COLCHESTER, Vt. - Saint Michael's College men's ice hockey seniors Danny Divis (Media, Pa./Minnesota Wilderness) and Justin McKenzie (Hawthorne, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) were named recipients of the 22nd annual Hockey Humanitarian Award, presented by BNY Mellon Wealth Management, on Friday evening during a ceremony at the men's NCAA Division I Tournament Frozen Four weekend in Chicago.
Divis and McKenzie are the first co-recipients ever of the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which recognizes college hockey's finest citizens. The Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation lauds student-athletes who make significant contributions not only to their team but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism. Among other ventures, Divis and McKenzie have fulfilled that mission as founders of Hope Happens Here, which promotes mental health awareness and wellness among college students, in particular student-athletes.
Divis and McKenzie are the first Purple Knights to win the accolade, joining fellow men's ice hockey players John Flint '03 and Alex Higgins '11 as the only Saint Michael's representatives - male or female - to make it as far as the finalist stage. Only four non-Division I players had ever earned the honor, with just 2013 recipient Tucker Mullin of Northeast-10 Conference counterpart Saint Anselm College hailing from Division II.
"It's unbelievable to be chosen for the Hockey Humanitarian Award," said McKenzie. "It's surreal to see where Hope Happens Here has led us. I couldn't be more thankful to team up with Dan to make a difference in mental health, something we have both been affected by in one way or another. To have his support after losing a friend to suicide, and the support of the rest of our team and community as it continued to grow, has been overwhelming." Among College staff members, McKenzie said he was particularly thankful to Director of Athletics Chris Kenny '86, Head Coach Damian DiGiulian, Faculty Athletics Representative Dave Landers and Assistant Dean of Students Catherine Welch '10 for their support.
As juniors in 2015-16, the duo co-founded Hope Happens Here (HHH), a campus organization which they tout on their social media channels is a movement dedicated to "removing the stigma of mental health issues on college campuses." With modest goals at first, they hit the ground running and presented at nearby Enosburg Falls High School and with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) at the University of Vermont, the state's largest school. As the school year moved forward, they held mental health awareness events at home games for various Saint Michael's sports, produced T-shirts that are still worn by many members of the student body, and organized the Pie-A-Purple Knight fundraiser to promote their cause and raise funds for the organization.
"We didn't start this organization to win any awards or gain any recognition, and we still feel the same way, even though winning the award is obviously still an honor," said Divis. "From the start, it has been about starting an important conversation, and now we can hopefully get to see this conversation happen on a much broader scale. That's what really excites me."
They have continued to spread their message this school year, and they keep adding members while holding additional awareness events at sporting events such as basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer. Their Pie-A-Purple Knight fundraiser will occur on April 22. Through Mental Health Awareness Games at men's and women's ice hockey home contests on Jan. 29, HHH raised nearly $4,000 for one of its favorite charities, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). Upon being named finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, Divis and McKenzie were allotted $500 from the Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation to donate toward a charity, and they received another $2,500 as winners of the award; they chose to donate all $3,000 to TWLOHA. All of those donations were made possible through the generous support of the award's partners and donors.
Divis and McKenzie were instrumental in the Purple Knights claiming the third NE10 Championship runner-up finish of their careers this season, and have supported various community causes in the past four years, including participating in the Vermont Walk to End Alzheimer's and the Vermont Pride Festival and Parade. One of the Purple Knights' goals in participating in the Pride Parade was to continue supporting the mission of the You Can Play Project, which works to ensure the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans in sports. Since 2014-15, the men's ice hockey team has been joined on the squad by Patrick Bushey through Team IMPACT, an organization that improves the quality of life for children facing chronic or life-threatening illness.
"After hearing Justin and I won the award, the feeling was somewhat indescribable, mostly because I don't think I really processed the fact that we had actually won such a prestigious award," said Divis. "I was simply ecstatic without really understanding how many lives we could potentially impact. Since I've now been able to process it a bit, the realization that so many people will hear our story and see what HHH has grown into from humble beginnings is the best part for me."
A captain for his senior year and a SAAC member, Divis was one of the highest-scoring defensemen in NCAA Division II/III ice hockey, with four goals and 15 assists this year. For his career, Divis had 49 assists and 66 points in 100 contests, and was named all-conference by New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) and NE10 coaches for the second straight year this winter, finishing with five all-league laurels during his career. The winner of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 NE10 Scholar-Athlete Sport Excellence Awards, Divis also earned a 2015-16 Capital One NCAA Division II Academic All-District accolade. Divis has claimed NE10 Academic All-Conference honors three times in a career that saw him land Rookie of the Year honors from two leagues as a first-year.
An unsung hero for the Purple Knights, McKenzie was third on the team in faceoff victories while contributing three goals and four points this winter. In addition to briefly appearing on the wing, McKenzie centered lines around nine different wings as a senior. An assistant captain, he has been lauded with academic honors 10 times during his career. Also an Orientation leader at Saint Michael's, McKenzie is a member of the College's SAAC and is a peer advocate for the campus' Student Support Network.
"Mental health is always a difficult thing to talk about, and the fact that our community has opened up to address this issue makes me so thankful to have chosen to attend Saint Michael's," said McKenzie. "I would also like to thank my family for getting behind me in something I was passionate about. My family has also unfortunately been affected by suicide, and to have their support means so much to me. I'm so excited for the direction Hope Happens Here is heading, and want to be a part of this for a long time to come."
The other finalists for this year's award were all Division I student-athletes: men's players Anders Bjork of the University of Notre Dame, Collin Delia of Merrimack College and David Goodwin of Penn State University, and Mika Nervick of the Quinnipiac University women's ice hockey program. Divis and McKenzie were among 15 Division I, II and III men's and women's ice hockey players from across the nation put forth for this year's award.