Oliver Kylington is smiling again.

And that’s what’s most important.

The Flames defenceman was confirmed Friday morning as a nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the sport.

Kylington returned to the Flames lineup in late January after more than a year and a half away from the team, and his childhood dream.

His time away has drawn many a headline, but his journey back to the NHL has provided plenty of inspiration both here in Calgary, but across the hockey world as well.

“It’s hard to sum everything up right now because I feel like I’m still in my journey back,” Kylington told Flames TV’s Brendan Parker Friday, shortly after the list of nominees was unveiled. “Looking back at it in small bits and bites, it was a certain time where I didn’t think I was coming back, so you feel a lot of thankful thoughts, you feel grateful, and you appreciate stuff in life that maybe you don’t think of.

“I think, in general, I found clarity and understanding that adversity in life will help you if you face it, and confront it, and you will come back stronger on the other side; I feel like I’ve proven that to myself, for that I’m proud, so I just try to move on with my life and get back to a life (that) I’ve missed, playing hockey; I’m just enjoying it right now.”


Back home, Kylington’s family is feeling pride at his nomination including cousin Sirak Tekeste, who read the news Friday morning.

“It quite quickly brought me back to where we were one-and-a-half years ago, or even six months ago,” Tekeste said when reached by phone Friday. “It’s not anything I could have imagined; a lot of goosebumps when reading about the news, but also given that it’s a quite beautiful award.

“Obviously happy, but also proud, and emotional, and I think everyone from his family is today.”

Hockey career aside, Tekeste is most pleased to see him happy again - enjoying the game he loves but also, simply enjoying life.

“Just to see him happy, just to see him smile with his teammates, smile being in Calgary, smile with everything related to hockey, it’s amazing, the best feeling you can have as a family member,” Tekeste said. “The most important part is that we can see him smile as Oliver, beyond a hockey player. I think sometimes I lack the words for what he’s gone through, but also where he’s gotten himself back to: he’s gotten himself back into the game he loves since he was a kid, and that’s quite amazing.”

The dialogue around mental health has been thrust into the global conversation in recent years - more and more frequently, we’re encouraged to engage in discussion, and that ‘it’s OK to not be OK.’

Kylington is living it, both in the Flames dressing room and away from the rink, but he’s also encouraged by the power of dialogue.

“Coming back and having conversations with people you haven’t seen for a while, and created a lot of relationships in the past, you get to have different type of conversations, maybe more genuine, and maybe more open and vulnerable conversations,” he said. “I feel it’s good, that you have a clearer room, and more open-minded room, and we can have good conversations with each other about life in general. Creating a forum for people to feel open and feel comfortable about sharing whatever they want to share, I feel that’s important, just making people feel like they’re at home.

“I think as a team, and as individuals, we have created a good space here.”


That vulnerability stands as a source of strength for Kylington, and from overseas, Tekeste takes real pride in his cousin’s ability to showcase his own fortitude as well as his personal growth as a role model for others.

“Seeing a guy as Oliver be transparent around the challenges, I’m happy to see that he’s overcome it and developed as a person, but he’s also sharing the experience and the learning he got out of the past one-and-a-half years,” he said. “Teammates, players across the league but also young, aspiring hockey players can pick up on what Oliver’s sharing, and make sure that they know it’s OK to be vulnerable, it’s a way of showing that you’re strong and it’s OK to face challenges, it’s more about how you actually tackle it and go forward in life.”

Make no mistake, though, Kylington’s been putting his best foot forward as a big part of the Flames’ defensive core, since he made his return to the lineup Jan. 25.

Head coach Ryan Huska has deployed Kylington for 20 minutes or more of ice-time on six occasions since Mar. 2.

But as important as Kylington’s role has been on the ice, Huska draws more inspiration from what the 26-year-old has battled through off it.

“That’s a great nomination for us, and I think everybody recognizes his story and what’s gone on over the last couple of years,” Huska said Friday. “For him to persevere and continue to believe in himself through all the challenges that he had makes me very proud of him, and I think it makes his teammates very proud of him. He’s very deserving of that nomination.”

We’ll have to wait until June to see whether Kylington becomes the third Flame - and first since Gary Roberts 28 years ago - to win the Masterton award.

Tekeste says Kylington would be excited, grateful and proud to be named the winner, but also that his cousin won’t fully realize just what he’s overcome until he’s had a chance to sit down and reflect on his journey.

“When I look at it, he lost his dream; he lost the love for hockey; he fought his way back to his childhood dream, which was to be in the biggest hockey league in the world,” Tekeste said. “And that’s big, losing your childhood dream, and not knowing if that’s something that you will ever do again, and then just figuring out how to fight your way back first to Calgary, being embraced by the love from everyone around the city, but then fighting your way back to the arena; the love he got from 18,000 people when he got back on the ice was amazing, and then the love from the teammates in the locker room and the love from the whole organization.

“He lost his dream, he fought his way back, and he’s back in his dream now; that’s a hell of a journey.”