Maple Leafs’ Nic Petan’s Personal Story of Tragedy and Charity

Nic Petan has been called up and moved down this season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. For a professional hockey player, being shipped around like this must be exceedingly tough. However, compared to 2018, I’m certain this season must seem easy to Petan and his family. That’s because 2018 was so utterly crushing in contrast.

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Nic’s father Franc, who suffered from mental illness, took his own life on Feb. 18, 2018. Obviously, his father’s death cut Petan’s season short and made his 2018-19 a bit of a fog. When Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas traded for Petan in Feb. 2019, what had happened to the young forward only months earlier wasn’t mentioned. I’m sure few Maple Leafs fans knew anything about the tragedy that had only recently unfolded prior to the trade.

Franc and Nic’s Last Shining Hockey Moment

During the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship held in Toronto, Petan had perhaps the best hockey game of his life when he scored a hat trick during the semifinals to help beat Slovakia. The team later went on to beat Russia to win the gold medal. It was Canada’s first medal at the World Juniors since 2012, and the country’s first gold medal since 2009. The team was led by Connor McDavid and, among others, Petan.

Among the Canadian fans who celebrated Petan’s hat trick was Franc. He led the fans by throwing his own hat on the ice to celebrate with his son. However, as Nic suggests in the recent TSN Original video, only months later his father started to change. “Something happened,” Nic suggests, and later in 2015 after the World Junior Championships, his father was diagnosed to be bipolar.

On Sep. 18, 2018, Nic and brother Alex (who has been playing hockey in Europe) got word that their father had died by suicide. Over a year later, the Petan family decided it was time to speak out both to share their grief and to create a legacy in Franc’s name. In the TSN Original video titled “Franc,” Nic shares the family’s story of his father’s sinking into mental illness and the impact that illness and his dad’s eventual death had on the family.

The TSN Original Video: Franc

The short video (under 13 minutes) is worth watching, and the link is below. The video contains conversations with Nic, Alex, and their mother talking about Franc, as well as interspersed family video footage of Franc spending time with his sons playing soccer, teaching them how to skate at the age of two, and being fully invested in the life of an active, and loving family.

As the video shows, in so many ways the Petan family was a typical sporty family. Franc owned an Italian restaurant in Vancouver and was, to all those who knew him, a jovial, hard-working restaurant owner with a large personality and active love for his family and his boys.

Nic specifically recalls that his father was a hard-working guy, and so he’s tried to be just like him. On the ice, Nic says, I’m the “hardest working guy there is.”

However, mental illness changed life for the Petan family. When Franc was diagnosed as bipolar, he sold the restaurant and started treating those he loved poorly. The family sought medical help, and for a while, things got better. The medication treated the illness, and the family enjoyed more great times together. As Nic said, “He was like my dad again.”

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The family was shocked when Franc took his own life at the age of 56. It took weeks before Nic could talk to anybody. He had no idea what to do, and he needed time to just consider life without his dad. So, during the 2018-19 season, he took several weeks away from hockey. He returned to Winnipeg in Nov. 2018 and was soon traded to the Maple Leafs in Feb. 2019.

Sharing Their Story and Engaging in Charity

When Nic and his family decided that they shouldn’t keep their sorrow inside any longer, they worked with TSN to produce a video that describes the impact that Franc’s death has had on them as a family.

Toronto Maple Leafs Nic Petan
Toronto Maple Leafs center Nic Petan (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

In addition, because their father held a charity tournament in the name of his restaurant for years, in 2019 Nic and Alex instituted the inaugural Franc Petan Invitational Golf Tournament in Vancouver to raise money for children’s mental health in Canada. The video shows the support of many fellow hockey players from different teams who came together in honor of Nic’s father and the cause of helping those suffering from mental illness. The tournament raised $34,000 for children’s mental health in British Columbia.

The Story Behind the Player

Perhaps Nic will never become a regular on the Maple Leafs roster. But, his experiences over the past two seasons must give him a perspective both on the importance of hockey and the importance of family. His story is not widely known; however, the Petan family obviously believes that fact should change.

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Again, you can watch the TSN Original video by clicking here.

The Canadian Mental Health Association supports the mental health of individuals and families in over 330 communities across Canada. Anyone who wishes to support the Petan family may donate at cmha.ca/donate.