Edmonton Oilers defenceman Slater Koekkoek opens up on battle with anxiety a year after stepping away from hockey

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
8 months ago
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Slater Koekkoek has opened up about a long-time battle with anxiety that forced him to step away from the game.
Koekkoek, 29, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning 10th overall in the 2012 draft, detailed in a LinkedIn post Wednesday about how his “life inside of it had gotten to a place that was unbearable and unhealthy towards my mental health.”
In the post, Koekkoek details how he played the majority of games without the ability to eat pre-game meals. Here is his post in full:
I left the game just over a year ago and thought I would share a little bit of my story throughout the next while In case someone else is feeling shame towards their anxiety. You are not alone.
I left the game because my life inside of it had gotten to a place that was unbearable and unhealthy towards my mental health.
I would say I played a majority of my professional games without the ability to eat much, if anything, the night before and the day of the games. Hockey Night in Canada on a completely empty stomach? Lets do this, I guess.
Anxiety shows up in all shapes and forms, one of the ways mine did was the inability to eat.
I would get comments from teammates saying “hey Kooks you know the meals are free” due to my weight dwindling, without them knowing the pain I was going through. I would hear from GMs and Coaches that I needed to put on weight if I was to battle in the corners with the elite of the league not to mention the energy needed to complete these tasks as well. That just put on increased pressure.
I would be asked to go for dinner with teammates on the road. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to eat, I would isolate myself and usually walk the streets settling to discreetly bring takeout to my hotel room so nobody would know if I ate or not. I kept this in as much as I could my entire career. My dad had a nervous tummy growing up, I thought that is all I had. But when being continuously scrutinized for my on ice performance it caused a downward spiral. A vicious cycle of needing to eat but physically being unable.
Be kind to one another because you never know what someone might be going through. And stop commenting on people’s weight… it’s friggen weird.
Over his nine-year career, Koekkoek appeared in 186 NHL games between the Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers scoring eight goals and 34 points. He also appeared in 187 AHL games scoring 12 goals and 56 points.
He last played a professional game with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors on Feb. 14th, 2022. He’s in the final year of a two-year contract paying him $925,000.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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