Tampa Bay Lightning

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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Bolts scoop up Poulin, who was waived by Isles

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The Tampa Bay Lightning claimed (now-former) New York Islanders goalie prospect Kevin Poulin off of waivers on Sunday, according to New York Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Injuries opened up an obvious need at the backup position for the Lightning, at least in the short-to-medium term. Andrei Vasilevskiy is out after vascular surgery, while Kristers Gudlevskis was dealing with some bumps and bruises himself.

The biggest loser of this move might just be Ray Emery; the veteran goalie is battling for a gig in Lightning training camp.

Poulin, 25, found himself in limbo with the Islanders, as Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss seemed firmly in place for the near future.

He still needs to make an impression sooner rather than later, but this move makes plenty of sense for just about everyone involved.

One other thing to possibly note, by the way:

Update: Yes, indeed this was bad news for Emery.

Vasilevskiy’s condition ‘unusual’ among hockey players

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According to Dr. Karl Illig the type of thoracic outlet syndrome, which led Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to undergo vascular surgery on Thursday, isn’t typically found in hockey players.

The Bolts announced on Friday that Vasilevskiy would require two-to-three months of recovery time before returning to action.

“It’s unusual,” said Dr. Illig, who performed Vasilevskiy’s surgery at Tampa General Hospital. “It’s something that’s most often seen in baseball pitchers, swimmers, and tennis players. But certainly, if you’re an athlete and muscular, it becomes much more likely.”

The surgery, which was performed on the 21-year-old, has a high success rate when the thoracic outlet syndrome is diagnosed early.

“It leads to really long life success, a normal life, in 95 percent of people,” said Illig. “We’ve had pro pitchers thorwing 95 miles per hour, a Division II multiple national champion swimmer, and All American college skiier. I’d say 90-95 percent of people get back to a high level of athlete.”

Vasilevskiy made 16 appearances with the Lightning last season posting a 7-5-1 record to go along with a 2.36 G.A.A. and a .918 save percentage.

Happy now? Kessel dropped 13 lbs. this summer

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It remains to be seen if Phil Kessel can silence his critics with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he’s doing his part to put work ethic murmurs to bed.

Despite making scores of defensemen look foolish (and sometimes winded) with his immensely underrated foot-speed, people have railed on the sniper for “not looking like an athlete.” Maybe that will remain the case, but he’s dropped 13 lbs. this summer, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

Dreger notes that Kessel lost the weight after going through Gary Roberts’ vaunted off-season plan, which drew rave reviews from players such as Steven Stamkos over the years.

So, with that, where are we at on the list of Kessel beefs? (Sifts through “doesn’t play defense” and “is bad with the media.”)

Then again, there’s always the Kyle Wellwood corollary: what if he’s better off with a little extra beef?

Tyler Johnson should be ready for Lightning training camp

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The injury news isn’t all bad for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

While it’s disappointing to hear that rising goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will be sidelined for two-to-three months, breakthrough star forward Tyler Johnson seems to be healing up quite well.

In fact, GM Steve Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that Johnson will be “ready to go” for training camp after suffering from a broken right wrist during the 2015 playoffs.

The 25-year-old topped all Lightning scorers with 72 points in 77 regular season games and maintained that momentum through the postseason.

It did seem like his game slowed a bit during the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, and many believe that wrist injury explains the drop-off. With Steven Stamkos’ contract situation in flux, the Lightning will lean on Johnson quite a bit in 2015-16, so this update is a nice boost for the Bolts.

Lightning training camp begins on Sept. 17, so we’ll see if there are any setbacks for Johnson or other players.

More on Tyler Johnson: He’s under pressure.