Thursday, May 5, 2016

Brian Boyle ... for him it's playoffs or bust

By Larry Wigge

For an instant, Brian Boyle looked like he was surprised to find the puck on his stick at the side of the net. After he settled puck down, he routinely buried it.

Boyle scored just 2:48 into overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders for a 2-1 lead in their second round series.

"It was a fortunate bounce," Boyle explained.

Actually, the Lightning got the puck and were on an odd-man rush as Victor Hedman fired a shot from the left side that was wide. The rebound came off the back boards to a waiting Boyle.

Maybe you could sense some over-thinking from the veteran Boyle.

"I just tried to stop ... looking for a rebound," Boyle said, his mind working a mile-a-minute. He said he was thinking about where Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss was, not to mention Ryan Callahan, stationed on the other side of the net.

"The puck squirted out," he continued. "It just kind of hit me in foot ... then I put it in."

It was his second goal in eight playoff games, after scoring just 13 goals and seven assists during the regular season.

"It was awesome to see him get one," Callahan said, who was also with the Rangers with Boyle. "It's hard to find another guy who deserves it more the way he's been playing of late."

During this time of the playoff, Brian Boyle brought HIS game to Tampa.

"I'm just trying to do the things I'm supposed to, play hard, be physical, be defensively responsible," he explained. "That's where I've carved out a niche. Those are the things that will keep me in this league.

"The goals, sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don't. But the way you got to play is that hard style, be difficult to play against, every single night."

It seems like old times for the 6-7, 244-pounder, who has already been a good playoff playoff player for the New York Rangers before he was signed as a free agent on July 1, 2014.

The big center had just led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals before losing out to the Los Angeles Kings.

Boyle said his career habit of reaching another gear in the playoffs, "You'd like to bottle it up for 82 games in the regular season, too. There's just so much at stake. It's what you play for. You want to do your part, whatever your role is. It's just so much fun. You're having a blast and you're not thinking. You just do better."

Being part of a family in Tampa, New York or Los Angeles has never been a problem for Boyle, because Artie and Judy Boyle of Hingham, Mass., had their own little team ... 13 children -- Brian was born right smack dab in the middle.

From that perspective, Brian was able to observe and learn from the experience of his older siblings and act as a mentor/role model for his younger ones.

"I think it was a great spot for me, it was a blessing to be where I was," he said. "You learn a lot about respect and how to make it a team, so to speak, to function by buying into the whole scheme."

Brian isn't the only athlete among his siblings, six surviving boys (one died at 2 months old) and five girls, ranging in age from 17 to 40. Artie said Michelle, 37, was a track captain at Amherst College; Brendan, 33, a four-time All-American diver; and Christopher, 36, played several sports before joining a seminary.

The family moved a lot, with Judy, who was savvy at real estate, finding the right fits for their budget and expanding family. Their houses were never bigger than six bedrooms, so, Brian said, it was normal to share one with three or four brothers.

Artie and Judy, married 40 years, always have been the rocks.

"It's more than a job," Brian said. "You're a piggy bank, you're moral support, a psychiatrist, a disciplinarian. As I get older, it's even more impressive what they did."

But in 1999, Artie was diagnosed with a metastatic renal cell carcinoma. Artie, a longtime salesman and former truck company owner, was told he had a 5 percent chance to live. His kidney was removed, but the cancer spread to his lungs. Doctors gave up hope.

"I was a goner," Artie says.

"It looked like he was dying before our eyes," Brian recalled. "Then he went to Medjugorje, Bosnia (a popular site of religious pilgrimage because of alleged Marian apparitions.) He came back and the cancer was completely gone, a clean bill of health.

"It was enough to change my life in terms of my faith."

Artie plays hockey, golfs twice a week and works for the Archdiocese of Boston, giving back to the Lord. He wrote a book, Six Months to Live, and speaks to groups around the world.

"It's a wild story," Brian said. "He's been an inspiration. It has changed my life."

But, if Brian had grown up in Indiana, he might have played basketball.

"He could have played any sport and excelled at it," Artie said. "He probably could have been a professional baseball player. He hits the golf ball 400 yards. He was a running back in football. Just that unusual size that sets him apart."

But since Brian first put on skates at age 3, hockey has been his love, like it was for his father, who played goalie in high school and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Brian starred at Boston College, making three Frozen Four appearances in four seasons. He was then selected by the Kings in the first round, 26th pick overall, of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Brian said the Kings tried to make him a defenseman due to his size, an experiment that ultimately helped him become more responsible in his end as a bottom-six forward.

But he spent most of two seasons toiling in the American Hockey League. That GM Dean Lombardi at the Logan Airport Hilton in Boston in spring 2009. Artie told Lombardi if the Kings weren't going to use Brian, then trade him east. Weeks later, Brian was shipped to the Rangers for a third-round pick.

"I don't how much weight my father had," Brian quipped. "But Dean helped me out."

In New York, Brian settled comfortably back into his natural center position. Though he scored a career-high 21 goals in 2010-11, Brian's expertise came while he was killing penalties, being a strong net presence and winning faceoffs. He thrived during the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup final last season, earning a three-year, $6 million deal from the Lightning.

Oh. There was one more near-death experience. It happened when Brian was 4 or 5. Or so the story goes ...

"I remember seeing my dad fall into the pond," Boyle recalled. "He was going to get a puck out by some brush and some trees and stuff. The ice was kind of thin ... and he fell in. I was so scared. I remember it now -- I can picture it.

"He just went into the house ... he changed all his gear, threw his goalie skates on and came back out and played. My mother was horrified."

Perhaps like father, like son. Brian Boyle said he was playing on another rink with buddies growing up and fell in halfway to his waist.

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