Brantt Myhres pushing players away from perils of addiction

Brantt Myhres' troubled past helping Kings today (2:03)

Brantt Myhres is the players assistance director for the Los Angeles Kings and discusses his past with drugs and alcohol and how he supports the current players. (2:03)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Past a row of industrial-strength dryers, near a cramped equipment room, is where you'll find Brantt Myhres' office. The 50-square-foot space at the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility is isolated, private and inconspicuous. And that's exactly how the Kings' player assistance director wants it.

"I think everything is right on par for our objective for this role. It's still the early stages, but we're not reinventing the wheel," Myhres said. "No matter what you're dealing with, people have issues that sometimes need a little more attention."

The Kings asked the former NHL enforcer to provide that attention when they created the position for him in September following a disastrous season.

Defenseman Slava Voynov served almost two months in a detention center after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in July. With the possibility of a deportation hearing looming, he left the United States and returned to his native Russia. Jarret Stoll was arrested on suspicion of cocaine possession in Las Vegas in April. He left in the summer as a free agent, signing with the New York Rangers. In June, Mike Richards was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while crossing the border and charged with possession of a controlled substance. Richards' contract was terminated by the Kings, but a settlement was later reached between the National Hockey League Players' Association and the Kings.

On Nov. 18, the Kings suspended prospect Patrik Bartosak, who is facing 12 charges related to a domestic violence case.

Myhres wouldn't comment on Bartosak, but he closely followed the problems encountered by Voynov, Stoll and Richards.

"I sure would have liked to get a chance to talk with these guys," Myhres said. "I thought that way about Derek Boogaard too and [Rick] Rypien."

In the summer of 2011, former New York Rangers enforcer Boogaard died of a drug and alcohol overdose. Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien and recently retired NHLer Wade Belak also died that summer by their own hands.

"I probably just would have tried to get a feel for where they are in their head. Get a sense if they feel like they have a problem," Myhres continued. "Once somebody admits that they need help, then the door is open. But without that door being open, it's really tough."

For Myhres, who played 154 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, the deaths spotlighted what some players need.

The same thing he needed that summer morning in 2003 when an all-night cocaine binge almost killed him.

"I just did way too much cocaine and I couldn't swallow," Myhres said. "My throat clamped up and I knew I was overdosing."

Myhres was alone on a beach near his Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, hometown when he realized he was dying. Layered in flop sweat, he ran to a neighbor who called an ambulance.

"I swore I'd never drink again," Myhres remembered. "I stayed sober for about six months, and then ..."

Myhres' hockey career was a succession of "and thens," from the moment he started drinking at age 17 to when he discovered cocaine as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The suspensions by the NHL -- four of them, all for positive tests for cocaine -- started shortly afterward. He entered rehab twice during a two-year stint with the San Jose Sharks. But his coach, Darryl Sutter, never gave up on him.

"There was a time there when you needed that player," Sutter said. "He was a legitimate enforcer and was well-liked by his teammates."

After his fourth failed drug test left him out of hockey for the 2003-04 season, Myhres received a call and an opportunity from Sutter, who by then was coaching the Calgary Flames. Myhres spent the cancelled 2004-05 season with the Flames' AHL affiliate, the Lowell Lock Monsters.

With the NHL back in 2005-06, Myhres had been sober for close to two years and was ready to kick-start his career. Mere hours after being officially reinstated, he skated in a preseason game against the Edmonton Oilers -- his first NHL game of any kind in more than one year. But the return was short-lived. A bout with heavyweight Georges Laraque left Myhres with a concussion and a broken orbital bone.

He rehabbed the injury before reporting to the Flames' AHL affiliate, by then in Omaha, Nebraska. A return to the NHL appeared in sight.

But then drugs ended it.

At 33, he had already completed Stage 4 of the NHL's substance abuse and behavioral health program. Each subsequent suspension requires more time in rehab. The fifth suspension got him banned from the league. There is no Stage 5.

