#OskarStong. The hashtag that took the hockey community by storm last December. Just less than a year ago, Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom learned of his season’s fate. If you don’t know, Lindblom was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, December 10th, 2019, while on a west coast three game road trip with his teammates. Later that evening, as his teammates were gearing up and preparing to face the Colorado Avalanche, Lindblom was on a flight back to Philadelphia.
When the news broke that Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, he was tied with Travis Konecny in goals scored for the Flyers. Posting 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) in 30 games, he was on track to have a career year for his second full season in the NHL. There was much promise for this young kid’s future, and in an instant, it all came crumbling down.
Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that can be found in the bones and tissue surrounding the bones. More commonly found in children and teenagers, it can occur to anybody at any age, at any time. The most typical treatment for this cancer is chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the cancer. At just 23 years of age, that is what Oskar Lindblom had to endure.
Fast forward to July 2nd. If you have your Twitter alerts on like most Philadelphia Flyers fans, you would have gotten a notification just after lunchtime. That notification would have read, “Fight. Inspire. Overcome. Celebrate. Ring that bell, Oskar!” With many fans patiently awaiting the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs to begin, Flyers fans were greeted with an even bigger surprise.
With the ringing of the bell, it meant that Lindblom had finally completed all of his cancer treatments. The news continued to get better for the Philadelphia Flyers and Lindblom. As the team was preparing for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Head Coach Alain Vigneault announced his 31 man roster. Who was going to be joining the orange and black during their Stanley Cup run? None other than Oskar Lindblom.
Lindblom joined the team in Toronto during the playoffs and was written into the lineup for Game 6 against the New York Islanders. Lindblom and the Flyers would go on to play just one more game after he was slotted into the lineup. Oskar did not post any points during those two games, but to see him on the ice after he just battled cancer was such an inspiration to the NHL, the Flyers, and the fans.
Although Lindblom wasn’t able to record a point during the short playoff stint that he was allowed, his regular-season production was absolutely a success before being cut short. The question remains, can get back to where he was before his cancer diagnosis? Oskar is not the first NHL player to go through cancer and cancer treatments during a season.
Three NHL players come to mind when talking about surviving cancer other than Oskar Lindblom. Mario Lemieux, Saku Koivu, and Phil Kessel. Those three names are synonymous with successful careers. As Philadelphia Flyers fans, we all know the pain that “Super Mario” had inflicted on us while being a Pittsburgh Penguin. Koivu, the first European player to captain the Montreal Canadiens famed franchise, had many career successes. As for Phil Kessel, his career is still being written as he continues to have success in the league.
In January of 1993, Mario Lemieux held a press conference in Pittsburgh. He had announced that he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, cancer in which the cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally. At the time of his announcement, he had played 40 games and had totaled 39 goals and 104 points. Mario underwent radiation therapy treatments for less than two months and returned to the ice in March of the same year.
What team did he end up returning to play as his first game back? No other than the Philadelphia Flyers, interstate and division rivals. Although, Philadelphia didn’t greet Mario with the same boo’s and jeers that we have come to love today but instead gave him a heartwarming two-minute standing ovation. Regardless of the rivalry, hockey fans will always embrace a player that has gone through hell and back with cancer treatments. Pittsburgh ended up losing that game to Philadelphia, but “Super Mario” ended up recording a goal and an assist in his tremendous return.
Lemieux may have missed two months of play during his treatments, but he still went on to capture the Art Ross Trophy for recording the most points during the regular season. He ended up recording 54 more points, totaling 160 on the season. Pretty remarkable numbers for having to undergo cancer treatments in the middle of the season. The Art Ross Trophy wasn’t the only hardware that Mario took home that season. Lemieux helped the Penguins secure the President’s Trophy. He also took home the Ted Lindsay Trophy (Most Outstanding Player during the regular season), the Bill Masterton Trophy (awarded to the player who exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey), and the Hart Memorial Trophy (the player most valuable to their team).
Comparing Oskar to Mario is a little unfair to Lindblom based solely on the fact that Lemiuex was an elite player who shattered many NHL records. Without the records and the stats, a player undergoing radiation therapy and still returning to play is extraordinary. Oskar has a long career ahead of him, much like this next player did when he discovered cancer. Phil Kessel was only a rookie with the Boston Bruins when they found he had testicular cancer.
Kessel was drafted by the Bruins in August 2006 as the fifth overall pick and began his young career that same season. At 19 years old, Kessel had just signed an entry-level contract worth $850,000, and he was excited to begin his dream of playing in the NHL. Kessel played in 27 games leading up to the announcement of the discovery, recording five goals and four assists. Kessel’s family announced that Phil was admitted into the hospital with an unrelated hockey injury in December of 2006.
A week later, Kessel had undergone surgery to have the cancer removed, and he was advised to rest for two weeks before getting back onto the ice. After a short conditioning stint in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins, Kessel was recalled to the Boston Bruins. He had missed 11 regular-season games due to his surgery and time off. Kessel went on to record 20 more points during his rookie season. In the offseason, Kessel was nominated by the Boston writers as the Bill Masterton Trophy candidate for the Bruins – he went on to win that award much like Mario Lemieux did.
Phil Kessel has made a name for himself in the NHL. He has played for four different NHL teams, including the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Arizona Coyotes. Since his rookie season and being ruled cancer-free, Kessel has recorded 832 points in 996 games and has recently helped the Pittsburgh Penguins bring home back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Much like Oskar Lindblom, Phil was a young player when diagnosed and conquering cancer. If Lindbom continues to fight and get better as Kessel did, he will surely be a successful NHL player.
Like Mario Lemiuex, Saku Koivu was well established in his NHL career when it was discovered that he had cancer. Before the 2001-2002 regular season had even started, Koivu underwent many tests by the Canadiens team physician, who discovered that Koivu had cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Burkitt’s is cancer, similar to that of Hodgkin’s, that attacks the lymphatic system. Expected to miss the entire season due to treatments, Koivu surprised the entire Canadiens franchise and fanbase.
In the 80th game of the Canadiens regular season, Koivu returned to the ice to help propel the Habs to secure a spot in the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was welcomed to the Molson Centre ice with a warm 8 minute standing ovation by his beloved fan base. Saku posted two assists in the final three games of the season. They played the Boston Bruins in a hard-fought quarterfinal matchup, winning the series 4-2. Koivu and the Canadiens playoff appearance was brought to an end by the Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference Finals by another six-game series, 4-2.
During those 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Koivu produced for the Canadiens more than anyone would have ever imagined after missing nearly the entire season. In 12 games played, he recorded 10 points (four goals, six assists). A remarkable number for a player that had no playing time the entire season while undergoing cancer treatments. The following regular season, 2002-2003, Koivu went on to post a then career-high 71 points in 82 regular-season games.
Following the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs, Saku Koivu was nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy just like Kessel and Lemiuex. To no surprise, Koivu took home the hardware and prepared for the rest of his career without cancer. During an 18 season career, Koivu produced 832 points (255 goals, 577 assists) in 1,124 games between the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks. Could you imagine if he didn’t miss most of the 2001-2002 season, what type of numbers could he have put up? Once again, another impressive career for an NHL power forward that had to endure a scary and intimidating disease.
The question remains, can Oskar Lindblom pick up where he left off before he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma? That is yet to be determined, but after reading about Koivu, what rules out Lindblom from coming back and having a career year next season? The always-smiling Swedish skater has something to prove to the rest of the league. Pairing him with the likes of the 2020 Selke winner, Sean Couturier, and 2020 team points leader, Travis Konecny, he could get back to scoring those gritty goals that he was known for getting last year.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire