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Lehner moving forward after struggles with mental health, substance abuse

Islanders goalie writes article detailing suicidal thoughts, going to rehab last season

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner said he is ready to move forward on and off the ice after he revealed Thursday his struggles with mental health that led to suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol addictions and eventually rehab.

"One hundred percent," the 27-year-old goalie said at New York Islanders media day, hours after he detailed his personal battles in a story published by The Athletic. "I've never felt better in my life. As I said, finally I got a diagnosis of something. I have medication for it and a lot of experimenting, but I feel great. I obviously didn't have that before.

"As I said in the piece, it's going to be my first sober season. I don't feel that's going to hurt me. I'm looking forward to it."

Lehner's mental health issues led to a diagnosis of bipolar 1 with manic phases. It was made five weeks into his rehab treatments after he had a panic attack on the ice while playing for the Buffalo Sabres against the Detroit Red Wings on March 29.

Video: Discussing how the Islanders can improve defensively

He played the first two periods of that 6-3 loss and allowed three goals on 20 shots one night after he admitted to having suicidal thoughts. Lehner wrote he began to experience chest pains and had difficulty breathing shortly after the game began. It was the last game he played for the Sabres.

"At the end of the day, I think it's a team sport, and I did perform for the first half of the season until I had my breakdown," Lehner said. "Until early February, I was floating around a 92 percent save percentage until the crash, and I [had] been the same for the three years I'd been there. If you look at numbers, I've tried my best. That's all I have to say."

Lehner, who signed a one-year contract with the Islanders July 3, said he was particularly grateful for the faith displayed by general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

"It's incredible," Lehner said. "From Day One, I met them at the hotel. I met Lou for dinner and then I met Lou and Trotz for breakfast. More than supportive. I'm very happy with that.

"Sometimes it's more than hockey. It's just my reality, my truth. A lot of things happened this summer, and obviously I start over with a new organization. I took a step backwards to hopefully take a few forward this year."

Video: VGK@BUF: Lehner stops Bellemare, Tuch in succession

The Islanders will be Lehner's third NHL team since he was selected in the second-round (No. 46) by the Ottawa Senators at the 2009 NHL Draft. The 27-year-old played the past three seasons with the Sabres and was 41-66-22 with a 2.77 GAA and a .916 save percentage. He was 14-26-9 with a 3.01 GAA and .908 save percentage last season.

Trotz is confident the support system is in place for Lehner on and off the ice to be the person and player he is striving to become.

"By sharing it, maybe he can help someone else," Trotz said. "We talked about that. If you hide it, it shows weakness and he's not showing weakness, he's showing strength. With the way I have been, with Lou's values and the organizational values that are now in place, it's about the person first. If you can get the person to be the best person he can be, then he's going to be a better player.

"It starts with the person before any X's and O's or anything else. Robin sharing it, I think it hopefully gets other people maybe in the same situation to maybe step forward and say, 'You know, I need some help in this area,' because it is a very difficult thing to have to go through."

Lehner is also confident he can be the goalie the Islanders desperately need after they allowed an NHL-high 293 goals last season. The Islanders will skate for the first time under Trotz on Friday and host the Philadelphia Flyers in a preseason game at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday. New York opens the regular season at the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 4.

"I'm extremely excited to be here," Lehner said. "I feel it's a great group of guys. Very mature group. I feel like management, everything, direction this organization is going is very encouraging. I look forward to starting a new chapter here.

"I really want to do my best. I know I'm a good goalie. I've proven I'm a good goalie. Now just for me, it's proving it off the ice. I have more than enough support. This is it for me. I've got a beautiful family and this is a day-to-day battle for me and I'm looking forward to it. I'm extremely confident with the support I have. The support is the most important thing."

Lehner's hope is that by revealing his personal struggles, it may help someone dealing with a similar situation. 

"It was extremely hard," Lehner said of sharing his story. "The main reason I did it was hopefully I'll help someone else to go through what I've gone through. Maybe someone in the League, maybe someone out there …

"It's been an emotional couple of days, but I feel good to have it out and I'm ready to move forward and prepare for a fun season."

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