Connor Ingram will never be the loudest voice in the Utah hockey team’s locker room.

He’s not the type to stand up in meetings and have something to say.

Instead, Ingram is the guy you seek out in quieter moments. The one ready to listen when teammates need help.

Ingram listens because talking about his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression made his NHL career possible. Tough conversations took him from the verge of retirement to near the top of the stats charts for goalies in the league.

On Wednesday, the NHL announced that Ingram has received the 2023-24 Masterton Memorial Trophy, an award for players who have overcome great obstacles to stay in the game.

In an interview with the Deseret News, Ingram made it clear he’s thankful for the recognition and thankful for another chance to make it clear that if you deal with mental health issues, you’re not alone.

“The more we talk about it, and the more we talk to each other, we’re all going to realize everybody goes through this at some point,” he said.

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NHL player assistance program

Ingram, who is from Saskatchewan, has been playing hockey professionally since 2017, but he didn’t make his NHL debut until October 2021, when he was with the Nashville Predators.

Nine months earlier, he’d entered the NHL’s player assistance program and received help for depression, which he’d previously been diagnosed with, and OCD, which he hadn’t realized he had.

His mental health struggles had come to a head over the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of which he spent alone in a hotel room. That’s when hockey, which had always been his escape, his safe space, stopped being enough to block out the intrusive thoughts.

“I couldn’t go on the ice and get away from it anymore,” he said.

Ingram “broke” and decided to walk away from hockey, to retire and return home. He thought going to school and living “a normal life” would save him, and he told a coach and therapist as much.

Instead of going along with his decision, they pointed him toward the player assistance program, encouraging him to “get (his) mind right” before he made any big moves.

“Ultimately, they’re the reason I still play hockey,” Ingram said.

Connor Ingram’s career

Through the program, Ingram learned not just new tools to help him manage his depression and OCD, but also how common it is to struggle with your mental health.

It opened the door to new kinds of conversations with teammates and fans, conversations that normalize seeking help.

“People need to realize that it’s OK. You don’t have to hide from it,” he said.

People also need to realize that being a professional athlete isn’t as glamorous as it often seems.

“We’re seen as athletes, but we’re really just humans with a cool job. We go through the same things that a lot of people go through,” he said.

After receiving treatment, Ingram did more than stick with hockey. He became a rising star.

About a year after his NHL debut, the Arizona Coyotes claimed Ingram off waivers. He’s been with the team since, although it’s in the process of getting a new name and branding under new owners Ashley and Ryan Smith.

Ingram played in 27 games during the 2022-23 season, compiling a 6-13-8 record with a 3.37 goals-against average. During the recently concluded 2023-24 season, Ingram notched a 23-21-3 record and a 2.91 GAA.

He “tied for the NHL lead with six shutouts in 50 games (48 starts) this season,” according to NHL.com.

Ingram said his career is stressful, that not every day is a good day, but that he knows now what to do when he’s feeling bad.

“I have the tools and the knowledge to figure it out and know how to go about it. That’s half the battle,” he said.

Members of the team react as Clayton Keller introduces himself to the fans during the NHL event at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, as Utah’s NHL hockey team is introduced to fans on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

NHL’s Masterton Memorial Trophy

Ingram said that winning the Masterton Memorial Trophy in recognition of his mental health journey is “super cool” but that he’s always been more interested in playing hockey and helping others than winning awards.

“You don’t do these things to win awards, but to have your name on any NHL award is a huge honor,” he said.

The NHL’s Masterton Memorial Trophy has been awarded annually since 1968.

It goes to players who persevere through personal and professional challenges, from blood clots to cancer treatments to the death of a loved one.

The award, which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, commemorates “the late Bill Masterton, a player for the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited, to a high degree, the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” according to NHL.com.

Oliver Kylington of the Calgary Flames and Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes were also finalists for this year’s award.