Flyers left winger Oskar Lindblom battled a rare bone cancer with dignity and a positive attitude, serving as an inspiration to his teammates.
And to the entire NHL.
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On Thursday, Lindblom was named one of the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
Ottawa right winger Bobby Ryan, a Cherry Hill native, and Dallas defenseman Stephen Johns were also nominated. The award will be announced during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I’m very humbled to be considered for this award that so many courageous and great players have won,” Lindblom said. “Seeing the overwhelming support from fans, my teammates, and the entire hockey community has been very emotional for me and without a doubt helped me get through this difficult time -- and back to being with and doing the things I love.”
Ryan, 33, entered the NHL/NHLPA assistance program Nov. 20 to get help for alcoholism and returned to the Senators lineup in February. He told his story publicly to help others who were struggling with the disease.
Lindblom, 23, a Sweden native with a humble, quiet personality, finished his chemo treatments this month. Earlier, he had a tumor surgically removed.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I know,” Flyers center Kevin Hayes said Wednesday. “Every time you saw him, he was upbeat, he was happy. If it wasn’t for him losing his hair, you probably wouldn’t have known he had cancer.”
“I look forward to the day I’m back on the ice,” Lindblom said when learning the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association had named him the Flyers’ Masterton nominee last month.
“He was a true warrior, a true professional, and kind of made us realize that our problems aren’t that serious,” Hayes said. “I think he kind of brought our team together.”
The Flyers rallied around Lindblom and became one of the NHL’s best teams after his Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis in December.
“That was obviously a huge moment in our season — to have one of your best players go down with cancer,” Hayes said of the stunning news.
At the time, Lindblom was having a breakout season and shared the team lead with 11 goals.
“Obviously he was a close friend to everyone,” Hayes said. Cancer is a serious situation. It’s a sucky situation. It affects a lot of people. Just so happens this year, it affected our team. You never want to see anyone battling cancer. When it happened, I think Oskar was a true professional about it. He didn’t wonder, ‘Why me? Why me?‘ He kind of just took it on, full head of steam and battled it.”
In breaks between grueling chemotherapy treatments, Lindblom surprised his teammates by showing up at some home games and meeting them in the locker room afterward.
Seeing the fight and positive outlook Lindblom carried “had a huge impact on our group and our focus,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
“We obviously had his back the whole entire time,” Hayes said. “I think it made us realize there is more to hockey. Obviously we want to win every single night and everyone wants to score goals every single night, but there’s some real stuff going on outside of hockey. I think our team got a taste of that this year and I think it brought our team together, for sure.”
Hayes said that “if anyone on our team was having problems throughout the year, all you had to do was think of what Oskar was going through and your problems became very minuscule compared to his.”
The Flyers, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division and will play Boston in its round-robin tournament opener Aug. 2, have dedicated their season to Lindblom.
Three Flyers have won the Masterton: Bobby Clarke in 1971-72, Tim Kerr in 1988-89, and Ian Laperriere in 2010-11.
The Masterton Trophy honors the only NHL player to die from injuries suffered in a game. Masterton, 29, a center with the Minnesota North Stars, died on Jan. 15, 1968.