Calgary Flames trio grow Movember mustaches to support men’s health
Erik Gudbranson circled the block during his decade in the National Hockey League.
After a successful junior hockey career with the Kingston Frontenacs, the defenseman was drafted third overall by the Florida Panthers in 2011 and sold to the Vancouver Canucks four years later. The Canucks then traded him to Pittsburgh in 2019, starting a streak where he switched teams almost as often as he scored goals.
This offseason, Gudbranson signed a one-year contract in Calgary – the seventh stop on his NHL tour and the fifth in the past three seasons.
Although he has played nearly 600 games, that grind and pressure has affected him at times.
âIn a few places it went well for me and in a few places it didn’t,â said Gudbranson. âWhere it wasn’t, it was very, very difficult mentally. We carry a spotlight on us and in some of the markets where I have performed you walk into a restaurant and you feel like people are breathing down your neck. They know the pass you made last night didn’t work out well for you. These things have become very heavy for meâ¦ I have no shame in telling my teammates about it. It is certainly true that you are facing this pressure.
Gudbranson has settled into the Flames’ third duo this season alongside Nikita Zadorov. Over the past few weeks he’s been doing it with a few extra facial hair.
In November, Gudbranson and his fellow Flames Mikael backlund, and Milan Lucic grow mustaches as part of Movember, a charitable effort to promote men’s health and wellness.
âIt’s a fun thing to do for a good cause,â said Backlund, noting how much his team has grown since his debut with the Kelowna Rockets almost 15 years ago.
âIt’s a fun trip to see how it grows each year, a little thicker and darker,â he said.
Movember promotes regular checkups for men to check for prostate and testicular cancer, as well as mental health issues that men face. According to the Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health, more than 75 percent of suicides in Canada involve men, and men have higher rates of substance abuse than women.
âIn the NHL we unfortunately lost a few players with mental health issues, so I think that made it even bigger,â Backlund said. âDuring my years in the league mental health awareness has definitely increased. It is important that we are all well and mentally and that we can live a good life. “
Lucic has been open about his own sanity and how he considered retiring from the sport a few years ago. He has also spoken publicly about his father’s death by suicide. Lucic, who celebrated his 1,000th game in the league last season, has noticed that hockey players are much more open on these topics now than when he played his first game in 2007.
âI feel like before you were always told to shut your mouth and keep your feelings inside,â Lucic said. âNow just having these conversations and talking about them helps people get through whatever they’re going through. A lot of people go through things that you might not know. They show that they are doing well, but they are not doing well. So, it’s just good to have these conversations and to raise awareness.
Over the past few weeks, Gudbranson, Backlund, and Lucic have all sported their mustaches proudly, though loved ones bristle at the sight.
“She doesn’t really, really like it,” Lucic laughed. “But her dad was a firefighter for 30 years and he always rocked a mustache, so she’s used to that.”
In the Backlund House, November 30 – the day Movember is shaved off – is a sacred holiday.
âShe has a birthday in November, so that helps a bit,â Backlund said. “It’s not just the darkest month of the year, it’s Movemberâ¦ she’s not a huge fan.”
All, however, for a worthy cause.
âThis is the month we do it for the men, but it’s for everyone at the end of the day, and I’ve dealt with my fair share of things,â Gudbranson said. âGuys love to be tough guys but the truth is people need you to stay and you have to be healthy to do it. If something is worrying you the hard choice is to go get it checked out and there is no shame in it, so this is a good month to talk about it.