TAMPA — Taylor Hall’s injured hand opened the door for another Metropolitan Division player to head to Tampa for NHL All-Star Weekend. And in a perfect choice, Brian Boyle, Hall’s New Jersey Devils teammate and a former member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was selected to go in his place.
“I’m very thankful to be here. This is a tremendous honor for me,” Boyle said Saturday before the Skills Competition. “I don’t really care how I got here. This is a phenomenal event just to be here for a few hours. I got here today. The amount of support the players have gotten, the support from my family… My wife has been a rock star. I’m not playing regular games, never mind coming here, without her support. It really is just kind of a pinch-me moment. I can’t believe this is my life. I’m very thankful. I always have been. I’ve never taken it for granted to play in this league. To be here and to see all these stars, the guys, how humble they are and then how supportive they’ve been for me, throughout the year and even today, it’s been wild. It really is. I’m just going to try to enjoy it the best I can.”
Boyle was a beloved player during his two-and-a-half seasons in Tampa and the love continued inside Amalie Arena. The crowd gave him rousing ovations during warm-ups and an even bigger roar erupted during player introductions. Four months after he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia , the 33-year-old feels great and it’s shown in his play where he currently has 11 goals and 17 points in 38 games played.
Boyle’s treatment consists of four pills a day and throughout the process he said he’s lost 12 lbs. He noted that his side effects are “nonexistent,” which is something that he’s been amazed by in regards to how money raised to fight the disease is helping those affected by it.
“It’s tremendous what they’ve been able to do,” he said. “It’s pretty eye-opening in terms of what they’ve done with research and money and funding to be able to treat what I have, instead of having to go through bone-marrow transplants and chemo and radiation. So it’s an opportunity for me now to try to get people to join me in raising some money, because if we can do that across the board with cancers, I think that’s a great thing for humanity.”
The decision to accept the All-Star invite wasn’t a easy one for Boyle. He told the media that his two-year-old son, Declan, was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a vein disorder that was putting pressure and stunting bone growth in his jaw. After New Jersey’s final game before the break Thursday night, he drove to join his wife, Lauren, at Boston Children’s Hospital where Declan had been intubated for 36 hours after being operated on.
“We’ve had [to go] through [that] four times now. I’m not playing if it’s not for my wife,” Boyle said. “She’s taken the brunt of this. She’s had so many sleepless nights in hospital beds with my son. He’s going to be fine. The doctors have assured me everything’s fine. It’s just kind of scary to see. When I got the news, he was already in the hospital for some pre-op stuff. I had come down for our last game before the break, and I was going to go back up. So there was a decision to be made.”
Once they knew their son was going to be fine, Boyle’s wife urged him to go and take part in All-Star Weekend, and he’s been enjoying it so far with his dad and brother.
“Hopefully we have some clips to show [Declan] and we’ll get some swag,” Boyle said. “But yeah, it’s pretty special to be here. It’s tough because I want to be there, too, but we made the decision to come. The decision was a little harder than we thought it might be, but we think it’s the right thing.”
Now that his cancer is being taken care of, Boyle is focusing his efforts on raising awareness and money for research.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m living a fairy-tale life,” he said. “It’s a tremendous blessing for me, and I won’t take it for granted, and every year I seem to love it a little bit more.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.