri, he finished with 31 points in 44 games, including 13 goals. Tansey also has appeared in 30 games in the higher-level American Hockey League with Binghamton and Chicago.
“It’s been pretty great. Every year you want to move closer and closer to the goal of playing in the NHL,” he said. “It’s nice to get rewarded here and there. But it can be a grind. You age a lot faster.”
In fact, Tansey said he lost one valuable tool.
“I don’t have a sense of smell,” he said. “I used to. But I had my nose broken a couple of times. That happened about seven years ago.”
Tansey and his teammates just survived a recent grind of four games in a five-day span. Toledo (20-9-3) earned six of eight points, with two home wins (Indy and Kalamazoo) and a road victory (at Wheeling) before losing 3-0 in Fort Wayne on Sunday.
“It was a good stretch overall,” Tansey said. “We did want to get four out of four. It’s a mental grind as much as a physical grind. But we’re happy with how we played. And we’re excited for the New Year.”
Toledo, which leads the Central Division by one point over Fort Wayne, reached 20 wins before the end of the calendar year. It’s the third time in the past four seasons the Walleye have done so.
Seven of the team’s 12 January games will be at home. Toledo, which is 11-3-0 at the Huntington Center, hosts Cincinnati on Friday and Manchester on Saturday. The team ranks second in the ECHL in average attendance at 7,453.
“Being at home is huge here,” Tansey said. “The fans here are unbelievable. For us to have a sold-out crowd makes you want to win. If you keep rewarding the fans, they will reward you. It’s a real give and take.”
And for Tansey, giving is what it’s all about.
“Playing pro hockey is great,” Tansey said. “It can be frustrating. It’s like any job. But it’s amazing. It gives you a platform. It gives you an identity. So you have to use it properly.”
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