March 3rd, 2014 was a day in which the hockey world was rocked to its very core, although no one would realize it until a week later.
It was the day that Terry Trafford, at the young age of 20, left us all behind.
By now you’ve heard almost all there is to know about the final weeks of Terry Trafford’s life. From the day he was cut by the Saginaw Spirit, to the fateful day at the Walmart parking lot. But this story isn’t about that. It’s about the player, and the person. It’s about Terry Trafford and those who were fortunate enough to share the ice with him.
Terry Trafford as a member of the Saginaw Spirit in 2013-14. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Eric Locke remembers when he first met Trafford.
“I first met Terry when he got called up to the [Mississauga Reps]. It was major midget, so I played another year before going to the OHL, and we had won the GTHL title, and we were going to the OHF. Instantly the energy he brought to the team helped a ton and he was drafted by Saginaw a couple months later.”
Trafford was selected in the third round of the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, 42nd overall. Just eight picks behind former childhood teammate, Jacob Ringuette.
“We both signed with [Saginaw] in the offseason, and from there, we just started to do everything together,” says Ringuette. “You kind of bond with the other rookies, and if you don’t it makes for a pretty crappy year. Terry was the guy that always sat with me on the bus, and we did all of our rookie duties together. I’d say our friendship grew the most in that first year.”
That first year didn’t yield much playing time for either Trafford or Ringuette. But so is the experience for an OHL rookie.
Eric Locke as a member of the Saginaw Spirit. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
A season later in 2011-12, after bouncing between the Windsor Spitfires and Barrie Colts, Eric Locke was sent over to the Saginaw Spirit in a blockbuster deal that sent Ryan O’Conner and Anthony Camara to the Colts.
“It’s nice to know someone when you get traded to a team,” says Locke. “My stall was right beside [Terry’s], so he was a go-to guy at first for asking how things worked. He was a very approachable guy, always had a smile on his face, and really helped me out the first couple months [in Saginaw].”
“He was always doing the stupid water cup stuff to guys,” recalls Ringuette. “He’d put a full cup of water underneath their helmet, so when guys went to take their helmet out of the stall, they’d spill water all over themselves. He was always that guy, pranking other guys. You could always get a good laugh out of Terry, that’s for sure.”
Over the next three and a half seasons, the Saginaw Spirit would go on to have substantial success in the regular season, but never managed to advance past the second round of the OHL playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference. Meanwhile, Locke would go on to be drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2013, Ringuette became a mainstay on the Saginaw blueline, and Trafford developed into a key energy player for the Spirit.
By the end of the 2014 OHL trade deadline, Saginaw featured six current U SPORTS student athletes including Sean Callaghan (Western), Justin Sefton (Lakehead), Cody Payne (UPEI), and Kristoff Kontos (StFX) in addition to Locke (StFX) and Ringuette (Lakehead).
It was in early 2014 that things began to deteriorate for Trafford, ultimately leading to his suicide.
Years later, the scars still remain.
“I was unaware of what he was battling the entire time”, says Ringuette. “The worst thing was not knowing about it, and knowing that you could’ve helped out, talked to him, and made sure everything was going alright.”
“I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I don’t think about what happened, and how he’s not here, how it could’ve been prevented, and how much of a tragedy it really was”, adds Locke. “It’s sad in that perspective because he was a bright kid, and definitely had a future.”
An eagle carrying a banner with TT16 is inscribed on Ringuette’s arm, with Terry Trafford’s birth and death dates found on the inside of his tricep.
For Ringuette, losing a close friend was a nightmare come true, but a tattoo on his arm reminds him daily of the kind of person Trafford really was.
“I have his death date and birth date tattooed on my arm, and when I see those it definitely makes me think of him a lot. But I usually just think of the good times we had together.”
Years later, Locke and Ringuette have moved on from the tragedy. They continue to play hockey at StFX and Lakehead respectively in a league which demands both athletic and academic commitment in order to succeed.
“Guys have a lot going on between classes, family, hockey, and all the other extra-curricular events we do”, says Locke. “It can become overwhelming at times, so it’s always good to take some time and talk to guys one-on-one and see how they’re doing.”
“I’m definitely always available to talk to my teammates if they need to say anything or have any issues”, Ringuette says. “After experiencing what happened with Terry, having to go through something like that again would be just horrific.”
This year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day falls on the 25th of January. It’s a day that many in the hockey community remember Trafford, but perhaps it’s most useful function is raising awareness in hopes of preventing more tragedies. For both Locke and Ringuette, Bell Let’s Talk Day has emphasized meaning since Trafford’s passing.
“I think the last few years have been phenomenal with support from big companies like Bell to really get the awareness out there”, says Locke. “I think the atmosphere around sports brings a competitive nature, where opening up wasn’t really accepted, and I think that’s really changed.”
Part of that change is made by the players themselves, but Ringuette finds that the resources available to athletes are becoming better and more accessible.
“When we were in Saginaw after everything happened, everybody was connected. We had resources at our disposal left and right. I would imagine teams would try and get more resources their players can access, because I know we did that in Saginaw. I think that’s the best thing to come out of the whole situation. The heightened awareness across sports about mental health and mental illness.”
Trafford’s playing days may be over, but the impressions he left on all who knew him continue to carry on, whether it be on or off the ice.
On March 3rd, 2014, the hockey world lost a bright young man with a great future, but the lessons learned and the people affected by his experience will ensure that Trafford’s legacy will never, ever, be forgotten.