Excuse Brian Boyle for being a bit emotional after scoring his first Devils goal in the first period during the Devils’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Prudential Center on Thursday night. Forgive him for crying.
This was not just his first goal of the 2017 season. It wasn’t even just his first goal ever as a member of the Devils. It wasn’t because he scored the first goal of the game in the first period.
It was his first goal since Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a form of blood and bone marrow cancer, in September. This comes after he made his Devils debut last Wednesday night in Vancouver.
For him to score a goal a week after he made his Devils debut is impressive considering the time he missed while he was undergoing treatment. It’s already a great story as it is that he is able to play, but for him to contribute to the Devils right away makes it a better story.
Hockey players don’t show emotion when they do their job whether it’s checking, scoring or making saves. They look at it as part of a job the way your average employee does his or her honest day’s work for his or her honest day’s pay. So Boyle’s emotion was refreshing. It shows he is human, and he knows what he has gone through has been difficult. He earned the right to make this a big moment.
From now on, every day is a battle for Boyle. It’s not about whether he can play. It’s not about whether he is getting ice time. That’s small potatoes. It’s about him living. Yes, the doctors say he can live his life, but anytime anyone is associated with cancer, he or she has to live each day as if this is his or her last.
It is not going to be easy for Boyle moving forward, but he does not want anyone to feel sorry for him. He looks at this as a challenge that he is going to relish. People have to believe they can beat cancer no matter what the odds are. It’s the only way to live.
For Boyle, his way of living is playing hockey as long as he can. He already played for 12 seasons for five teams (Kings, Rangers, Lightning, Maple Leafs and Devils), and he has had a productive career, scoring 94 goals and 77 assists (171 points) in 629 games. Who’s to say he can’t play another seven more considering hockey players play all the way into their 40s? After all, he’s going to turn 34 on Dec. 18.
So far, so good for the long-time veteran. He has been steady playing for the Devils. They expect him to be a productive role player while showing young players such as Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt the way of being a good NHL player. For Devils head coach John Hynes, he is like a coach playing in a uniform.
Not only has he played well, but he has handled being diagnosed with CML as another thing he has to battle in life. He goes out with the idea he has a job to do, and there’s no time to feel sorry for himself. Hockey has certainly been a respite for his ordeal.
The 32-year-old veteran has always been a locker room favorite because of his professionalism. He leads by example. He always passes words of wisdom about the game to his teammates. He has been known to be a good teammate by being upbeat and open to his teammates. He always played with a smile in his face.
So it wasn’t surprising there was emotion coming from his new Devils teammates when he scored. This wasn’t about welcoming him to the team. This was about sharing his joy for what he has endured in recent months. They wanted to celebrate with him for this rare moment. They understood how much it meant to him, and they even will say that it meant that much to them being that they like him.
Even the Devils fans got into it. They expressed their approval with a standing ovation after it was announced Boyle scored. They knew the importance of it.
What Boyle does for the Devils production-wise does not really mean much in the big picture. But with the pride he has, he feels his job is to earn his money and do what he has to do to put the Devils in a position to succeed. It’s that attitude that helped him come back quicker than anyone anticipated and why he was able to score the week after he made his Devils debut. It’s that willpower that makes him a hockey player.
Boyle is going to enjoy Thursday night and more days or nights to come. He is fortunate to be alive and do something that he enjoys doing. It beats feeling sorry for himself for sure.
Every day is a blessing for him, not just Thursday night.
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