Brian Boyle

Boyle is not alone in fighting cancer and playing hockey

When Phil Kessel got over the initial shock of being diagnosed with cancer and had surgery, he asked doctors, ”When can I play?”

When Jason Blake was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, he had the choice of taking a chemotherapy pill or having a bone marrow transplant that would cause him to miss a full season. He chose the pill and got back on the ice.

After his cancer diagnosis last month, New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle quickly turned his attention to playing hockey again. He will join a group of NHL players who played with cancer or after beating the disease, including Kessel, Blake, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, former Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.

”This (stuff) rocks your world,” said Blake, who played six more seasons after being diagnosed with CML, the same type of bone marrow cancer Boyle is now fighting. ”It’s tough. I think it doesn’t matter how old you are, who you are. When someone says you have cancer, it definitely turns your world upside down.”

Now 44 and retired, Blake reached out to Boyle last month to offer his support. Blake said if his situation had come up five years earlier, doctors would’ve given him a 50/50 chance of living five to seven more years and is glad Boyle can benefit from even more advanced technology.

Blake said medication ”shocked my system” and made him lose a lot of weight. He still feels tired but was glad to have his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates and hockey to distract him from his battle with cancer when he wasn’t with his wife and three children.

”That’s the one positive or plus that every time I went to the rink, you kind of just forget about it,” Blake said. ”Those are distractions, and those are good distractions in this case. I understand what (Boyle) is going through, but I understand the person that he is, he’s a character guy and I know that he’ll get through this no problem.”

Kessel said Boyle has a great support system from his family, teammates and players around the league.

”Having a positive attitude toward the fight is important,” Kessel said. ”He needs to listen to the professionals and do whatever you can to return to the game.”

Kessel was found to have testicular cancer at age 19 and recently partnered with Cigna on the NHL’s ”Every Save Counts” program to raise awareness and money for cancer research. After noticing a lump and having surgery early in his rookie season in 2006-07, Kessel was back on the ice in 11 days.

”I love the game and I knew that because I was in good shape that this would help me in returning as quickly as I could,” Kessel said. ”I didn’t want to miss any games. I was fortunate that I came back as soon as I did.”

Longtime coach and general manager Bryan Murray, who lost his battle with colon cancer this past summer at age 74, said he wanted early detection to be part of his legacy. Nephew Tim Murray, a former Buffalo Sabres GM, was one of several people around hockey who immediately got a colonoscopy.

Kessel hopes he can have the same effect.

”If partnering with Cigna to share my personal health story can encourage others to get a check-up with their doctor and potentially save a life, that’s a huge win for me,” said Kessel, who has won the Stanley Cup with Maatta for Lemieux’s Penguins each of the past two seasons. ”Being a voice for early detection and regular check-ups will always be my priority.”

Lemieux missed two months after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1993 at age 27 and then took a leave of absence because of fatigue brought on by radiation treatments. Upon his return, ”Super Mario” led the league with 69 goals, 92 assists and 161 points and won the Hart Trophy as MVP.

Koivu missed most of 2001-02 with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, set a new career high with 71 points the next year and played 11 more NHL seasons. Maatta, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014, returned two weeks after surgery.

”When I found out I had a tumor, it’s scary,” Maatta said. ”It’s a scary word. Every situation’s different. There are different stages, and mine was really harmless and easy to take out. … The more we found out about it, the less scary it was for me. I was lucky with that.”

Lemieux, Kessel, Blake, Koivu and Maatta provide examples for Boyle that he can not only keep playing but at a high level.

”I’m expecting to live my life, to live a normal life,” Boyle said. ”Hopefully the season can go on as normal, as regular as possible. We don’t have to be asking about it all the time. And if I suck one night, it’s because I sucked, not because of any other reason and hopefully if that’s the biggest issue, then that’s a good thing.”

HOCKEY AND POLITICS

Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown on Saturday night became the first hockey player to engage in a national anthem protest when he stood on the bench with his fist raised in the air. Brown said he received death threats and racist remarks on Twitter after his protest but defended his decision to bring light to ”police brutality, racial injustice and inequality” in the U.S.

”I know it may not sit well with everyone, but to truly make change in this world we must be able to be pushed outside of our comfort zone,” Brown said on Twitter. ”I want young minorities to see that what they may be going through is not being ignored by the hockey community.”

The Cup champion Penguins visited President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, reiterating that it wasn’t about politics. Trump mostly stuck to hockey, and coach Mike Sullivan thought the ceremony went well.

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 7; Assists: Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington), 8; Points: Kuznetsov, 8; Time on ice: Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), 27:02. Goals-against average: Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus), 0.48; Save percentage: Bobrovsky, .985.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators on Saturday night visit the Chicago Blackhawks, who they swept in the first round of the playoffs last spring.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Isles announce tryout invites, including Carkner (updated)

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Sure, it’s not as exciting as the Pittsburgh Penguins handing Sergei Gonchar a tryout offer, but the New York Islanders’ announcement reminds us that we’re about to enter that fascinating stage of the offseason.

