Devils forward Brian Boyle to make season debut six weeks after cancer diagnosis

Brian Boyle, then with the Toronto Maple Leafs, speaks to the media during the year end locker room clean out and press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Boyle is set to make his season debut six weeks after his cancer diagnosis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

VANCOUVER - Brian Boyle says he wakes up every day thinking about hockey.

After a difficult six weeks, the New Jersey Devils forward will be back playing the game he loves on Wednesday night.

Boyle, who was diagnosed with cancer in September, is set to make his season debut against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's been a long road," the 32-year-old said after the Devils' morning skate at Rogers Arena. "I'm excited."

Boyle started to feel fatigued in August, and tests at the start of training camp revealed that he had chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a form of blood and bone marrow cancer.

His diagnosis was announced Sept. 19.

Boyle said he was blown away by the support he and his family received from teammates, the organization and the hockey community at large.

"It was overwhelming," he said. "It was very touching.

"Obviously it's a situation you don't want to be in, but we've got a good handle on it."

The Hingham, Mass., native returned to practice on Oct. 23, and targeted the game in Vancouver as his goal to get back in the lineup about a week ago.

"Just coming on the road was a treat," said Boyle. "I was bummed, my two-year-old went as Batman (for Halloween) last night. I missed all of that.

"He had a blast. Aside from that, I'm pretty excited."

The six-foot-six, 245-pound Boyle, who signed a two-year, US$5 million contract with New Jersey in July, has to take medication in the morning and before he goes to bed, but that's all the treatment he needs at the moment.

The surprising Devils head into Wednesday first in the Metropolitan Division with an 8-2-0 record, and sit third in the league with an average of 3.80 goals per game.

"The team's doing really well," said Boyle. "I want to fit in nicely with that."

New Jersey head coach John Hynes said Boyle, who is normally a centre, will play left wing against the Canucks with Blake Coleman and Miles Wood.

"We're adding a very good player," said Hynes. "We're adding a guy with a ton of experience. He's got lots of size, great competitor, very good in the face-off circle. We're really looking forward to having him back in the lineup.

"It's been a long road for him, it's been a long off-season with the cancer diagnosis and his recovery from that. I know he's really excited to play, and we're excited as a team and organization to have him back."

In parts of 10 NHL seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, Boyle has 93 goals and 76 assists in 624 games.

The 26th pick at the 2003 draft also had 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) in 106 playoff contests.

"I love this game. It's given me so much," said Boyle. "I met my wife in New York playing for the Rangers. Some of my closest friends, I've met through hockey.

"I'm so blessed to be able do this, and we all are."

— With files from The Associated Press


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