Even a few of the married players on the team were alone during quarantine. Eric Staal, a 36-year-old center acquired from a trade with Minnesota in August, chose to not uproot his wife, Tanya, and their three children to Buffalo during the pandemic.
The couple did not wish to disrupt the children’s schooling or hockey schedules and various quarantine rules complicated matters. The routine of arriving home in Minnesota from a road trip to greet family is gone, replaced by the silence of his second-floor Buffalo apartment. During the recent weeklong quarantine, Staal had video calls with his family, some of which included him creating stickhandling drills for his children. Staal would show the boys a drill and have them repeat the movements.
“For that part, that’s been tough, to be honest; that’s the reality,” said Staal. “I love, obviously, being with my kids and my wife, my family. … Some ups and downs obviously now with the shutdown and going through what we have. It’s been difficult to find traction. But we’ll do what we can. I mean, there’s nothing you can do about it. You wake up every day and you’re worried about what you can control and right now it’s the ability to come to the rink, compete, have fun, enjoy being out there and practicing hard and we’ve done that the last couple days.”
Mental health was taboo in hockey for decades. The conversation has changed in recent years as more players have shared their stories about struggles with depression and anxiety. Former Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, now with the Vegas Golden Knights, became the most vocal advocate in 2018 when he detailed his battle with alcoholism and bipolar disorder, particularly during his three seasons in Buffalo.