Somewhere in an alternate universe, perhaps in a fairer world, Brian Boyle would have been in the visitors’ dressing room at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, pulling on a Devils sweater and telling his younger teammates about his five seasons with the Rangers.
Instead, Boyle was not on Seventh Avenue, not in the building where he once helped contribute to a run to the Stanley Cup Final, a building surely filled with well-wishers for the Boston-area native with a heart as big as his 6-6 frame.
The center has not been practicing with his latest team. He occasionally skates on his own, works out off the ice and receives treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia, which was diagnosed after his training camp physical last month.
But Boyle, 32, plans to return to the ice, as NHL stars Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu did in the past after being diagnosed with cancer.
“I’ve talked to him a couple times,” Brandon Dubinsky, Boyle’s former Rangers teammate, said on Saturday. “It’s a scary thing, but he seemed upbeat, the prognosis looked good and he was feeling better. A guy like that, a guy who always works his [expletive] off, a guy with that character, I think he’ll play as soon as he can. If I had to make a list of guys who’d be back after something like this, he’d be near the top.”
Dr. Michael Farber, the Devils’ internist and medical director of executive health at Hackensack University Medical Center, said last month that the condition was detected early and that with new medications available, there is reason to believe that Boyle will resume a normal life and perhaps return sometime this season,
“We are in a good place right now,” Boyle said at the time. “With the potential of what it could have been and what it turned out to be, I think that’s a positive thing. We have a good plan of attack here and I’m looking forward to getting on the ice and playing.”
A Devils spokesman said Friday that Boyle isn’t available for interviews and that there is no timetable for his return.
Saturday would have been Boyle’s first game as a Devil against the crosstown-rival Rangers, a team for which he had 44 goals and 90 points in 355 games, killed penalties and won more than half of his faceoffs. In the 2010-11 season, he scored a career-high 21 goals. Win or lose, Boyle was in the locker room after the game night in and night out, discussing the game, and in 2011-12, he won the Good Guy Award for cooperation with the New York media.
Traded from Tampa Bay to Toronto at last season’s deadline, Boyle became a free agent and signed a two-year, $5.1-million contract with the Devils in July. After the diagnosis, he had targeted opening night, Oct. 7, to play, but that proved unrealistic.
Boyle, who played 75 games last season and averaged about 13 minutes a night, said he felt a little fatigued during the summer but attributed that to the travel and parenting demands that come with two small children. He and his wife, Lauren, were married in 2014.
A handful of NHL players have battled cancer and returned to play. Lemieux and Koivu were treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Penguins forward Phil Kessel had testicular cancer and teammate Olli Maatta had thyroid cancer.
Former Islander Jason Blake, who was diagnosed with the same type of bone marrow cancer in 2007 and returned to play five more seasons, reached out to Boyle to offer support.
The medication, Blake told THN.com, “shocked” his system. “I lost 10 or 12 pounds just because I couldn’t keep food in,’’ he said. “I struggled early on because I lost weight. I had to figure out how to play basically 10 pounds lighter.”
“I’m expecting to live my life, to live a normal life,” said Boyle, who was raised Roman Catholic with 12 siblings and watched his father fight and survive lung and kidney cancer.
“I feel very fortunate, very blessed,” he said last month. “We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of prayers, and if there’s anything I can ask, it’s that that continues, because that’s something I’ve seen firsthand heal cancers and heal situations that were said to be untreatable.”