After 22 months out of play, Stephen Johns almost made his comeback look easy. He racked up the first four-point game of his professional career in his first conditioning match with the Texas Stars. Then there was that incredible performance against the New York Rangers, including his first NHL goal in nearly two years, after only four games back with the Dallas Stars.
Indeed, No. 28 was playing some of the best hockey of his life before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly rang down the curtain on the 2019-20 season. But there’s a much bigger, more personal story behind his comeback, and now he’s sharing it in the hope that it might help others.
In a new article on how Johns, his family, and the Stars handled the past two and a half years, Sean Shapiro has written what may be the most important piece of his career. As for Stephen Johns, the courage he’s shown in sharing his mental and emotional struggles with his injury may be the most important thing he has ever done, too:
At his lowest, Johns found it nearly impossible to sleep. Even when he could, his rest was always fitful. Sometimes he just stared at the ceiling and composed suicide notes in his head.
His chronic headaches had turned into a mental minefield.
“I would wake up at 4 in the morning and think about it more, then I would take some anxiety medicine during the day to take a nap and it just put me into a vicious cycle,” Johns said. “I wasn’t really eating, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t doing anything. … It took me a long time to escape that cycle of thinking those horrible things.”
Neither Johns nor his doctors are sure just how he healed physically, and it seems to frustrate him that he can’t offer those concrete answers when other head-injury patients reach out to him. But the importance of an emotional support system is impossible to overstate, as Johns and his longtime girlfriend, Taylor Zakarin, can attest:
There was no one turning point that put Johns on the road to recovery. Much of those 17 months are a blur. But somewhere along the way, Johns reached out for help. He told Zakarin about his depression and his suicidal thoughts. Then he told Stars general manager Jim Nill and his agents Steve and Brian Bartlett. In one of the scariest moments of his life, Johns leaned on those who cared about him.
“He was open with me about that, and for that, I’m forever grateful,” Zakarin said. “I’m so grateful he felt like that was something he could talk to me about without judgment, something he could talk to me without fear I would freak out.”
There’s so much more under the link, so I’ll just let Tyler Seguin have the last word here. [The Athletic DFW]
Mental health is so important. I always knew how physically strong @stjohns28 is. Read this to understand how mentally strong he is too. Love ya man https://t.co/i1IVwGRbGK— Tyler Seguin (@tseguinofficial) June 23, 2020
Ready or not, training camp begins in two weeks.
The NHL and NHLPA have agreed that formal training camps will open on Friday, July 10. https://t.co/PRNWaNKBNR #GoStars— x-Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) June 11, 2020
Meanwhile, if you have an extra grand or so, you might have a shot at Seggy’s Pride stick – and here’s the correct link, just in case you’re intrigued. [GiveSmart You Can Play auction]
Bidding is now open for the @YouCanPlayTeam auction! Proceeds will benefit programming that ensures the safety & inclusion of all in sports.@tseguinofficial’s autographed #Pride taped stick➡️ https://t.co/8fd1EFe7g9— x-Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) June 22, 2020
Stars tickets and a meet & greet➡️ https://t.co/TfJlf8Hpoc pic.twitter.com/rjbMbkIAXH
Around The League(s)
With Coronavirus cases on the rise in Texas, it should come as no surprise that Dallas is now officially out of the hub-city running.
According to reports, the NHL has narrowed its hub city shortlist to six, with all three Canadian cities remaining in contention https://t.co/ejGJtD5IOq pic.twitter.com/GBIvIPugjF— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) June 23, 2020
Just a reminder: The Hockey Hall of Fame waits for no virus.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2020 will be announced this afternoon.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 24, 2020
But before it is, @jbenny15 looks at six people who could be getting the call.https://t.co/Di2kZAQ63V
Elsewhere, some real NHL action is coming later this week. Set your alarm!
Phase 1 of the 2020 #NHLDraft Lottery set for this Friday, June 26, at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN & NHL Network in U.S., Sportsnet & TVA Sports in Canada).— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 22, 2020
Details: https://t.co/lEgOKahYE9 pic.twitter.com/DdAtULhygM
When was the last time you heard from Seattle Team To Be Named Later? They’re having a few technical problems, so do not adjust your set.
The Seattle NHL expansion team's plan to announce its nickname has been put off until at least the fall because of trademarking issues, local protests on racial injustice and policing and the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Tod Leiweke told the Seattle Times. https://t.co/zjw8q05Ipl— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) June 17, 2020
The New York City Gay Hockey Association is celebrating Pride Month by serving some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
Communities across North America have seen a rise in local LGBTQ+ organizations. The @NYCGHA and its 200 members are celebrating Pride Month by helping those in need during the pandemic.— NHL (@NHL) June 18, 2020
Read more ⬇️ https://t.co/Flg8Q0uQ3m
Greetings From Beautiful Boise
The Idaho Steelheads are running a hockey-hair bracket, and who else is here for it?
N-ICE HAIR! First round voting is open through Saturday, June 27th https://t.co/xl4jMETqVP— Idaho Steelheads (@Steelheads) June 23, 2020
How many targets is Hockey Helps the Homeless hitting with just one campaign? And who else saw the Original 6 Goalie version and did a Fry? Enjoy.
Shutout homelessness across by gearing up with HHTH x Bardown— Hockey Helps the Homeless (@HockeyHelps) June 16, 2020
Due to popular demand, we’ve decided to release our entire charitable face mask collection. $5 from the sale of each mask will support the growth of our national program. Buy yours https://t.co/AUrhhKcAEN pic.twitter.com/jHjvSoO3RQ