EXETER � Exeter High School�s �Stick it to Stigma� girls hockey game debuted three years ago with the goal of raising awareness and destigmatizing terms like suicide and mental health.
It�s now become a tradition.
Saturday night�s game between Exeter and St. Thomas/Winnacunnet/Dover at The Rinks will mark the third annual event in conjunction with Connor�s Climb, a foundation that hits home for the entire SAU 16 community. Its namesake, Connor Ball, died by suicide in October of 2011.
�(Hockey) was important to Connor,� Exeter junior Zoe Greene said, with a shout out to Berwick Academy, whose girls hockey team has a similar event for this same cause. �It�s definitely helping to raise awareness around the community, around the stigma of mental health and how it�s OK to talk about it if you�re struggling. … We�re trying to raise that awareness not to hide what you�re feeling.�
�I grew up doing the runs for Connor�s Climb and always supporting it, because it hit home for my family a lot,� Exeter sophomore Maddie Ganley said. �It�s just important to support things like that, so we�re really lucky to be able to play in this game and I�m really excited for it.�
Members of both teams will be sporting promo T-shirts in advance of Saturday�s 7:20 p.m. puck drop, and the Blue Hawks will wear their special Stick it to Stigma game sweaters. The Rinks will be decked out with information about Connor�s Climb. There will be giveaways and admission to the game is free.
�You can only hope that we get a good turnout,� Exeter girls hockey coach Geoff Taylor said. �That�s the whole point, is to spread the message beyond the teams.
�Certainly part of the message is to extend beyond yourself, to try to initiate these hard conversations with other people and recognize that everybody�s in the same boat,� Taylor added. �Mental health is part of everyone�s health. So we should get comfortable talking about it the way we talk about having the flu. It�s part of being human. So that�s the big message, and we�ll certainly be trying to push that.�
The Saints were part of this event when it debuted in 2018. Last winter, Souhegan surprised the Blue Hawks by taking the ice with special green jerseys.
St. Thomas annually hosts its own �Pink at the Rink� boys/girls doubleheader that raises money and awareness for cancer research. Exeter’s been a partner for that event in the past. That one means a lot to Saints head coach Al Oliveira, who had his own personal battle with the disease and is now three years cancer free.
�I would bet if we talked to either of these two teams, they know somebody who�s committed suicide, or a friend of a friend, or somebody who thought about it and was saved,� Oliveira said. �So I have a feeling this is going to hit home for both teams.�
The headliner of the night will be a good hockey game between local girls who know each other well from their offseason club teams.
Exeter�s played a tough schedule out of the gate � including two tilts with 10-time defending champion Hanover � and sits in the middle of the standings at 5-5-0. The Saints opened the season with five straight wins, battled through a four-game skid, and will enter Saturday at 6-4-0.
�I think the energy�s always good when you�re playing for a cause,� said Exeter sophomore and scoring leader Shauna Vadeboncoeur, who wears a Connor’s Climb bracelet every day. �People are definitely hyped up. We�ll be ready to go.�
�Saturday�s going to be a challenging game,� Oliveira said. �It�s probably going to be the top two or three toughest games of the year. It was great to start 5-0, but you want to play the tough teams, and the next four games are the teams we really want to play. So we�re looking forward to it.�
For more information about the Connor�s Climb Foundation, visit connorsclimb.org.