Myles Mattila is celebrating the completion of his Grade 12 exams.
The 18-year-old graduated from high school in Prince George this year, but unlike some other teens his age, he won’t be relaxing at the lake all summer.
That’s because Mattila is a big deal in British Columbia’s hockey world, for more than just his skills on the ice. He’s worked hard to get where he is, and the summer won’t see an end to that.
The Quesnel native played for the Prince George Cariboo Cougars this season, and was signed to the Kelowna Chiefs for the 2017/18 season.
He recently won the BC Hockey Chair of the Board Award, which recognizes an “individual, team or league that has brought honour to amateur hockey through an outstanding humanitarian endeavour.”
To that end, Mattila has been an outspoken advocate for mental health, having founded MindRight.info – the Cariboo Cougars’ support program that aims to increase awareness for mental health – in 2016, and having been a spokesperson for mental health awareness website Mindcheck.ca since 2015.
For these reasons, you may have heard of Mattila. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau certainly has.
On June 28, Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted: “A young player making a difference – congratulations @myles_mattila12 on your @BCHockey_Source award for promoting youth mental health.”
Mattila got the tweet while he was with his family. They were ecstatic.
“I was shocked…. I thought about it and I’m like, ‘Wow, that is amazing that Justin recognized me for what I’m doing with mental health.’”
Strong of mind
Mattila is a tireless promoter of mental-health initiatives.
He got involved after watching a teammate struggle.
“I had a close friend who played hockey, we were like the dynamic duo – we fed off each other for positive energy. It suddenly stopped, and he isolated himself from me and the team.
“He told me about how he was sad all the time, had highs and lows but didn’t know why. It was hard, seeing a teammate go through that and not know what it was.”
After his teammate sought help, Mattila saw an article in The Province about Mindcheck.ca and decided to get involved, but he wasn’t accepted to the cause quite that easily.
“I got shut down for promoting mental health, with people saying I was too young, that I didn’t know enough. But people seeing a person my age… it got my peers’ attention when I went to speak at schools.”
“If you network with the right people, you can achieve your goals.”
BC Hockey board chair Randy Henderson says he is examining ways to promote Mattila’s work across his organization.
“Myles’ efforts are a result of compassion for fellow teammates and expanded to players everywhere.
“Myles epitomizes why thousands of volunteers across BC Hockey donate so much time to the game. Hockey, from my perspective, is the conduit to produce great citizens, and Myles demonstrates what a good citizen does: he gives selflessly for a great many others.”
At BC Hockey’s annual general meeting in Sun Peaks in early June, Mattila’s MindRight initiative was highlighted to 92 minor hockey associations in attendance.
Mattila was honoured to receive the BC Hockey award, and was pleased Henderson was interested in rolling out MindRight and other mental-health initiatives to other associations.
“Its nice to be recognized for what I’m doing. It’s nice to know people are hearing my message. A few years ago, it was very difficult. No one wanted to talk about the subject.
“It’s getting better, but we have a long way to go to raise awareness.”
Mattila’s move to Kelowna brings new challenges for his humanitarian work. He has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Kelowna, and hopes to work with Foundry, a youth wellness organization supported by the provincial government that is opening a facility in Kelowna at the end of the summer, as well as four others province-wide.
Foundry Kelowna will have 25 agencies operating under one roof, so young people can access all the services they need without bouncing around – and potentially getting lost – in the system.
Leah Lockhart, Foundry’s lead for communication, says Foundry is delighted Myles is willing to get involved.
“It’s great to see a lot of young people coming forward to be a part of Foundry; our goal has been to build a robust youth network.
“Foundry is thrilled that Myles is enthusiastic and that he reached out.”
Top of his class
Come September, Mattila will be playing hockey, working on his mental-health initiatives and attending Okanagan College to get a degree in business.
The 18-year-old says he initially planned to attend The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan branch (UBCO) after being accepted to the civil engineering program, but decided to switch to Okanagan College to give himself more time for hockey.
“I’m going to Okanagan College as they are more flexible with the hockey season. I was accepted to UBCO, but you need to be a full-time student. At Okanagan College, I can have a lighter schedule in the first semester and then heavier in the second. That’ll help me excel in hockey and in school.”
It’ll also give him more time for his humanitarian work.
“In the week days I’ll be promoting mental health, too.”
He chose to sign with the Kelowna Chiefs, a member of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) and a Junior B hockey team, even after a few others expressed interest in signing him. He says Kelowna was the right fit.
“I’ve got everything in one in Kelowna. My family is living here, I get to go to school, I’m hoping to partner with Foundry. Junior B has fewer games and not as harsh a schedule.”
Mattila says he did some soul searching this year, knowing his time in the BC Major Midget League was coming to an end.
“I took some time to decide if I wanted to play Junior A and take a year or two off school, but I want to keep my options open and keep busy with school. I don’t want to fall behind. If something happened or if I got injured, this way I have a back-up plan.”
It’s a well-thought-out move from the 18-year-old, but everything in Mattila’s hockey career so far shows he’s nothing if not conscientious.
The accomplished hockey player and honour-roll student won numerous scholarships as he finished out his Grade 12 year, and he says he’ll be putting them to good use.
“It’s a great honour, and helps me pay my tuition. So instead of working this summer, I have more time to collaborate and make connections with people in mental health.”
Mattila says he knows there are other players on the Chiefs who take classes, so he won’t be alone. He hopes to eventually qualify as a lawyer, although he’d be interested in playing hockey at a higher level, too.
“My plan is to play a few years in the Junior B league while going to school. If I get a scholarship down to the States, I could go that route, or head to UBC [for hockey and academics] if that doesn’t pan out.”
As a member of the Kelowna Chiefs, Mattila will play a game in Quesnel this February, against rival KIJHL team the Kamloops Storm. The Storm is hosting six of its 2017/18 season games at the new West Fraser Centre, in an effort to promote Quesnel’s bid to have its own team.
“It’s exciting, especially with the new hockey arena. I still have lots of connections in Quesnel.
“It’s really important for Quesnel to show the league they need a hockey team back because Quesnel is a strong community.”
Next stop: the world
Now that he’s captured the Canadian audience, attracting attention from the Prime Minister, Mattila has his sights set on the international scene.
He applied for a bursary to attend a mental-health conference in Dublin, Ireland, which takes place in September.
“It’s a mental-health summit. I want to go and share my ideas and what I’ve done with MindRight, and network for mental health.”
Mattila’s experience organizing Prince George’s Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit, which took place at the end of May, gives him some background with such events. The springtime summit saw students come from all over the province to interact with other youth, teachers, supervisors and counsellors around the topic of mental health.
“It was inspiring how many students came out, there were some all the way from McBride.
“We even had a Balancing Our Minds representative come from Vancouver to check it out. He said [our event] was up there as being one of the best in the province. We were pretty proud.”
And proud he should be. Mattila manages to spin many plates in the air with seemingly little effort.
But what about his social life? How does Mattila relax?
“That comes with hockey, and between other things. I like to have a well-rounded approach and focus on everything equally.
“I want to show that it’s possible to play a sport, go to school and promote an initiative.”