Brian Boyle, sweat dripping from his forehead, finally arrived at his locker, the last player off the ice after a nearly two-hour practice. An optional practice.
He took off his black helmet, placed it on the top shelf of his stall, sat down and took a much-needed deep breath.
It's late November and life is good for Boyle. The 11- year National Hockey League center is contributing in his first season with the New Jersey Devils after signing a two-year contract in July, and the club is an early season surprise in the hockey world. A few weeks later on Dec. 18, Boyle would celebrate his 33rd birthday with his first career three-assist game in a come-from-behind 5-3 win against the visiting Anaheim Ducks.
But beyond his smile and hulking 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame is a man who just two months earlier wasn’t sure what the future held for him and his family; wasn’t sure if he would ever play hockey again; and, quite frankly, wasn’t sure if he would be alive much longer.