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Devils enforcer Cam Janssen discusses dealing with depression, stresses of his role

Sep 4, 2011, 3:45 PM EDT

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There’s no doubt that the recent string of deaths for enforcers has been a troubling trend for the NHL. It might be a bit much to call three ugly instances an “epidemic,” but some are throwing around that term. However you frame the situation, the consensus seems to be that opening the lines of communication will be an important element of any plans to prevent more untimely deaths.

While people debate the merits of banning fighting altogether, it’s important to keep a close eye on the guys who hope to continue earning paychecks for on-ice skirmishes.

One fringe fighter who’s hoping to make his way back onto the New Jersey Devils’ roster is Cam Janssen. Janssen might be best known for his marathon fight with former Devils pugilist Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, but he’s had plenty of other battles in his career, with 17 in 2010-11 alone.

With all of those fights in mind, Janssen seems like a good person to ask about the effects of fighting and how he handles the general drawbacks of his profession. He spoke candidly on that subject with Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger, admitting that depression might just be part of the job.

“I think it has something to do with the job. Absolutely,” Janssen said. “People look at the fame and the money part of pro athletes and they don’t understand how hard and stressful it can be. Listen, I have the absolute coolest job in the world, but it’s also one of the most stressful jobs in the world, too.

“If you look at me, talk to me and see me every day, you’d say, ‘This kid has absolutely no depression.’ But everybody has depression. Some have it more than others. It’s how you deal with it. You can feel sorry for yourself, lock yourself in your room all day and kind of crawl into a hole and deal with it that way. Or you can go out and get something accomplished, work out and do the right things to get over it. There are different ways of coping with depression.”

Janssen probably touches on the central theme of much of the discussion: many believe that it’s dangerous for anyone to “bottle up” their issues with depression – from enforcers to everyday people. Janssen wasn’t sure what to make of the trend, since each situation was different.

“With Boogaard, painkillers and alcohol are a deadly mix. He’s an NHL enforcer, but that could happen to anybody anywhere,” Janssen suggested. “From what I heard, Rypien had some off-ice issues and depression problems that I don’t want to get into because I don’t know the inside. From what I hear, he had problems and it wasn’t because of what he did and being an enforcer. So you can rule both of them out.

“I have no idea what the deal is with Belak. I have no idea what happened. All I know is he was an unbelievable, well-liked human being. Everywhere he went I heard nothing but good things. Fighting him, the battles we’ve had, he’s been very respectful and very honest. And very clear-headed and clear-minded. He didn’t seem unpredictable, let’s put it that way.”

Belak’s funeral will take place in Nashville this afternoon. There still might be some finger-pointing going on when it comes to his death and the recent string of deaths in general, but all the NHL can do is take as many steps as it can to help those who need it. Getting enforcers like Janssen to open up about the issue could be an important first step.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

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