Jason Blake

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

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Montreal’s Pacioretty awarded Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

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Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has won the 2012 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”

Pacioretty staged a heroic comeback after suffering a fractured vertebrae and a severe concussion on a Zdeno Chara hit in Mar. 2011. After missing the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, Pacioretty came back with aplomb in 2011-12, setting career highs in goals (33), assists (32), points (65), game-winning goals (five) and shots on goal (286).

The Connecticut native also put himself in the history books by becoming the first American-born player to score 30 goals for the Canadiens.

Pacioretty edged out Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson and Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul for the award.

Past Masterton Winners

2011   Ian Laperriere (Philadelphia)
2010   Jose Theodore (Washington)
2009   Steve Sullivan (Nashville)
2008   Jason Blake (Toronto)
2007   Phil Kessel (Boston)
2006   Teemu Selanne (Anaheim)

Blake, Hagman won’t be Ducks next season

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but now it’s confirmed: Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman will have to find new employers. The two veterans are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer and the Anaheim Ducks plan to move on without them.

Both are likely to take significant pay cuts in 2012-13 – if they get signed at all.

Blake is coming off of a five-year, $20 million contract that he never lived up to. He ended up with just seven goals and 12 points in 45 games this season. He’ll turn 39 in September, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up retiring over the summer. That being said, he might bounce back as an adequate bottom-six forward and veteran presence if he can stay healthy.

Hagman is coming off of a four-year, $12 million contract and he only declined over the life of that deal. He ended up with just nine goals and 23 points in 71 contests in 2011-12 – a far cry from his back-to-back-to-back 20-plus goal campaigns. A team might be willing to roll the dice on Hagman in the hopes that he’ll bounce back, but only if he’s relatively inexpensive.

Poll: Who will win the 2012 Masterton Trophy?

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As mentioned earlier, the finalists for this year’s Bill Masterton Trophy — given annually to the player best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey — are Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty.

Before the vote, a few things to consider:

— This award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

— The Maple Leafs are quite familiar with this trophy. Phil Kessel, Toronto’s leading scorer this season, won the Masterton in 2007 after missing 12 games because of testicular cancer mid-season. A year later, then-Leafs forward Jason Blake won the award after playing a full 82-game season following his diagnosis with chronic myelogenous leukemia.

— The last Canadien to win the award was Saku Koivu in 2001-02. Koivu overcame non-Hodgkin lymphoma to resume his captaincy duties for Montreal.

— No Senator has ever won the Masterton.

Onto the poll…

Tonight on NBCSN: Doubleheader fun with Wings-Jackets and Sharks-Ducks

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It’s another doubleheader night on NBCSN and you could view tonight as a spoiler special as there are two teams that will be stuck on the outside of the playoff picture looking to mess things up for a pair of teams.

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET)

These two just met on Monday in Detroit and things… Didn’t go very well for the Jackets as Detroit spanked them 7-2 putting four goals up in the first period. Jackets goalie Steve Mason, who thought it he figured out his bad play was thanks to not wearing the right pads, has shown lately that it’s not the pads’ fault he’s giving up oodles of goals. The Jackets will hope that their cannon blasts at home will be able to throw the Wings off their game.

The big news for Detroit is that they’re getting healthy, which means they’re getting more frightening to deal with. We’ve seen Jakub Kindl and Nicklas Lidstrom return and Johan Franzen appears ready to come back tonight. With Jonathan Ericsson also potentially back tonight and Jimmy Howard returning on Friday, the Wings are officially geared up for the postseason.

While coach Mike Babcock is resigned to the fact they’re likely to open the playoffs against Nashville, continuing to win would mean they have home ice advantage for that series. Columbus wouldn’t mind helping make sure Detroit stays on the road in the postseason.

Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks (10:00 p.m. ET)

source: Getty ImagesThe Sharks are today’s leader in the Pacific Division and that means they’re always either a win from seizing control of the situation or a loss away from giving someone else the lead and a lock on a playoff spot. With 88 points the Sharks are one point ahead of the Stars and Coyotes and two up on the Kings. It’s an uncomfortable place to be in, but for the Sharks to really enjoy the moment as Joe Thornton says they should, they’ll have to keep winning, something they’ve done three times in a row now.

The Ducks, meanwhile, want nothing more than to spoil things for their California rivals and if we can keep coach Bruce Boudreau from freaking out on the officials again, they might just be able to do that. The Ducks are just playing out the string at this point, but at least they’ve still got a host of superstar talent to threaten the Sharks with. Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Getzlaf are all still there and capable of putting a monster game together. That crew might just all stick around next season too if Selanne decides to play one more year. Considering they’ve lost six of their last 10 games, you’re never quite sure what you’ll get from Anaheim.