Former Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner exited his final game of the 2017-18 season on March 29 with what the team revealed as a lower-body injury. He was not seen in the dressing room for the rest of the year - even on locker cleanout day.
In a first-person story published by The Athletic on Thursday, Lehner admitted he was addicted to alcohol, sleeping pills, and had suicidal thoughts leading up to his mysterious disappearance late in the season.
The night before his final game on March 29, Lehner called Andrew Allen, the team's goalie coach, and told him he was in a bad place and wasn't sure if he could start the following night. The two agreed to discuss it at the rink the next morning, where Lehner then told him he was good to go.
Throughout the game, he dealt with exhaustion, chest pains, and blurred vision. After the second period, he had a panic attack and could not return to the ice.
"The phone call I made to Andrew the night before? I was drunk," Lehner wrote. "I wanted to kill myself. I was extremely close multiple times. The battle playing hockey was nothing compared to the battle inside my brain. It was at its worst."
Lehner then attended the NHL/NHLPA's rehab program in Arizona, where he went through a three-week detox which he described as "one of the worst that they had seen." He had been taking sleeping pills for the last seven years.
Five weeks into the treatment, Lehner was diagnosed with bipolar 1 with manic phases.
After exiting the treatment center, Lehner had to get his mind back on hockey. As an unrestricted free agent, he needed an employer.
"One of the hardest things now was getting back to hockey. I am an addict that was diagnosed as bipolar and ADHD with PTSD and trauma," Lehner said. "I had never had a sober season of hockey my entire career. Those manic swings, I could see the pattern. When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much."
Lehner says that Sabres GM Jason Botterill was supportive throughout, and understood when the team decided to go in a different direction after signing Carter Hutton as their netminder. He felt a change of scenery would be best as well.
He met with many teams - one of which questioned why he was a "bad person or a bad teammate" - but didn't receive any offers. He then met with New York Islanders president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello.
"I had two great meetings with (Lamoriello) and, looking back now, those meetings became some of the best moments in my life. We talked about family and life."
Lehner, now sober, signed a one-year deal with New York on July 3.