In October 2015 at a St. Michael’s women’s volleyball home game, Danny Divis and Justin McKenzie, juniors on the men’s ice hockey team, found their first opportunity to get their message out: “Hope Happens Here.”
A year-and-half later, Divis and McKenzie have continued their efforts to get their message out across the St. Michael’s campus and the surrounding community through presentations at local high schools and universities — including UVM — and through Mental Health Awareness events at St. Michael’s Hockey games. Their organization Hope Happens Here (HHH), now has the opportunity to nationally promote mental health awareness and wellness among college students, specifically student-athletes.
On Friday, April 7, at the Aon Grand Ballroom in Chicago, Ill., the two seniors heard their names announced as co-winners of the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which is given out annually to a collegiate hockey student-athlete(s) who makes the most notable contributions to their community. The award – one of the premier awards in all of college hockey – grants HHH a total of $3,000, which Divis and McKenzie will donate to To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit organization aiming to offer hope for victims of addiction, depression, self-injury, and thoughts of suicide.
The Hockey Humanitarian Award committee considers all NCAA hockey divisions for the award, instead of strictly focusing on Division I.
“It’s tough to honestly put words to – it really hasn’t set in yet,” McKenzie said. “When we got the trophy we went out to dinner with the board and looking at the trophy was the first time where it was like: “Woah, this is pretty crazy.” This is one of the biggest awards in college hockey, and the fact that they saw us and thought we would be on that level is surreal.”
Athletic Director Chris Kenny said that the award is a testament to how St. Michael’s embraces holistic education and development of student-athletes.
“It is a tremendous honor for those guys, for their program, for St. Michael’s College athletics, and for the college as a whole,” Kenny said. “The way that these guys were able to energize this initiative and to have the support of so many along the way is a great tribute to the college, but it’s an outstanding tribute to them.”
Divis and McKenzie were nominees along with players from University of Notre Dame, Merrimack College, Penn State University, and Quinnipiac University.
“A few of [the nominees] have actually contacted us congratulating us which is pretty cool,” McKenzie said. “We’ve known for a couple of weeks, so it was pretty tough to keep it a secret.”
According to St. Michael’s Athletics, Divis and McKenzie are the first ever co-recipients and the first Purple Knights to be awarded with the Hockey Humanitarian Award. They join John Flint, ’03, and Alex Higgins, ’11, as the only St. Michael’s representatives to receive finalist consideration for the prestigious award.
“It is a huge positive for St. Michael’s,” Kenny said. “They represent us so well. For what they’re receiving this award for is so meaningful and such a positive and tremendous good for the college.”
Another treat awaited Divis and McKenzie on Saturday night, as the two sat ten rows from the ice during the NCAA Division I Championship tilt between Minnesota-Duluth and Denver. In the second period of the contest, Divis and McKenzie were interviewed on the United Center’s jumbotron. During the three period, the two made their ESPN debuts when they were interviewed by the highly-acclaimed John Buccigross and former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose.
McKenzie said he never imagined that HHH would receive the amount of recognition that it has gotten since its first event back in Fall Semester ’15.
“For our first event, we had a poster board that we drew on with sharpie, but now we are getting all of this recognition,” he said. “The event was thrown together at the very last minute, and to see where it’s gone – we raised around $850 last year – with the award, our final numbers will be $8000-$9000.”
With the co-creators graduating in May, McKenzie believes that HHH is in good hands, as he and Divis have already appointed a seven-person leadership board for next year.
“The small campus vibe, the fact that we can have a personal relationship with our AD Chris Kenny helps out so much, and just having an embracing, supportive community,” he said. “We really couldn’t have done it without the St. Mike’s community.”