It was a scene we see every day at the end of a team’s skate. The players form a circle with someone at center ice leading the post-practice stretch.
The Flyers’ team stretch on Sunday was different, and special. Oskar Lindblom was the one in the middle, eight months after he was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma and six weeks after ringing the bell at the end of his cancer treatments.
As Lindblom helped close out Philadelphia’s skate ahead of Sunday’s Game 3 versus Montreal (8 p.m. ET; NBC), the stick taps grew louder and louder.
No words are necessary. #AnytimeAnywhere | @oskarlindblom pic.twitter.com/EyJxL5i5DM
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) August 16, 2020
“The coaches were almost in tears,” said Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault of the scene. “When you think about everything that Oskar’s been through and everything our team’s been through, showing the support and going through the different stages to have him back. … Today was all about Oskar and the excitement to have him back with our group.”
Lindblom, who turned 24 on Saturday, entered the Toronto bubble over a week ago and Sunday was the first time he was able to rejoin his teammates. The forward, one of this season’s Masterton Trophy finalists, had gone home to Sweden after finishing treatment to see family and friends. The visit home was nice, but Lindblom said after a while he was itching to get back to skate.
Throughout his battle, Lindblom has had the support of the hockey world. Even Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, a fellow cancer survivor, reached out during his recovery. His teammates kept in constant contact with him, making sure he felt he was still a part of the team. That helped keep his spirits high and give him energy for his fight.
“Being around the boys is just the best thing for me right now, and I feel great,” said Lindblom, who last played Dec. 7.
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While Lindblom, who signed a three-year extension in July, can skate with the Flyers, the timeframe to play again is unknown. It could be a few practices or a few weeks. There will be regular conversations with the team medical staff about how he feels daily. For now, as much as he’d love to get into a game, he won’t rush anything.
“[I] need to feel strong enough that I can put myself in a situation where I’m good enough to play,” he said. “I don’t want to be out there if I’m not going to help the team or put myself in a tough spot. As long as I feel right and my body’s strong enough, I think I’ll put myself out there. Otherwise, I’ll keep practicing and work myself up.”
Even if Lindblom doesn’t play this postseason, the Flyers will benefit from having him around again. After watching from afar as he went through his cancer battle, his teammates will be inspired by his presence back on the ice.
“The group was obviously ecstatic to have him back even though it was just a morning skate,” said Vigneault. “Great young man, beautiful smile, happy to have him around.”
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.