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Humbled Boyle is Penguins’ Nominee for Masterton Trophy

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Ask Pittsburgh Penguins forward and elder statesman Brian Boyle about the intersection of hockey and dedication, and you get a heartfelt answer.

“I love being a part of something where you have goals, where you’re looking forward to getting better,” he said last week. “Guys really get along. It’s cool to be a part of the team in every sense of the word. They’ve welcomed me. It’s been so much fun, it really has.”

Boyle, 37, is being recognized for that approach, as well as other qualities.

He is the Pittsburgh Penguins nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for 2021-22. The overall league winner from among the nominees from all teams will be announced this summer.

The annual trophy goes to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, as determined through a vote of the Professional Hockey Writers Association members.

Boyle’s story oozes with the Masterton qualities. He did not get a contract offer for the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season. His career was stalled if not dead in the frozen water.

But he accepted an offer from the Penguins to attend training camp last September on a professional tryout basis, something not every athlete’s ego would allow for. He was solid enough to earn a one-year contract on the eve of the season. This is his eighth NHL team.

“I love to play the game,” Boyle said. “I think it’s the greatest game in the world. I’ve loved it since I can remember. So to be recognized as I’m dedicated to it (considering that) all these guys in (the locker room) that are so dedicated and have accomplished a lot and still come every day with the same work ethic, it’s humbling.”

By pretty much any metric, Boyle has earned that contract. He has 10 goals – his first time in double digits since 2018-19 – and 19 points in 65 games. He is part of a potent penalty kill. He has played center and wing, mostly on the fourth line. He has used his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame to provide some physicality. And he could be considered one of the Penguins’ veteran leaders.

It’s what he strived for when he pushed to keep playing after missing last season.

“I think you just have to have that belief in yourself,” Boyle said. “If you don’t, the league’s too hard. The guys are too good. I think that’s Step One. You really have to believe in yourself. You have to commit to something, trust that you can do it, put the work in. I think I did that.

“At the beginning of the year it was hard. It was tough just from being out for so long. I was coached and put in a spot where I can play to my strengths, and I expected to try to keep improving.”

Boyle also has been involved in charitable work.

And he has done all that while living separately from his family. Wife Lauren and their three children have remained in Boyle’s native Massachusetts and have dealt with COVID-19 protocols and fears to travel to visit at times.

And there was the time on New Year’s Day that Boyle raced from Pittsburgh to Hingham, Mass., and just made it to the hospital for the birth of son Callum.

“This year hasn’t been easy by any stretch,” Boyle said. “Being away from the people I love most in the whole world isn’t easy. It’s hard for them, and it’s hard for me. But you don’t get a long time to play this game, and it’s offered us so much.

“I am so lucky to have a wife that understands and pushes me to follow my dreams and chase the Stanley Cup. Parents that are supportive. Siblings that help back home.”

Boyle won the Masterton in 2018-19 while he was with New Jersey. Some of the characteristics attributed to him and associated with the award still apply, but the circumstances were different then. He was diagnosed with a type of bone barrow cancer called myeloid leukemia as training camp started, and got treatment. He missed just 10 games, then joined the Devils Nov 1, notching 10 goals over his first 25 games.

During that same time, his son, Declan, underwent multiple surgeries for a rare condition affecting the blood vessels in his jaw.

“That was a tough year, obviously, for a number of different reasons,” Boyle said. “All that the game had offered me and my family, from the medical side … and the freedom that the (Devils) gave me, it was remarkable.

“It just shows that we play in this league, and it’s a hard league to play in, and we’re committed athletes. Everybody has a passion and commitment and dedication to this game. … And their support system … the people that brought us to this game, we owe so much to them.”

When Boyle won the Masterton, his two children at the time weren’t old enough to really appreciate what he did for a living. Of course Callum is in that situation now, but Declan, who turns 7 in May, and Bella, who turns 5 in May, are aware, even if the family has to live apart.

“It has been the most rewarding thing ever,” Boyle said. “My son loves the game now. I wanted him to want to play, but I just wanted him to do what he wanted to do.

“Every time I walk in the door, he won’t even let me give my wife a hug and a kiss. He wants to play – and it’s always hockey. If it’s raining outside, its mini sticks, and if he gets tired of that it’s Xbox NHL. He loves the game, watches it. He has the Penguins app on his iPad. He watches postgame interviews. It’s incredible. It is so rewarding for me to see that.

“Hopefully, I don’t know if I can play six more years,” he said with a little chuckle, “but Cal, I think he’ll follow in his brother’s footsteps. Who knows?”

Bella is a natural at skating but not so interested, “which is unfortunate because she’s probably the most gifted at it,” Boyle said.

Boyle said since he won the Masterton, his appreciation for attention to the trophy has increased.

“You hear the speeches at the awards and you read about what guys have gone through and how they’ve overcome certain things, and it’s inspiring, really,” he said. “It shows what we’re capable of.”

 

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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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Pete Hoffman
Pete Hoffman
7 months ago

God Bless you Brian. So happy for you and happy you are a Penguin!