Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson was thrown into his first NHL head coaching opportunity during Game 3 of their semifinals series against the Vegas Golden Knights after head coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19. His team came back and won in overtime. As he left the bench, he tapped a kiss to the “Do It For Daron” (DIFD) pin on his lapel.
No one can know how they would react to a personal tragedy until they experience one themselves. 21-year NHL veteran and current Canadiens assistant coach Luke and his wife Stephanie Richardson experienced tragedy. With the help of The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health (The Royal), they took that tragedy and turned it into something positive.
The Story Behind Do It For Daron
Daron Ann Richardson took after her father and played hockey. She was a member of the Ottawa Senators Women’s Hockey Bantam Team, the Lady Sens. Daron died by suicide in November 2010, at just 14 years old.
Related: Stephen Johns’ Heroic Journey to Raise Awareness for Mental Health
Daron’s memorial service was held at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa and attended by more than 5,600 people. Classmates from Elmwood School and Ashbury College, her close friends, teammates, family and even NHL alumni attended. Erin Sauve, AA teammate, said, “DIFD – do it for Daron. Always and forever. Never forget,” while dedicating the rest of the season to her.
Do It for Daron. What started as a pledge for a teammate then grew. On Feb. 2, 2011, DIFD became a movement. The Richardson Family, The Royal, the Sens Foundation and the Ottawa Senators announced initiatives to spark conversations about youth mental health. Daron had passed, but her legacy would live on. DIFD’s symbol became a purple heart with “DIFD” inside, as purple was her favorite color. With it came the motto, “we all skate together.”
In the time since, DIFD has touched the lives of over 21,000 students through the “Is It Just Me” program and has raised over $4.2 million this past decade, according to Royal Ottawa Foundation interim president and CEO Cynthia Little.
The “Is It Just Me” program shares information from a psychologist, addiction counselor and other young adults suffering from mental illness. One of the best things you can do for someone dealing with mental illness is to show them that they’re not alone, and that’s what this program excels in.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Is It Just Me” program persisted. In 2020 and 2021, the program went virtual. It garnered over 4,000 views and hundreds of participants, including guest speakers Luke and Stephanie Richardson and former NHLer Michael Kostka. It included advice on managing stress and anxiety, supporting one another and featured a live Q&A session.
Colleges Do It For Daron
Daron’s presence was quickly felt in the NCAA, as several schools would go on to raise awareness through DIFD. Two of those schools come from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. They are separated by a 15-minute drive and clash in “The Battle of Whitney Ave” twice a year. However, these rivals find a common ground in supporting DIFD. They are Yale University and Quinnipiac University.
In New Haven, CT, Yale formed a connection almost immediately following Daron’s death. Jenna Ciotti was a teammate of Daron’s older sister Morgan and had been coached by Luke with the Lady Sens. The team wore purple wristbands to symbolize their commitment, but Ciotti wasn’t the only Bulldog who helped support DIFD initiatives. Recently graduated forward and former Lady Sens alternate captain Sophie Veronneau volunteered for DIFD, according to her player profile.
Just down the road in Hamden, a Quinnipiac Bobcat had a connection to Daron. Similar to Ciotti, Cydney Roesler played with Morgan on the Lady Sens. The Quinnipiac women’s hockey team hosts an annual DIFD game to raise money and awareness. The Quinnipiac alumni page even offers a spot to donate to the cause.
‘The Show’ Shows its Support
Mental health has long been a taboo topic in most public and private circles, but that has been changing. THW’s Paul Quinney wrote a fantastic piece reflecting on the NHL’s past and growth in regards to mental health and how it’s now become a safer place to be vulnerable.
The Ottawa Senators, where Luke was an assistant coach when Daron passed, were the first to show support in hosting the first DIFD Youth Mental Health Awareness Night. When he was the head coach of the then-Binghamton Senators of the AHL, they would have a DIFD game. They raffled off their jerseys to promote the message locally through the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier.
Luke made the move to Long Island, N.Y. for the 2017-18 season as an assistant coach, and the Islanders showed their support. The team wore DIFD hats during warmups and raised over $34,000 between the players, coaches and fans. Outlets such as NHL Network and TSN also ran features on the cause.
Current and former NHLers have made statements online. Throughout the DIFD at The Royal YouTube channel sit clips of various players on various teams, both junior and professional, talking about DIFD. Some players include John Tavares, Ray Whitney, Tie Domi (with actor Mark Wahlberg) and Doug Weight.
The more Daron’s legacy carries on, the more conversations about mental health can take place. The more conversations, the more normalized discussing mental health will become, not just among the youth, but for all.