BUFFALO, N.Y. – Perspective is not very difficult for Robin Lehner to find these days.
Like many around the NHL, the Swede has spent a lot of time thinking about former goaltending partner, Craig Anderson, and his family since learning that Anderson’s wife Nicholle is battling cancer.
The news hit close to home.
He spent six years with the Senators organization before getting traded to Buffalo in 2015. The Andersons were there for virtually his entire time in Ottawa and Lehner carries fond memories of the family.
“There’s so much more to hockey and professional sports than just the game,” Lehner said Thursday before facing Toronto. “For us to be able to play the game we all have our families, we all have the support of wives, girlfriends and whatnot. They’re doing tremendous work behind the scenes and they have their own little crew usually.
“She always had a smile on her face, she’s a very positive girl. Since the first time I met her, there’s been a very nice energy to her.”
At this point the details of Nicholle Anderson’s diagnosis aren’t known. On Thursday morning, Craig was granted a second leave of absence by the Senators to join his wife for further testing and it’s not yet clear when he’ll be back.
The Sabres are heading to Ottawa for a game on Saturday night and Lehner is hoping to catch up with Anderson while he’s there. He’s not sure if it’s going to be possible. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now but his wife, Donya, has spoken with Nicholle.
“Family is the biggest thing,” said Lehner. “It’s bigger than hockey.”
News of the diagnosis has prompted the 25-year-old to start thinking about the types of food we eat. He’s used chewing tobacco since he was a kid and thinks it’s about time to kick that bad habit.
He is, however, encouraged by the initiatives the NHL has taken with the “Hockey Fights Cancer” nights that are currently being held in buildings around the league.
“As a team and as a league and as everyone around, it affects so many people that we all know, you’ve just got to try to raise more awareness to this and try to get more money so hopefully they’ll find a cure some day,” said Lehner, while wearing a purple Sabres ballcap.
He also sees Nicholle’s insistence that her husband rejoin the Senators for a game in Edmonton over the weekend as evidence that a team runs much deeper than the players wearing the sweaters on the ice.
And teams stick together.
Given the difficult circumstances, Lehner was just as touched as the wider hockey community to see Anderson deliver a shutout victory over the Oilers before registering another win against Carolina two nights later.
“It’s fantastic,” said Lehner. “It’s emotional to see it. It’s tremendous. I can’t imagine what he’s feeling, but there are certain things in life that you get some extra energy from, you get some extra power from.”
He points out that the city of Ottawa and the Senators organization both have a history of rallying around those going through difficult times. He couldn’t believe the overwhelming response earlier this year after it was announced that Sens public address announcer “Stuntman” Stu Schwartz was battling leukemia.
Now everyone is pulling for the Andersons.
“It’s very sad, but everyone’s got to stay optimistic,” said Lehner. “We don’t know much yet. A lot of people are battling cancer, so it’s something (where) you’ve got to stick together and be supportive.”