At the end of each Stanley Cup playoff series, the teams line up for a handshake, a traditional display of sportsmanship that doesn’t occur in other sports. The moment is often an emotional one.
That tradition means a lot to all the players. It meant more last week to Oskar Lindblom of the Philadelphia Flyers. That’s because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to be there.
Last December, Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that required seven months of radiation treatments. The regimen drained the 23-year-old Swedish left wing. Would he be able to play again? Maybe next season, the Flyers were told.
How could this be? The Swede was in the prime of his hockey life. He had 11 goals in 30 games, tied for the lead on the team. And suddenly, he had been struck down by a mysterious, ugly disease. It just did not seem fair.
It started with a welt. Lindblom thought nothing of it. Just part of the bumps and bruises hockey players endure in the course of a season. But his girlfriend insisted he get it checked out and this turned out to be no ordinary welt. This was cancer.
The young star was hospitalized immediately at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, where they have a tradition when patients recover and are released. Before leaving the hospital, the patient rings a ceremonial bell, signaling recovery. Ringing that bell was a target for Lindblom. One day, he would ring it. One day he would walk out of the hospital.
The chemotherapy treatments, daily draining radiation treatments, for Lindblom ended in July. That’s when he rang the Abramson Center’s recovery bell. He celebrated his 24th birthday in August and In September, he was back on the ice, skating in the playoffs for the Flyers. Lindblom’s tale of recovery was remarkable and it was helped along by discovering the cancer early.
When he returned to the ice to skate with the Flyers, his teammates stood at their bench and tapped their sticks on the ice, the ultimate expression of respect for what Lindblom had been through and what he had accomplished. The team expressed confidence in his recovery, awarding him a three-year $9 million contract extension.
He played a few shifts in the Flyers’ final two playoff games against the New York Islanders and then lined up for the traditional handshake. It meant more to him than the others. He summed up his emotions simply, saying, “I’m just happy I’m alive.’’
The hockey world would add a hearty “Amen,’’ to that.
Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire