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Boyle returns to practice with Devils

Center was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 19, says 'still a ways to go' before playing in game

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle returned to practice on Sunday for the first time since announcing he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Sept. 19.

Boyle, who received an ovation from season ticket holders in attendance, didn't hold back during his first complete practice as a member of the Devils. He skated hard, played the body and enjoyed every minute of the one-hour long session.

"Parts of it weren't too bad; I was a lot better than I thought in some areas like conditioning and battles, and having my hands and feet working together," Boyle said. "I've been [skating on my own] for a month so this was an adjustment. Even throughout the practice, I felt better, but there's still a ways to go."

Video: Boyle returns to practice

Boyle, 32, was given clearance to begin practicing with the team on Saturday. He is required to take two pills in the morning and two in the evening as part of his off-ice routine. He mentioned that although there is a certain time when the pills need to be ingested, it isn't a demanding process and he has kept to the schedule.

"I've been feeling good, physically, and personally I've been great," he said. "There were a few checkpoints we had to cross and the last was a stubborn one and we got there. I'm healthy and fit to play. I thought it'd happened a little sooner, but I'm thankful for that."

Boyle remained on the ice to work on face-offs and other areas of his game for 30 minutes after the scheduled practice. The Devils (6-2-0), who are in first place in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference, next play the Ottawa Senators on Friday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV).

"It's a great week for him to be able to be cleared," coach John Hynes said. "[Sunday] was a game-like practice; he had some battles and not a lot of time and space. It'll be nice for him to get back, get his conditioning to see how his body responds. He's really at ground zero where since he didn't skate for a few days, and now he's getting back to regular skating and high intensity and we'll see where he goes from there."

Tweet from @NJDevils: �� @BriBrows22���s right back where he belongs! It���s great to see Boyler skating with his teammates again. #BoyleStrong pic.twitter.com/5bregLpqXm

Boyle, whose condition is a type of cancer of the bone marrow, said that even though he is cleared to play, he doesn't believe he is in good enough shape to play in a game.

"Ultimately, when that gets sorted out, it's up to the coach," Boyle said. "But I'm here and available. You have to go through the process of practicing, first."

Boyle said he didn't expect to be treated any differently in his first practice of the season.

"I've been watching practice here for the past month and I didn't really have to say much [before practice]," he said. "I wanted to go blend in, but they compete out there every day. Especially on a day like [Sunday]. I knew it was going to be a battle-type practice, I didn't have to say much. Guys should know that if you're clear and are out there that you have to work hard. That's what guys have been doing so it was a good opportunity to jump in."

Boyle signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Devils as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He had 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 75 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs last season (the Maple Leafs acquired Boyle in a trade with the Lightning on Feb. 27).

He has 169 points (93 goals, 76 assists) in 624 games for the Maple Leafs, Lightning, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, and 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) in 106 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 10 NHL seasons.

Hynes said that Boyle likely will be able to join the team on its three-game trip through Western Canada beginning at the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 1.

"I think it'll be important for him to be around the team, practicing with the team and being involved like that because he is on that progression back to play rather than be here and possibly skate by himself," Hynes said. "He's got to be on the ice with other guys."

Said Devils captain Andy Greene: "[Boyle's] attitude during this period has been infectious and it was awesome to see him back out there with us. That wasn't the easiest practice as kind of your first full-team practice but he looked good. Each day I'm sure he'll feel more comfortable and better with everything and we're all really looking forward to being able to play for him and with him." 

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