In early 2021, Connor Ingram stepped away from the game he loved. Nobody knew what was next.
He voluntarily entered the NHL/NHLPA's player assistance program, spending 40 days in a mental health treatment center." Ingram said he had OCD that was left undiagnosed, which led to him seeking help. Getting help is never easy, and as a pro athlete, spending significant time away from your craft can be immensely difficult.
Call his return a second chance of sorts, but Ingram worked hard to prepare for the 2021-22 season and earn Nashville's trust that he can be relied upon in call-up situations.
Now, he's a starting goalie in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And making an impact, too, stopping 49 shots in his first post-season start in an eventual 2-1 loss to Colorado.
Ingram made 30 stops on 32 shots in 44:56 of playing time in Game 1 after coming in relief of David Rittich, who allowed five of the season goals Nashville gave up in a 7-2 loss. He upped the ante in Game 2 and gave the Predators -- a team that's quite outmatched without starting goalie Juuse Saros due to injury -- a true fighting chance and even a bit of momentum heading back to Smashville.
Since turning pro in 2017, Ingram has played in just three NHL regular season games, all coming this season. Ingram was a star in the minor leagues, putting up incredible numbers as a rookie with Syracuse and essentially being a top goalie in nearly every season of his career. That was once again the case with Milwaukee, where he posted a 30-17-9 record with five shutouts.
The potential was always there. Ingram split the 2017 World Junior Championship crease with Carter Hart in a silver-medal effort. A third-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2016, Ingram was truly looking like a potential goalie of the future to work alongside Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That never ultimately happened. News of an "internal matter" made the rounds, and months after becoming an AHL all-star in 2019 and eventually demoted to the ECHL, Ingram was traded to Nashville for a 2021 seventh-round pick. The value wasn't equal: Ingram had true NHL potential.
But Ingram didn't let the opportunity go to waste. He became one of the top goaltenders in the AHL in 2019-20 with a 21-5-6 record to make the all-star game for the second consecutive year. The COVID-19 altered year resulted in Ingram playing just 14 games between Sweden and the AHL, but he bounced back with the first 30-win season of his career in his return to the Admirals this season.
Nashville's crease situation is going to get a bit more crowded with Yaroslav Askarov joining the fold. Rittich likely won't be back, and Askaorv is viewed as one of the top goalie prospects in the game. Ingram has another year on his contract, and could hold the backup position, get more starts and, hopefully, set himself for a nice future. He's just 25, but still raw, and there's definitely potential.
Reports suggest that Saros could return later in this series after suffering a lower-body injury, and that could be massive for Nashville's hopes of turning this series around. But Ingram's story is a nice one of never giving up and doing whatever it takes to get the opportunity needed. There are only two goalies that dress for a game on a game night, and when you've got competition in the minors, standing out is tough.
But Ingram has managed to do that with grace, and on Thursday, he managed to hit one of the highest points of his career. Hopefully, there's more of that coming in the future.