Few to play the game of hockey have provided inspiration for the game of life the way Oskar Lindblom has these past six months.
The courage he has shown in his battle against Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, continues to amaze people not only in his sport but around the world of athletics.
So it came as no surprise on Thursday when it was announced the Flyers’ talented left wing has been named a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who “best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.’’
Flyers who have won this award in the past include Bobby Clarke, Tim Kerr and Ian Laperriere.
The other finalists for this year’s Masterton, named after the former Minnesota North Star player who died in game action, are South Jersey native Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators and Stephen Johns of the Dallas Stars.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association vote for the Masterton nominees, finalists and winner.
After the announcement of Lindblom’s situation, his teammates rallied to his side. Off the ice, they wore shirts which read OskarStrong#23. On the ice, they became one of the hottest teams in the NHL, finishing up with a nine-game winning streak prior to a single loss just before the pandemic ended the regular season.
Kevin Hayes is one of those who fully appreciates what Lindblom did with this challenge. The young Swede recently completed his chemotherapy treatments at Pennsylvania Hospital.
“You never want to see anyone battling cancer,’’ Hayes said. “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.
“We obviously had his back the whole entire time. 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.’’
Hayes believes Lindblom’s battle had a galvanizing effect on the Flyers.
“I think our team got a taste of that (away from the rink) this year and I think it brought our team together for sure,’’ he said. “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 miniscule compared to his.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I know. 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. He was a true warrior, true professional, and kind of made us realize that our problems aren’t that serious. I think he kind of brought our team together.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault marveled at Lindblom’s perseverance.
“Once we found out the severity of the cancer that Oskar had and the amount of fight that he would have to put himself through to be able to beat this, there’s no doubt (of his courage),’’ Vigneault said.
“Seeing him every other week come in in between treatments and being the positive individual that he could be, that had a huge effect on our group and our focus on supporting. . .when it came time for hockey, staying in the moment and doing what we were supposed to do. This was obviously a different year for all of us, but it’s not over. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re all very fortunate that Oskar came out on the winning side for us.’’
A former fifth-round pick (138th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Lindblom played his first full season with the Flyers in 2018-19, getting into 81 games with 17 goals and 33 points.
This past season, he was leading the team with 11 goals when he was forced to the sidelines.
Lindblom says getting support from teammates, family and friends certainly helped give him strength.
“Just trying to be positive, the time did go by pretty fast,’’ Lindblom said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “Then when you see people getting inspired from you, sending you a text, sending you a message on Instagram, you get even more positive because you know you’re helping people out.
“It’s been tough but you learn a lot about yourself. You can’t complain that you’re tired one day, you don’t want to go to work, you don’t want to work out. I probably shouldn’t complain when I’m healthy and have my dream job of playing hockey and can just be thankful for life.’’
No one is sure when or if Lindblom will ever play hockey again. But one thing is certain: It won’t be for lack of trying. His fortitude has been there for all to witness.