"When I would drink or do drugs, that seemed like the only time that I wasn't having extreme anxiety about my role" as a fighter, Myhres said. "From the age of 16, whenever I hit the ice, I had it in my mind that I had to stick up for my teammates. It was like a push and pull. I love hockey but I don't necessarily want to keep punching people in the face."

The fifth failed drug test in Omaha yielded a lifetime ban from pro hockey in North America. He tried to resuscitate his career with Newcastle of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom. But English pub culture wasn't especially conducive to sobriety. Myhres lasted two weeks.

Out of hockey, he worked at a golf course pro shop near Cold Lake. It seemed like a good opportunity to start over.

But Myhres began the night of Feb. 17, 2008, at a family barbecue in his hometown. He ended it with two police officers cuffing him and no memory of what had happened.

This was Brantt Myhres' rock bottom.

His sister photographed the drunken rampage to later show Myhres the damage he had done. A glass table smashed, chairs busted, a family mortified.

No charges were laid but word of the incident spread, to the point where someone from the NHL head office called with an offer for the man it had wiped its hands of almost two years earlier.

"They called me the next day and asked, 'Are you really done?'" Myhres said.

When Chloe Grace Myhres was born days later near Cold Lake, to a woman Myhres had previously been in a relationship with, her father was in a rehab facility in Astoria, Oregon.

"I would get pictures of her every month and see what she looked like, but it was really tough," Myhres said. "It's like a daily reminder when I spend time with her. It's great. My sobriety birthday is Feb. 18 and she was born on the 27th." He would meet his daughter eight months after she was born.

"Looking back, I didn't think I was being a good father, as in not being there for her when she was born," he said in an email, "but the reality is, she wouldn't have much of a father if I didn't stay and make sobriety the most important thing in my life, as I still do."

Myhres emerged a new man with a plan to help other hockey players address their own demons. He sent proposals of a program similar to what he's doing now for the Kings to the NHL and NHLPA but never heard back.

So, in 2011, he launched Greater Strides Hockey Academy in Alberta. The free three-day program provides on-ice training to youth hockey players of native descent (his uncle, Charlie Weaselhead, was the grand chief of Alberta and his grandmother, Doris Martineau, was a member of the Frog Lake First Nation) as well as off-ice training and nutritional information. A tribal elder even provides a cultural component.

While starting this new path, Myhres had almost resigned himself to life outside the NHL when he visited a friend in Los Angeles earlier this year. After almost a decade spent agonizing about how he let Sutter down, Myhres visited his former coach, whom the Kings had hired in 2011. Months after that informal meeting, Myhres is heading the Kings' conduct awareness training initiatives, a program aimed at helping players deal with the issues that have plagued the team recently.

"We've kind of had these [prior] legal things where the guy comes in and speaks. It goes in one ear and out the other," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who was also the general manager when Myhres was in San Jose, told the media on Sept. 22. "To me, if you're talking development outside these walls, it has to be as the development inside the walls. You don't develop a guy by saying, 'Come in in the one session for two hours.' It's got to be a little every day, and that's the way I envisioned this being set up."

Myhres still occasionally oversees Greater Strides, but he mostly shadows the Kings, making himself available for anyone who might need to talk. Other NHL teams have called with questions toward the goal of making a similar hire.

It could be the beginning of a culture change, one Myhres is ready for. He's heard too many stories about players such as Boogaard and Todd Ewen, an on-ice adversary who committed suicide on Sept. 20.

"If you're doing drugs and you're a National Hockey League player, then there is an issue," Myhres said. "If a player is dabbling into drugs at some point in his career, then there probably needs to be some attention paid to that. They may not understand the severity of it, but I can explain the severity of it."

Considering where he's come from, Myhres' greatest contributions to hockey might be yet to come.

"The NHLPA and NHL, they saved my life. They paid for my treatment," he said. "But we've got a lot of players. We'll see where it goes. It's got to start somewhere."