New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner has received the 2018-19 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award goes to “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”
But as is the case this year, it also acknowledges serious struggles the winner faced.
By now those struggles are well known — by choice — and as Lehner himself noted in the above TSN piece, he knows it affects the contract he can command from the New York Islanders as an unrestricted free agent.
As he courageously explained via a public story on the eve of training camp, a year ago he was dealing with alcohol addiction and a diagnosis of bipolar 1 with manic phases. These effectively ended his time with the Sabres and put his career and family life in jeopardy.
But the important thing was he finally knew to seek help, and he got it, and now he wants everyone to know so others suffering from similar problems can find the same turnaround.
“I took that first step, got help, and that was life-changing for me,” he said on stage. “That’s something we gotta keep pushing for. We’ve gotta end the stigma.”
Lehner was also a finalist (second-runner-up) for the Vezina Trophy as most valuable goaltender. But during media scrums in Vegas, he explained that the Masterton — which reflects a personal life journey — is more meaningful to him:
“Both are fun, but the Masterton means a lot more to me and my wife and my kids,” Lehner said. “Just being nominated for that award is huge for me and my family. I think it’s huge for everyone that’s been supporting me, too.”
During his acceptance remarks at the NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas, he thanked his wife, Islanders management and staff, and the NHL program’s affiliated medical staff who helped him — “my special team.”
He also delivered the line of the night: “I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean I’m mentally weak.”
Powerful words from Robin Lehner to close out his Bill Masterton speech pic.twitter.com/NVFjacTnxE— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 20, 2019
As general manager Lou Lamoriello said:
“You’re most proud for what he’s done as a person,” Lamoriello said. “How he’s handled whatever his past was and whatever did go wrong and how he’s addressed that. He had to address that. Certainly you give as much support as you can and his teammates have done that. He’s done that with his teammates by respecting them and who they were. He’s most deserving of it.”
As Lehner knows, the battle isn’t over and in fact will never end. But here’s congratulations for an award honoring the first year, and hoping for a continued healthy recovery and successful career.