Saku Koivu

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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Subban favored to be next Habs captain, says oddsmaker

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Montreal is currently without a captain for the first time in five years and, according to online oddsmaker Bovada, P.K. Subban is favored to be the next Canadien to wear the “C”.

Subban tops the list of potential candidates to replace Brian Gionta, who took over Montreal’s captaincy in 2010 but signed with Buffalo on the opening day of free agency. Gionta succeeded Saku Koivu, who’d been the Habs’ captain from 1999-2009 but left as a free agent following the 2008-09 season (of note, 2009-10 was the first time in club history the Canadiens played a full season without a captain.)

The full list of candidates, per Bovada:

P.K. Subban                 1/1

Tomas Plekanec            3/2

Andrei Markov               11/4

Max Pacioretty              6/1

Of the guys behind Subban, Markov has the most experience in terms of leadership as he was named Montreal’s alternate captain in 2010 (at the same time Gionta took the “C”). Plekanec isn’t far behind, though — he captained the Czech Republic’s team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, reprising his role from the 2012 World Hockey Championships.

There have been 28 captains in Canadiens history, with Koivu and Jean Beliveau sharing the record for longest tenure (10 years).

Ducks parting ways with Koivu, Hiller and Winnik

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The Anaheim Ducks are moving on from three veteran presences.

On Thursday, GM Bob Murray said the club wouldn’t extend offers to pending UFAs Saku Koivu, Jonas Hiller and Daniel Winnik, per the O.C. Register. The moves aren’t entirely surprising given Anaheim’s wealth of young prospects on the horizon, but still represent a significant shift in the club’s identity.

Koivu, 39, has been with the team for the last five seasons and has served as the Ducks’ alternate captain since signing in 2009. Despite missing significant time last year with a concussion, Koivu still put up a respectable 11 goals and 29 points in 65 games while averaging over 15 minutes a night… that said, he struggled in the playoffs and went goalless with just one assist, and saw his ice time dip to 12:44.

Cutting ties with Hiller, 32, isn’t surprising at all. The writing was on the wall late in the regular season when Bruce Boudreau played both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson down the stretch, and was further etched when Boudreau turned to Gibson, not Hiller, after Andersen was hurt in the second-round defeat to Los Angeles. The Swiss netminder, who has spent all six of his NHL seasons in Anaheim, sits third all time among Ducks goalies in games played (326), wins (162) and shutouts (21).

As for where Hiller might end up?

Winnik, 29, is an interesting case. He scored a career-high 30 points last season — while making a tidy $1.8 million — and at times proved to be a useful, big-body forward (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) in his two seasons with the Ducks. The former Coyote, Shark and Avalanche did fall out of favor in the postseason, though, sitting as a healthy scratch on a number of occasions while recording just one assist in nine games.

As mentioned above, Anaheim does have a ton of young forward talent waiting in the wings. Devante Smith-Pelly, Rickard Rakell and Emerson Etem were all knocking at the door last season, and the club still has the likes of William Karlsson (53rd overall, 2011) and Nicolas Kerdiles (36th overall, 2012) in the mix.

Report: Canadiens, Markov close to new deal

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Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov is a fan favorite and it looks like he’ll be staying in Quebec.

According to Richard Labbe of La Presse (link in French), Markov’s agent, former NHL forward Sergei Berezin, says his client is close to re-signing with the Habs. Translation courtesy Chantal Ledoux:

“We know what Habs management wants, and they know what Andrei wants,” Berezin said. “There are no surprises and I am optimistic in this case, the main reason being that I feel the team wishes to keep Andrei, and Andrei wants to remain with this team. That’s what’s important to understand. The rest are just details we need to work out.”

 Markov has played 13 seasons in Montreal and made his debut with the team in the 2000-01 season. In that time he’s scored 98 goals and piled up 442 points and helped take the Canadiens to the playoffs seven times. He’s as much of a fixture in Montreal as any player that’s played there since Saku Koivu.

After putting three seasons of injuries behind him he’s been a key contributor the past two seasons with 73 points and has missed just one game. If Markov parted ways with the team at this point in his career it’d be stunning. Expect him to continue patrolling the Montreal blue line alongside Alexei Emelin for at least another season.

Wild sign Finnish league sniper Keranen

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The best player in the Finnish league is on his way to Minnesota.

Michael Keranen, who was voted by his peers as the SM-liiga’s top performer last season, has agreed to a two-way deal with the Wild for next season, GM Chuck Fletcher announced on Thursday.

“We are excited to get Michael under contract for next season,” Fletcher said in a statement. “He had a very good year in Finland and our scouting staff thinks he is ready for the challenge of coming to North America.

“We are happy to add him to our lists of prospects and look forward to seeing how he performs in training camp.”

Keranen, 24, captured two of Finland’s biggest awards last season. The first was the “Golden Helmet” — the league’s top player, voted by the players — which was previously won by the likes of Tim Thomas, Ville Leino, Saku Koivu and Brian Rafalski.

The second is the Lasse Oksanen Trophy, awarded annually to the SM-liiga’s best player during the regular season. Two years ago, current Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta captured the trophy.

Keranen won this year’s awards on the strength of scoring 52 points in 52 games for Tampere, leading the league with six game-winning goals. It was a major breakout campaign for the flashy forward, who shattered his previous career high of 27 points and has been described as something of a late bloomer.