The courageous words of deserving Masterton recipient Robin Lehner

If anyone suffers from mental illness, then you know the stigma attached to it. It can really suck. It kicked my ass recently in the form of a panic attack. Then a mini episode yesterday.

Having battled Panic Disorder for 14 years, I am better equipped to deal with it. However, the bouts with anxiety and depression can be such a chore. It makes you want to gouge your eyes out. You literally feel like you’re stuck forever in a dark hole with no end in sight.

You must continue to battle. Don’t ever give up. The brave words of Jimmy Valvano always stay with me. And he battled cancer, eventually succumbing to the horrible disease when I was a teenager.

Mental illness can be just as scary. For Robin Lehner, he struggled with it for a long time without getting help. After leaving the Sabres where he never quite was right, he finally sought out help. Having battled alcohol and substance abuse probably due to trying to cope like miraculous survivor Theo Fleury, the goalie finally came clean during his first season with the Islanders.

It resulted in an amazing turnaround that included him winning 25 games while posting a 2.13 goals-against-average (GAA), a .930 save percentage and career high six shutouts. In sharing time with Thomas Greiss, Lehner was a big reason the Islanders surprised so many by not only making the playoffs, but sweeping the Penguins to advance to the second round.

His performance got plenty of recognition by his peers and the league. He finished third for the Vezina which was awarded to Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight.

Most importantly, Lehner was nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy for the tremendous comeback season he had. He deservedly won the award and got plenty of cheers from a supportive crowd in Vegas. Here are the courageous words he said regarding mental illness:

“I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill. But that does not mean mentally weak.”

Those are fighting words every person who experiences this issue needs to hear. You are not alone. Thank you to Robin Lehner and congratulations to him on being a true champion for mental health.

As expected, the Hart and Pearson went to Nikita Kucherov. Mark Giordano finally took home his first Norris beating out Brent Burns and Victor Hedman. The Selke was won by Ryan O’Reilly, who edged Mark Stone with Patrice Bergeron finishing third.

Elias Pettersson took home the Calder by getting much more first place votes than runner-up Jordan Binnington, who was honored for the Playoff Moment.

Barry Trotz won the Jack Adams over Jon Cooper and Craig Berube. It was the second time he’s won it. The Lady Byng went to Aleksander Barkov.

In perhaps the most emotional moment, Carey Price came out on stage and surprised Anderson Whitehead with a Canadiens Price jersey and invited him to next year’s All-Star Game. Whitehead is the big Habs fan who lost his Mom to cancer. What a heartwarming story.

Hockey won tonight.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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