Brian Boyle almost didn't make it to his first NHL game.
The forward received a congratulatory phone call from Manchester Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris informing him that he would be making his NHL debut for the LA Kings later that day. Boyle just needed to make his way to the Prudential Center in New Jersey in time for puck drop against the New Jersey Devils.
The arena wasn't that far away, but by the time Boyle figured out his mode of transportation, it was already early afternoon and just hours away from game time.
"I got a car service that was supposed to meet me at the rink, but the guy got lost trying to pick me up from the rink in Manchester," Boyle recently reflected.
When the driver finally arrived, Boyle still needed to travel the 200 miles down to Jersey. The clock was ticking. Things only got worse for after pickup. "We got lost on the way to Jersey. I had the guy stop because I hadn't eaten anything. I ended up having chicken nuggets for my pre-game meal," Boyle recalled.
He eventually made it to the rink, but by then the game had already started. "I didn't get into the game until after the first TV timeout…so, I'm late for my first game," Boyle remembered. Certainly not the way he or head coach Marc Crawford wanted him to make his NHL debut.
"I just remember Crawford yelling while I was trying to get dressed and warmed up. He was screaming, 'is he ready yet? Get him out here!'" Boyle laughed.
When Boyle finally hit the ice, he had just enough time to do a couple of turns in front of the bench to make sure his edges were good. After that, Crawford just pointed at him and told him to take the draw. "And that was it. Off I went," he reminisced.
Nearly halfway through the second period, Boyle connected on a pass from Jeff Guiliano to get the Kings on the board and notch his first NHL goal.
"It was an incredible feeling. I tried to play it cool, but I was going crazy on the inside. I really didn't celebrate too much, but inside I was like, 'this is the coolest moment of my hockey life,'" Boyle reflected. That goal happened to be against future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, no less.
More than a decade after making his NHL debut and scoring his first goal, Boyle is now the veteran, and takes great joy in the accomplishments of his younger teammates. When Kevin Rooney recently potted his first NHL goal, it was Boyle who was there first to celebrate the milestone moment with a great big hug.
"I was super excited for him. It's just such a great feeling. It's great to share that feeling with other guys and see him light up," Boyle exclaimed. "It's genuine happiness for that guy who scores, and I've been fortunate enough to be on the ice with some guys who've scored their first, it's just really great."
Now a member of the Devils, Boyle will face the Kings on Tuesday in a mirror matchup of his first NHL game on February 2, 2008. That little bit of serendipity certainly crossed Boyle's mind when he signed with New Jersey in 2017, but his new club means so much more to him than just a footnote to his first game.
"At the time I signed, after talking with Ray [Shero] and Hynsey [John Hynes] I was really excited, but I never imagined how close I would feel to an organization so quickly, especially what my family went through last year," Boyle explained.
Not long into his tenure with New Jersey, Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. After battling the illness for almost a year, Boyle announced on October 24, 2018 that his leukemia was in remission. Less than two weeks later, on Hockey Fights Cancer night, Boyle scored his first-ever career hat trick and the significance was not lost on anyone.
"We're big on faith and trusting how things are supposed to work and at the time we weren't really sure, but now it's all pretty clear we were in the right spot and were guided to the right place," Boyle said.
Although Boyle played just 36 games for the Kings before he was traded to the Rangers in 2009, it still means something to him when suits up against the team that drafted him.
"When I play against them there's still some familiarity there and I certainly want to do my best and have as good of a career as I can because they traded me after all, so I want to show them what they're missing out on," Boyle chuckled.
Kings fans will hope they get the last laugh on Tuesday, but it's impossible not to cheer for Boyle, regardless of what uniform he wears.