Brian Boyle‘s return to New Jersey Devils practice last week was a small miracle, given his recent ordeal. That’s also how Boyle views it.
“To be able to leave my house without worrying about a million different things that would affect really anybody, it’s a huge blessing,” said Boyle after his second day of practice on Oct. 23 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. “Our family is as close as it’s ever been and we’ve come through the other side much stronger.”
Boyle began feeling overly fatigued in August, but he ignored the signs, reasoning that he was 32 — an old man, he joked, by NHL standards — and his kids were simply wearing him out.
When those symptoms persisted, he had a blood test in September that revealed chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), an uncommon but treatable form of cancer in the blood cells that tends to progress more slowly than acute forms of leukemia.
Boyle signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with New Jersey on July 1 to add a balancing veteran voice and presence to a team employing four rookies and a lot of youth this year, but that role took a backseat when the diagnosis came down.
“I was scared. I was nervous. It was the worst feeling ever,” he said. “After the initial shock wore off, I started to think about the rest of my life, my wife, my kids. Hockey was a little down on the scale.”
As Boyle began treatment, he reached out to former NHL player Jason Blake for helpful advice. Blake played six seasons after being diagnosed with CML in 2007, but Boyle’s battle wasn’t the only hurdle his family faced.
“We’ve been tested. My family has been tested. That’s the best way I can put it. There have been other things that have gone on, personal things in my family that were very scary after the fact that you just wouldn’t believe the month we’ve had, my wife has had, our parents looking at their kids, looking at our kids,” said Boyle, who did not elaborate. “It’s been a tremendous amount of stress.
“A lot of times, I look to my folks and my mom. Her faith never wavers. It’s truly what has gotten us through on the other side, and our faith is stronger now than it ever has been. That’s something that I really want to make a point of, because we’re called to do that. I’ve always had that faith, but voicing it is difficult in the public eye, in professional sports, how you want to come off. This is a great opportunity. We’ve been tested. Our faith has been tested. We were under attack.”
There is still no timeline for Boyle’s return.
“He didn’t have training camp, so he’s a little behind,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “We still have to see what he will be like in physical battles, how he handles shifts, and then, how does he handle doing that day after day?”
That’s a minor hurdle for Boyle now, given his newfound perspective and approach.
“Do your best because you don’t know how many days you get to do it,” he said. “It could be leukemia that pulls you out or it could be something with your family that pulls you out. And you have to take care of things that are more important, so while we have the opportunity to do this, you’d better do your best — do it to the best of your ability and enjoy it while you’re doing it.
“I’ve always had a good time at the rink, I’ve always enjoyed the rink. It emphasizes that and makes me understand it. It makes me value the time that I’ve had at the rink and I’ll fight like hell to stay in this league as long as I can.”
COYOTES’ HISTORIC START
The Devils 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday at Prudential Center dropped Arizona to 0-10-1. That equals the 1943-44 New York Rangers for the longest losing streak to start a season in NHL history.
Unless the Coyotes win at Philadelphia on Monday, they will own that record by themselves.
There are myriad factors in the team’s struggles, including the NHL’s third youngest roster, a new coaching staff and style of play, poor puck management and defensive breakdowns. One of the issues could be alleviated when starting goalie Antti Raanta returns to play just his second full game this season.
Raanta has been nursing a muscle strain in his lower body that he suffered in the first period of a 4-2 loss to Detroit on Oct. 12 at Gila River Arena. He had played just 90 minutes and one second this season before Saturday.
The NHL record for longest winless streak to start a season is 15 games, also set by that 1943-44 Rangers team which lost its first 11, tied a game, and then lost three more before posting a win. That team went 6-39-5 in what was then a six-team league and a 50-game season.
These are tough times for Arizona, which thought it would be better after a series of offseason moves reshaped the roster. Credit coach Rick Tocchet’s troops for continuing to battle, and credit Tocchet for maintaining that desire in his players.
“When you’re in this league, as a coach or a player, sometimes things aren’t going to go your way,” Tocchet said. “So what’s the first thing you do? Do you jump ship or grab a pail? I’m going to grab a pail. I’ve always been that player or that coach. We’re losing so people are going to take pot shots at you, but I’m not going to venture from who I am.”
TREMBLAY OUTS GALCHENYUK
Former Montreal Canadiens player and coach Mario Tremblay appeared on the Mario Langlois show on 98.5 FM last week and told the hosts that forward Alex Galchenyuk spent time in rehab over the summer, and has been in perhaps twice.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was asked about that assertion at a news conference and said: “I can’t even talk about it, it’s strictly confidential.” Galchenyuk did not respond directly to questions about it, saying he doesn’t listen to radio.
The NHL is discreet when it comes to player-assisted services. Stage 1 of the NHL’s and NHLPA’s in-patient treatment program includes privacy. Confidentiality is essential to encourage players to voluntarily seek help.
Tremblay is the last person who should throw stones, but he has a reputation for denigrating players. This latest act may be his most classless one yet. There is increased desire to uncover the juicy story in today’s new-look journalism. Some things are better left in private if the journalist has a shred of human decency.
— Despite Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s insistence that his eight-man defensive rotation is “a good situation to be in,” insiders think the Hawks (5-5-2) will look to use their salary-cap exception — gained by putting Marian Hossa, Michal Rozsival and Jordin Tootoo on long-term injured reserve — to add a top-four defenseman after New Year’s. Can the Hawks afford to wait? They are 1-4-1 in their last five games. Outside of Duncan Keith and Jan Rutta, the blue line is a mess.
— The Vegas Golden Knights completed a seven-game homestand at 6-1 with a 7-0 win against Colorado on Friday. They have won five straight games ,and their 8-1-0 start is the best start by an expansion team in NHL history. They open a six-game road trip on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. Is this the point where the Knights’ substandard roster comes back to earth or will they prove that the season’s best story isn’t going away?
— My early candidates for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year: New Jersey’s John Hynes, Vegas’ Gerard Gallant, L.A’s John Stevens and Vancouver’s Travis Green. Many considered Green a sacrificial lamb because of a talent-challenged roster and Green’s lack of experience. Instead, Vancouver is 6-3-1 and in a playoff position. Check out this Ray Ferraro take on Green.
— Steven Stamkos looks like he’s making up for all that lost injury time this season. The Tampa Bay forward led the NHL with 21 points in 11 games heading into Saturday’s action and is on pace for 144 points. No, that won’t happen, but Stamkos’ play has erased any doubt that he is still one of the game’s 10 best players.