We’ll find out more names soon enough: who will need a strong training camp to earn an NHL gig?

The Islanders handed professional tryout contracts to Matt Carkner, Tyler Barnes and Parker Milner on Monday.

Carkner, 34, appeared in 22 games with the Islanders in 2012-13 and 53 in 2013-14, racking up 195 combined penalty minutes in that time.

The pictured pugilist fought four times in the AHL in 2014-15 and dropped the gloves on nine occasions in 2013-14 with the Islanders, according to Hockey Fights.

He received a one-game suspension back in 2012 for this altercation with Brian Boyle:

Barnes, 25, is an undrafted forward. He spent most of the 2014-15 in the ECHL. Milner, 24, is a goalie who also spent much of last season in the ECHL.

Update:

Cooper had high praise for Drouin

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TAMPA — Despite playing a team-low 7:52, Jonathan Drouin left his coach decidedly impressed after being inserted into the Lightning lineup for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought Jo was great,” said Jon Cooper. “He did everything we wanted him to. He took some short shifts, which cut his ice time down a little bit. But he came into that game, and he’s been prepared to play during our run here.”

Drouin had his best moments early on. With a little luck, he might’ve scored on his first shift with linemates Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle. He finished with two shots on goal. He missed the net on another attempt.

“The adrenaline, all that stuff, he was really fired up,” said Cooper.

But later in the first, the 20-year-old had a turnover in the offensive zone that led to a Chicago scoring chance. And early in the second period, his line was on for a goal against.

“As the game went on, you know, everybody comes back to earth a little bit,” said Cooper. “I thought that line did very well in the first period. Then special teams and things took over. It was harder to get guys out.”

Cooper did not say whether Drouin would play in Chicago. It’s always a different story on the road, where it’s tougher to protect young players who are still, in the coach’s mind, learning that there’s “more than one net in a rink.”

But Drouin made a strong case tonight to remain in the lineup, and in the process gave the entire hockey world a glimpse at why the Lightning used the third overall pick to draft him.

PHT Morning Skate: Coach’s challenges and Brian Boyle’s hair

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Could Duncan Keith be the greatest Chicago Blackhawks defenseman ever? (Greatest Hockey Legends)

Coming soon to the NHL: the coach’s challenge? (The Hockey News)

This puppet rendition of Jaromir Jagr MIGHT give you nightmares. (Puck Daddy)

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been rewarded for being patient regarding drafting Russian players, especially Nikita Kucherov. (Sportsnet)

Seriously, Jimmy Fallon (or at least one of his writers) really thinks that Brian Boyle looks like a Disney prince, most specifically “Alladin.” He argues as much in the Stanley Cup Superlatives:

 

Home record, depth scoring top list of Lightning concerns

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TAMPA — Despite having made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been a wildly inconsistent team at home during these playoffs.

Of the Lightning’s five home losses (against five home victories), four have been by four goals. In the first round, there was a 4-0 defeat to Detroit; in the second, they lost 6-2 to Montreal; and in the Eastern Conference Final, they lost 5-1 and 7-3 to the Rangers.

So, with home-ice advantage over the Blackhawks, captain Steven Stamkos wants the Lightning to have the same “mentality” at Amalie Arena that they’ve had on the road, where they’ve gone an impressive 7-3 in the postseason.

“It’s being okay with a tight game early on, not feeling the pressure of playing at home or feeling the need to put on a show for your fans or for your family and friends in the stands,” said Stamkos. “We’ve been fine with tight games on the road because we know we’ll find a way in the end. We’ve shown that we can do that. We have to find a way to have that same mentality at home.”

Coach Jon Cooper didn’t disagree with his captain’s take.

“I think sometimes at home, especially against the Rangers, we fell behind early (and) we just tried to chase the game,” he said. “Do we get caught up in our atmosphere, the crowd, everything that’s going on? We might.”

That said, Cooper noted that the Lightning went 32-8-1 at home during the regular season, and it was their 18-16-7 road record for which they “got a little bit maligned.”

“As it turns out, if it wasn’t for our road play, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” he said.

Whether at home or away, one thing the Lightning could really use is more scoring from forwards not named Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, or Ondrej Palat.

Those six comprise Tampa Bay’s top two lines. Combined, they’ve scored 45 goals.

The rest of the forwards have combined for just four goals.

“I think we feel real fortunate to be where we are with laying it on the shoulders of six guys basically,” said veteran winger Brenden Morrow, who has no points in 18 playoff games. “We need to find somebody else. We need scoring contributions from a lot of other people now.”

The obvious candidate is Ryan Callahan, the $34.8 million winger who has just one goal on 39 shots in the playoffs. Brian Boyle, with just one goal on 31 shots, is another veteran who’s had trouble putting the puck in the net.

Related: Fifteen years later, Morrow gets another shot at the Cup