KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WLNS) – It wasn’t all that long ago that talking publicly about issues like anxiety, stress, depression, or mental health was pretty much taboo for athletes who often felt either internal or societal pressure to keep those issues to themselves.

Thankfully, times are changing.

It was back in mid-February that Erik Bradford, who had just been sent back to Kalamazoo after a two-month stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins, began to suffer what he described as anxiety about his professional future.

“I was struggling mentally. Every day I would go to the rink and look in the mirror and think you have to give everything you have or you will be sent down with injuries and stuff, the uncertainty of where you’re playing, when is your next contract, it can be taxing mentally,” said Bradford.

So Bradford, who had suffered through a similar period of anxiety after undergoing knee surgery a couple of years ago, decided he needed to see a familiar face. His 2-year-old border collie cash, who had been living with his parents in Ontario.

“It’s nice having someone to come back to that is genuinely happy to be with you and have his dad. I think it’s allowed me to sort of find that zen. To get away from reality, I have it pretty good, I think the biggest thing is looking at him and realizing it’s not that bad,” said Bradford.

Bradford found his zen, and the back of the net on a regular basis, scoring 18 points in the first 20 games after Cash’s arrival.

In fact, since March 5, the day that cash returned to Kalamazoo, the Griffins immediately won seven of their next eight games and 13 of 19 overall to surge back into playoff contention

“He was living in an apartment by himself with no one to talk to. Getting the dog really helped him. When cash got back he (Bradford) really took it to the next level,” said Justin Murray, Bradford’s teammate.

“Mental health is important, we talk about that. The fact that he’s admitted that and had those conversations with people is exciting. Him spending time with that dog, if that’s helpful we love that. He’s had the dog at the rink before and it’s pretty exciting to see that,” said Nick Bootland, Bradford’s coach.