COVID-19 has tested mental health in many ways. No one can speak to that better than Robin Lehner.
We know the Vegas Golden Knights’ goalie has been an advocate for mental health, speaking up and declaring that it’s OK to not be OK. This past month-and-a-half has served as a test for Lehner, who revealed Wednesday that a concussion has kept him out since Feb. 11.
“You can feel good one day, or feel good in the morning and it comes back at night. It’s a very frustrating injury you have to deal with,” Lehner said. “On the positive side, the league has gotten a lot better with them, and this team has been great. We’ve been doing all the right things, and they’ve given me all the tools necessary to have a safe, speedy recovery.”
It’s been over a month since what was considered a “tweak” at morning skate on Feb. 11 turned into a month-long thing for Lehner. He was supposed to start that night against the Anaheim Ducks, only until he arrived at the arena, said he wasn’t feeling well, then went back home.
In that time, Marc-Andre Fleury has carried the load starting 16 of the past 17 games, all the while keeping the Golden Knights in first place in the West Division, and second in the NHL in points percentage.
But the Golden Knights have needed to bank on Lehner being available to cash in on that five-year, $25 million extension they gave him this past offseason. And while Lehner has gotten off to a slow 3-1-1 start where the GAA and save percentage aren’t where he’d like them to be, there couldn’t be a stronger voice for mental health in these trying times.
There had been whispers among league circles, from those higher on the paygrade than that of this website, that Lehner was not really hurt and that he was having mental health troubles.
“I did hear it. That’s why, and the only reason why I’m telling you guys I had a concussion right now, is the nature of society. I said this many times before without going on a rant; the stigma around mental health is insane,” Lehner said. “Everyone deals with it, I don’t care what anyone says. Everyone deals with it at some form or another during their life. Right now during COVID, a lot of people do.
“That’s also why the stigma is hard for the progress of people getting better, because people have to hide it before people talk and say these things. I think I should get the benefit of the doubt because I’ve been honest with it. If I had those issues again, which are not happening, I would be honest about it.”
This was Lehner’s third concussion and first since his days with the Ottawa Senators. His first one, back in February 2015, started his path toward alcohol. At 23 years old, being an NHL goalie and never experiencing the seriousness of a head injury, Lehner likely didn’t know how to approach them.
Lehner acknowledged that there can be similarities in symptoms between mental health and concussions. Having never experienced a concussion, I can’t even begin to think what that’s like. If it’s the similarity to dealing with racing thoughts through the past year of COVID, I’d imagine it’s intensified tenfold.
“I’d be lying in saying it can’t play a part,” Lehner said. “We’ve done all the right things. The hardest part to me, like everyone’s experienced, with the COVID isolation and all that stuff, it’s been frustrating and it’s mentally taxing for a lot of people. You add on a concussion where you can be more isolated than you already are, and it can be difficult. I feel pretty good. I feel ready to play, and it’s a mental good boost for me to be around this great group of guys again.”
If Lehner does dress, it will be his first appearance since Feb. 9. If Lehner does go, it’s likely he will back up Fleury against the San Jose Sharks tonight. Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer said the plan was to reintegrate him into the lineup and, when he’s ready, will be day-to-day.
“I think he’s ready to reintegrate and back up, and start to play here real soon,” DeBoer said. “There are logistics with long-term injuries that aren’t in my department that goes into some of that, but he’s real close.”