ELMONT, NY – Robin Lehner said it was difficult to control his emotions when he was honored by the New York Islanders with a video tribute in the first period of the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 shootout victory at the UBS Arena Sunday.
“It’s so much more than hockey to me, I can’t explain it,” said Lehner. “It’s the love I have for the guys over there, this team, the organization, the fans, [how] they have helped me in my life. “
It was Lehner’s first road game against the Islanders since leaving as an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to best goalkeeper goal of the NHL.
That season, Lehner was instrumental in New York’s resurgence, helping them claim the home rink advantage for the first time since 1988 and sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Conference. from the east.
“It’s been a long time,” Lehner said. “I couldn’t wait to come back because I just wanted to show them my appreciation, to give them back a bit of what they gave me.”
As the video tribute drew to a close, Lehner pointed to the Long Island tattoo on his neck, a way of thanking Islanders and their fans for the way they responded after he was outspoken on day one of the boot camp about going to rehab to help cope with mental health issues that have led to suicidal thoughts and drug and alcohol addictions. His mental health problems led to a diagnosis of bipolar I with manic phases.
After the season, Lehner won the Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“The first exhibition game I played here right after posting my story, [I received] a standing ovation that I have never had before on any team, ”said Lehner. “They have shown me love from day one. People think I’m making a big deal out of it, yeah I am. It’s my life. I can’t express it.
“For the guys, the organization, (Islanders general manager) Lou (Lamoriello), (coach Barry) Trotz, everyone. (The goalkeeper coach) Piero (Greco), above all. They helped me turn the tide. I can not explain it .”
Lehner shaved his facial hair ahead of the game in order to honor Lamoriello, who has a rule requiring players to be clean shaven during the regular season, and expressed confidence that the Islanders (8-12-6) will find their way back into the Stanley Cup playoff race. New York is currently trailing the Detroit Red Wings by 11 points for the second wild card in the East, but has played five games fewer.
“I did it for him, no one else,” Lehner said. “I mean, he’s one of the best GMs in the League, I respect him more than most. What a man he is, same with Trotz. I know they’re going to be a game-changer. I know that. they’re going to come back and they’re going to make the playoffs. I know that group. They’re going to come back up here. “
It looked like Lehner would lose his comeback on Sunday after allowing two goals in 3:21 at the end of the third period, which gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead. However, the Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore scored his second of the game with 48 seconds left to tie the game.
Lehner then saved all seven shots he faced in overtime before denying Antoine Beauvillier and Olivier Wahlström in a shootout to help Vegas (20-11-0) win a four-game road trip.
“It was special,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer. “A difficult game, difficult for him to play, obviously. I think it’s hard for a goalie to play an emotional homecoming game, just because of the position. This position consists of (being) calm, cool and collected. The emotions somehow play out against a player who comes back because he is full of energy. For a goalie, it’s almost counterproductive. It’s a tough game to play for a goalie. I thought he had fought for us. “
And although Lehner only played one season for the Islanders, the appreciation of the team and their fans has not waned.
“There is love for Robin for what he’s done here,” Trotz said. “It’s a commitment when you see the tattoo on her neck, when you see the island, it’s a commitment. It’s a love for a fan base that shows the love back to her.”