A little more than six months into his battle with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing Sarcoma, Philadelphia Flyers left winger Oskar Lindblom stepped onto the ice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Tuesday morning. During his fight, he has had periodic visits to see teammates and even been on the ice by himself for a light skate.
This one was different. Lindblom, suited up in full gear, worked out on the ice with teammates for nearly 40 minutes: working up a sweat as he skated, stickhandled and shot pucks. The session was approved both by Lindblom's oncologists and Flyers team doctors. Both on and off the ice, Lindblom beamed his warm smile; a familiar sight whenever he's around the rink.
"It was great," Lindblom said of his on-ice workout session to Zack Hill, the Flyers' senior director of communications, who is doubling as a team pool reporter due to the absence of direct media access across the NHL due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
While Lindblom is not yet finished with his chemotherapy treatments, the worst part of the process, hopefully, is over. He is several months past undergoing surgery as part of the treatment plan, according to a recent social media post by his girlfriend, Alma. Lindblom will not be ready to play hockey when his Flyers teammates return to the ice for Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL's return-to-play plan. However, once he completes his treatments, he can begin to work all out toward his dream of eventually returning to the ice to play for the Flyers.
"That's the only thing I'm waiting for now; to be done with my chemo, and get back with the team and play some hockey. That would be unreal, to get back to real life again and have fun," said Lindblom, who will celebrate his 24th birthday on August 15.
Coming from a hockey family, Lindblom's life before cancer was always focused around the rink. He had a remarkable journey to get to the NHL and improved year-by-year after his arrival to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms and then to the Flyers.
This season, Lindblom was in the midst of a breakout campaign in his third pro season -- second full year in the NHL -- in North America. He was tied for the club lead with 11 goals, and was playing a rock-solid brand of two-way hockey at the time he had to exit the lineup.
Early in his NHL career, Lindblom had a pleasant but quiet and shy personality in the locker room. As he settled in and became comfortable, his self-confidence grew. Although he was never the boisterous prankster type -- ala his locker room next door neighbor and off-ice friend Travis Konecny -- the Swede started to regularly participate in the joking and locker room banter that is part of everyday life on hockey to alleviate the pressure that comes along with the job.
It was on the ice, however, that Lindblom truly showed he belonged. A tenacious and tireless forechecker as well as a diligent backchecker, Lindblom produced excellent underlying numbers. His nose for the net and fearlessness in going to the "greasy" areas in the offensive zone started to pay off in much more regular goal-scoring in the second half of the 2018-19 season and carried over into this year's campaign.
Then, on Fri. Dec 13, 2019, the devastating news was made public: Lindblom had been diagnosed earlier in the week with Ewing Sarcoma. He would miss at least the rest of the 2019-20 season while undergoing treatment.
Suddenly, hockey was no longer the main priority, Oskar Lindblom was in a fight for his life. Ewing Sarcoma, which is an uncommon form of bone cancer, usually affects pediatric or adolescent patients. At age 23, Lindblom's case is quite rare.
Thankfully, from all indications, the cancer was caught in his early stages, while the rate of successful treatment is relatively high. There have also been treatment advancements in recent years related to the specific variety of Ewing Sarcoma that attacked Lindblom. Thus, there is legitimate hope that the young man can lead a long and healthy life after he completes treatments and is hopefully diagnosed as cancer-free, but could even return to playing professional hockey at some point.
The entire hockey world -- and even many outside of the sport -- has rallied to support Lindblom during his ordeal. A host of players across the NHL, AHL and Europe have gotten behind the cause. The "Oskar Strong" movement, complete with best-selling t-shirt sale proceeds donated in their entirety to cancer-fighting causes and numerous hockey players, fans and even media members wearing purple bracelets emblazoned with "#oskarstrong", has kept awareness high and channeled money to a worthy cause.
Lindblom himself has been deeply touched by the outpouring of support. It has helped him to keep up the fight through the hardest stages of the treatment. He has a singular goal: achieve remission and then work his way back into being a mainstay in the Philadelphia Flyers' lineup.
"I can see the light in the tunnel right now, and I'm trying to enjoy my life after this. I mean, I can't complain. People have it worse, and I'm just happy to be where I am," Lindblom said to Hill.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher was understandably thrilled to see Lindblom on the ice at the Skate Zone.
"It was great to see him out there. He looked really good on the ice, his hands are still there. It is remarkable to think that with all the treatments that he has had he was able to go out there today and still show the skill and still have the stamina to skate for about 35-40 minutes. It's a great sign for him and very exciting to think that with all going well in the future he's going to return to play for us. Obviously, Phase 2 is voluntary and every player and staff member must follow very strict guidelines and rules. Our practice facility is a very safe environment, safer than most places," Fletcher said in a statement.
Lindblom was nominated by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy; the National Hockey League's award for a player who demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey. Lindblom is a very deserving candidate, as are the other 30 nominees across the NHL.