The New Jersey Devils will host their annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Nov. 28, 2021, when they face the Philadelphia Flyers. This made me realize there was only one former Devils player to showcase this week, and that is Brian Boyle. He was only a Devil for 116 games but left a lasting impression during that time.
Boyle’s Journey to New Jersey
Boyle played for the New York Rangers for five seasons, which made him well known among Devils fans. He signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and made a quick appearance for the Toronto Maple Leafs before signing with the Devils as a free agent.
“At the end of the day, [the Devils] told me I was needed, which is a great thing,” Boyle said at the time of the signing. “I think they have some great pieces and I’m very close with (former Boston College teammate and Devils goalie) Cory Schneider, who is a huge difference-maker. All I know is that every time I played against New Jersey, no matter where we were, they’re a difficult team to play against. It’s a team that works and if you have everyone working, that’s a good sign for a player like myself. That’s something that benefits me.”
Unexpected Results During Devils’ Training Camp
The 6-foot-6 forward was excited to get back to the east coast and report to his first training camp with the Devils. What came next was unexpected for Boyle and his entire family. In September of 2017, he was notified that the results of his bloodwork showed he had chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), which is an uncommon cancer of the bone marrow.
During an appearance on the “Off Ice with Ida and Julie” podcast, Boyle’s wife Lauren recalls the moment the family realized something was wrong. He called her and said his labs came back weird, and he would be late for dinner. Both Boyle and Lauren assumed it was Lyme disease because prior to arriving in New Jersey Boyle was extremely tired. They were told there was no chance that it was Lyme disease because his white blood cell count was over one hundred thousand.
The family had to wait three long days before it was confirmed that he had leukemia. Boyle started treatment early by taking medication twice a day and changing his diet by eliminating sugar and minimizing his wine and red meat intake. He fought his way back to ice only missing 10 games.
Fighting Through and Announcing Remission
Boyle made his season debut on Nov. 1, 2017, in a Devils 2-0 victory over the Canucks. On Nov. 9, 2017, Boyle scored his first goal after his diagnosis in front of 16,514 fans at Prudential Center. It was an emotional moment for everyone at the arena in Newark, New Jersey.
“I’ve never cried after a goal before,” Boyle said during the intermission interview. “That was, it’s a lot. It’s everything… These guys, my wife, my kids, they’ve been through a lot too. My parents, my siblings. It’s a good feeling. Let’s hope we stand up and make it count tonight.”
At the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, Boyle was named as a finalist for the Bill Masterson Trophy along with Roberto Luongo and Jordan Staal. It was Boyle who was called to the stage at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas to accept the award for being the player who best exemplified the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
The next season was a big one for the Boyle family. The Devils’ forward announced in October of 2018 that his cancer was in remission. A month later the NHL announced Lauren Boyle would become Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador after her family’s experience.
“I just pray, that I can help anyone if they need it, whether it be advice or what got us through day to day from little things like how we changed Brian’s diet to praying or just how we spent our time,” Lauren Boyle said at the time. “I would like to also raise money for research. It’s incredible what they can do with the right time and money.” (from ‘Lauren Boyle becomes Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador’, USA Today, 11/01/18)
The Devils played the Pittsburgh Penguins on their annual Hockey Fights Cancer night in November that season. Boyle scored three goals earning his first career hat trick leading his team to a 5-1 victory over their division rivals. The events of that night at PPG Paints Arena played out like a scene from a storybook. The first two months of the 2018-19 season were extremely special for a family who came to New Jersey and were faced with an unexpected and terrifying medical uncertainty.
Moving on and Continuing his Career
On Feb. 6, 2019, the veteran was traded by the Devils to the Predators for 2nd round draft pick in the 2019 draft. He finished his memorable stint in New Jersey with 42 points (26G, 16A). Boyle played 26 games in Nashville and helped the team make the playoffs, appearing in three games earning two assists.
The then 35-year-old signed a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers on Oct. 21, 2019. He appeared in 39 games and put up 15 points. Boyle again found himself in the Stanley Cup playoffs playing four games before his team was eliminated. He did not play in the 2020-21 season but earned a professional tryout with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sept. 3, 2021. At 37-years-old he signed a one-year contract with the Penguins. The same day he signed his contract he appeared in Pittsburgh game against Tampa Bay. In another storybook moment, Boyle scored in his Penguins’ debut, an eventual 6-2 win for the Penguins. Currently, he has two goals in 14 games.
Much like Adam Larsson’s NHL journey, I feel like Boyle’s story is one that needs to be told. His time in New Jersey was memorable for him, his family and Devils fans. The Massachusetts native became an instant fan favorite, and if you walk around Prudential Center you will still see fans wearing his jersey. If you’re looking to donate to Hockey Fights Cancer you can shop the Devils HFC gear or purchase a mystery puck on Sunday night when the Devils take on the Flyers.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.