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Boyle cherishing All-Star experience

Devils forward embracing weekend after chronic myeloid leukemia diagnosis, son's medical issues

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TAMPA -- Brian Boyle had a decision to make.

He had been invited to the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend as an injury replacement for New Jersey Devils teammate Taylor Hall. He was 33, in his 11th season as an NHL forward, and had never been part of an All-Star Weekend before.


[RELATED: All-Star Skills Competition ResultsAll-star Boyle gets huge ovation from fans at Amalie Arena]


What's more, he was playing through chronic myeloid leukemia -- and playing well -- and the event was in Tampa, where he had been a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2014-17.

But it wasn't about him. He had a wife, Lauren, and they had two children: Declan, 2, and Isabella, 8 months. Declan was back in Boston Children's Hospital because of a flare-up of an arteriovenous malformation in his jaw.

Video: Boyle mic'd up for Accuracy Shooting challenge

Brian had planned to go to Boston for the break.

"At my wife's urging, um …" Brian said, his voice breaking ever so slightly.


"She, uh …"


"She knows that I've worked my whole life to play this game, and uh …"

Brian came to Tampa. He received a loud standing ovation before finishing second in the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting at the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Amalie Arena on Saturday. He will play for the Metropolitan Division in the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"Hopefully we have some clips to show [Declan], and we'll get some swag," Brian said. "But yeah, it's pretty special to be here. It's tough because I want to be there too, but we made the decision to come. The decision was a little harder than we thought it might be, but we think it's the right thing."

Brian said if it can become a big enough story, perhaps it will inspire people to donate to medical research.

It ought to be a huge story.

Brian learned he had cancer in September. At first, he didn't know what kind.

"I was worried for my family," he said. "I wanted to make sure that I could just be there for them no matter what. My wife was unwavering in her faith, as my parents were as well. They've given me a tremendous amount of strength."

The diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia was relatively good news. It meant Brian didn't need a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy or radiation.

Video: Brian Boyle on his love for the city of Tampa

But soon afterward, Declan had a growth on his chin. At first, the thought was that he had Ewing's Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

"We were so scared," Brian said. "We didn't know what it was, and they were telling us what it might be to prepare us. It was the worst two days of my entire life."

The diagnosis of the arteriovenous malformation was relatively good news too. It meant Declan had a vein disorder in the jaw.

"It's a scary situation seeing your kid unconscious getting operated on," Brian said. "We've gone through that four times now.

Video: Accuracy Shooting: Boyle shows off skills to set pace

"I'm not playing if it's not for my wife. She's taken the brunt of this. She's had so many sleepless nights in hospital beds with my son. He's going to be fine. The doctors have assured me everything's fine. It's just kind of scary to see."

Brian takes two pills in the morning and two more in the evening. The first three days, he had a headache, an upset stomach and cramping. He had to tweak his diet, trying to eat as healthy as he can. He said he has lost 12 pounds. But he looks and feels good.

"The side effects are almost nonexistent," he said.

Hockey has been energizing, not draining.

"I don't want to say it's a new lease on life, but you worry about so many other things and then you just get to go play," he said. "You're like, 'I'll do my best.' You don't overthink or overanalyze. You just get to play. I think it's helped in a lot of ways."

Brian came back at the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 1 and scored his first goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 9. He has 17 points (11 goals, six assists) in 38 games. Two more goals, and he'll match the total he had each of the past two seasons.

Video: Brian Boyle on his 2018 All-Star Weekend

When the news broke he was coming to Honda All-Star Weekend, people around the NHL couldn't have been happier.

"Everyone who knows him has been supporting him since Day One," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "It was just special to see him come back and play an NHL game this year, never mind the season that he's had. It's been so special to watch and a true inspiration."

Sitting in a Metropolitan Division sweatshirt amid the hubbub, Brian called this a "pinch-me" moment.

"I can't believe this is my life," he said. "I'm very thankful. I always have been. I've never taken it for granted to play in this league. To be here and to see all these stars, the guys, how humble they are and then how supportive they've been for me throughout the year and even today, it's been wild. It really is. I'm just going to try to enjoy it the best I can."

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