Before I start, I just want to say thank you to everyone who reached out or even just read the first article. I am also sorry for those who read it and think they could have done something for me; you can’t get help unless you’re ready to get help and at certain points of my life it was just easier to act how I did then to try and fix myself.
I hope it doesn’t come across as if I don’t love the game – I owe everything I have to it. I love it and respect it so much, it’s just that not everyone is built the same way. For any kids who read this and think any of this sounds cool or think these stories are “beauty”…the choices you make stick with you for life and one funny idea with your buddies or trying things you have no business getting into will stick with you for life, and take away everything you worked for and dreamed of growing up.
I snapped back into reality thanks to the voice of OnStar (great service, highly recommend). My nose was bleeding, it was 4 a.m., freezing cold wearing a Russian hat, a blazer, shorts, high socks and flip flops. My truck wasn’t turning on and OnStar had called the police. I have very vague memories of this event except the walk home from where this happened. The next morning as I began to piece back what had happened the night before and sifting through the stack of driving violations, I learned a few important lessons.
The first is any time you are drinking or on any form of medication, throw your car keys in the garbage – they are better there than in your hands. And two, make sure you stay on top of insurance, registration, inspection and all other bills and important things. The scariest part of this whole situation for me was the jail time I was facing for not having valid insurance or registration (see first lesson). My truck was a mess, $10,000 in damages. This situation proved to be very expensive. Fortunately for me the judge was understanding when I pleaded ignorance on all the charges: I was 21, first car, new country, I wasn’t mature enough to know what to do, and I know you’re thinking these are just such common sense things everyone does them and knows, but at such a young age in the position us athletes are in, bills and responsibility for myself just didn’t seem real. I had the money to pay everything, I was just too young and stupid to do it.
After the car incident you would figure that it would be a serious wake-up call, but for me it was just more anxiety. The hockey world is small and everything gets out so I was extremely worried about that. The sports industry isn’t like any other: a single turnover or bad game can open the door for someone to take your job and never give it back. Imagine making a spelling mistake and losing your job. All of these things constantly spun in my head with every bad thing that kept stacking up but I had a way to escape it, one that could mask all my problems for as long as I needed it.
Later in the season things continued to slide. I was butting heads with players and staff, basically putting a target on my back. One night after a game in Adirondack, I had played well, (maybe had an assist) but it was a good moment for me after what happened previously. I began to have a severe anxiety attack and got on the pills to help myself get back on track. The problem was I had been having these all night and didn’t sleep much – at the time I think I was sleeping around three hours a night. So I went through the usual procedure.
Two at first…then another two, then another two. I think in that one night I put more of those pills in my body than someone should in a month. The next morning (actually a day later) I woke up in my bed assuming the day before was the game. Shortly after showing up to the rink, the boys were talking and I knew something was up. With these pills they don’t wear off like you think they do and during my bad anxiety attack I had taken a lot, so it was still very much in my system.
I still have zero recollection to this day, but apparently I was on the ice for practice, couldn’t stand up, make a pass, string together a sentence. My coach apparently informed me I would be going to Greenville in the ECHL for a conditioning weekend after missing lots of time with my shoulder injury (at least that’s what I told everyone).
As the season went on I slowly began to realize how bad my problem was becoming. My methods for finding my own anxiety medications were taken to a place I don’t feel comfortable sharing – so that one will have to stay in my vault – but I was slipping. My once life-saving medication was starting to have reverse affects and was bringing me down into places no human wants to be…if you want to know what the devil looks like, I have stared him in the eyes on more than one occasion.
I wasn’t ready to die but I was slowly losing my will to live.
The more the season went on the worse and worse it got. As we all know in hockey, it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and lately I was hurting the team, combined with some new college players who were taking ice time away from me, combined with guys who showed up every night and went to war for the team.
I could see my value dropping and dropping. Now you have to remember: I already had this situation happen to me where I made a questionable choice and it ended up costing me an opportunity to play in one NHL organization and feeling like I was right back where I left off, my mental state completely fell apart. I don’t think I played more than five games the rest of the season and it crushed me.
Coming from where I was as a junior star, to go through the stuff in Syracuse, come back have a 25+ goal season in the AHL, I thought I was finally ready to break through and be the player I was. But I had two nasty hooks stuck in my back that would drag me down every time I tried to climb up. It seems silly to not be able to let go being the star, but once you have had the taste it doesn’t leave. You just want more and more and for me it’s all I wanted, but couldn’t have because I was so mentally unstable.
Once the nightmare season had ended I was back home living with my parents. In one of the hardest conversations I will ever have, I sat down with my mom and basically gave her everything I am giving you guys here. It was hard. I was feeling that I failed as a player and failed as a son. I don’t think I was ever as low mentally than I was returning home from my final season in ADK.
I was put into an outpatient program in which I would go and speak to someone three or four times a week about my problems. This was HUUUUGGEEE for me. I was finally able to tell someone who didn’t care if that’s not what NHL players do or someone who wasn’t a friend ready to hit me back with exactly what I wanted to hear. Real true help (it’s their job for a reason – if you are struggling, there are so many programs, secret programs for players to reach out to). After this treatment my life was on the right track, my career was still beyond bruised but I began learning that it didn’t really matter because I was happy with me and that, I think, is the most important thing in life.
Stefan Legein was drafted in the second round, 37th overall by the Blue Jackets in 2007, and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 world juniors. He has spent parts of the last eight seasons in the AHL and ECHL. He will be appearing occasionally on TheHockeyNews.com.