With a newborn at home and a Cup on his mind, Brian Boyle remains driven by faith and family
Brian Boyle burst through the doors at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, with adrenaline pumping and not a minute to spare.
Just a few hours earlier and about 600 miles away in Pittsburgh, the 37-year-old Penguins forward had been preparing for a New Year's Day practice at PPG Paints Arena, when his Apple Watch vibrated. His wife Lauren, nine months pregnant back in Massachusetts, felt like she could be going into labor soon. But, she insisted, go practice first.
"She didn't want me to come and not have the baby," Boyle said. "That was her first thought."
Just to be sure, Boyle asked his sister Jennifer, who is a doctor, to check in on his wife. Soon, his phone was buzzing again.
Get on the first flight you can. And fast.
It was 10:40 a.m. Hastily, the Penguins' director of team services, Jason Seidling, booked the only direct flight to Boston, which was scheduled to depart at 11:51 a.m. Within minutes, the two climbed into Seidling's car and raced through the rain to Pittsburgh International Airport.
"I didn't have a toothbrush. I had nothing," Boyle recalled. "I just went."
At 3:22 p.m., Boyle walked into the delivery room. Just 11 minutes later, at 3:33 p.m., the Boyles welcomed their third child into the world.
They call him Callum, a Gaelic name that means "dove." The name was popular among early Christians as a symbol of purity, peace and the Holy Spirit.
"The best thing I've ever done is become a dad," said Boyle, who also has a 6-year-old son, Declan, and 4-year-old daughter, Isabella.
Through the years, close calls and nervous moments at hospitals have become pivotal points in Boyle's life. While he described the birth of Callum as one of his greatest "blessings," other experiences have tested his faith and resilience.
The Boyles have always been a growing family of fighters that leaned on one another and their Catholic faith to get through tough times.
As a kid in Hingham, Mass., Boyle was the seventh of Artie and Judy Boyle's 13 kids. When Brian's brother, Artie Jr., was born with autism, their parents put him on a path that would lead to the Special Olympics. And when the parents tragically lost a son, Joseph, to sudden infant death syndrome in November of 1986, the family banded together by their shared grief.
Then, as Boyle was making a name for himself as a high school hockey player, the word "cancer" began to reshape their lives.
Artie Sr., the patriarch of the huge household, couldn't play four holes of golf without doubling over in exhaustion. His skin turned a worrisome shade of gray, and his athletic frame shed 45 pounds in weeks.
Doctors discovered a fist-sized tumor on his kidney, which they diagnosed as renal cell carcinoma. Initially, a surgical procedure that was more successful than anticipated provided momentary optimism. Doctors hoped they had removed the entire tumor. But months later, three nodules were found in Artie's right lung. The cancer had metastasized.
Doctors advised Artie to get his affairs in order and scheduled a procedure for Sept. 14, 2000. Even if the surgery was successful, the odds were long. He was given a 5% chance of surviving for more than five years.
That night, Artie's 8-year-old son, Timmy, articulated everyone's biggest concerns, "Dad are you going to die?"
Artie didn't have an answer.
Out of desperation, just 21 days before the surgery, Artie planned a pilgrimage with his close friend Rob Griffin and brother-in-law, Kevin Gill, to Medjugorje, a small village in Bosnia-Herzegovina where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to six local children in 1981.
Artie wrote in his journal before boarding the flight, "I'm going to Medjugorje to see the blessed mother — and to be healed."
In the village, Artie and his friends went to confession for the first time in decades. They prayed with relatives of the children, many of whom still report daily apparitions. Finally, the trip culminated with a long, arduous climb up a mountain to where locals had erected a 40-foot concrete cross. Alone atop the mountain, the three friends began weeping and pleading for divine intervention.
"He handed himself over to Christ and said, 'I'm at peace with whatever is supposed to be,'" Boyle explained.
Days later in Boston, Artie insisted on one final CT scan before surgery. Inexplicably, the large nodule in his lung had completely disappeared. The two smaller ones had shrunk to an insignificant size.
Doctors had no scientific explanation for the remarkable recovery. They canceled the surgery, and on the day that Artie was supposed to be lying on an operating room table, he was instead on a golf course. Artie chronicled the entire experience in a book, "Six Months to Live: Three Guys on the Ultimate Quest."
"His faith and everyone else praying for him was really the miracle that we see every day, that my dad is still with us," Boyle said.
Brian Boyle was just beginning to build his own family in 2017 when the hits started coming in waves.
As he entered New Jersey Devils training camp, Boyle felt sluggish. Every time he warmed up, his body shut down. He couldn't pump out pull-ups like he used to. His bike test worsened by the week. Eventually, blood tests revealed chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), an uncommon cancer of the bone marrow.
Boyle got off the phone with the hematologist "scared to death." How was he going to pass along this news to his parents, who had already been through so much?
"No matter how old I am, I'm always going to be a son," Boyle said. "So having to tell him that, even before I really knew what was going on, was really hard for me."
Through treatments at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and twice-daily medication, Boyle continued to train. However, every time he tried to push himself on the ice, he was leveled by blinding headaches that blurred his vision and took his mind down dark paths.
"Is my career over?" Boyle remembers thinking. "What am I going to do for work? If this treatment doesn't work, are my kids going remember me?"
While the treatment left Boyle weary and worried, soon his concern shifted elsewhere: To his son, Declan.
At the time just 2 years old, Boyle's first-born son had a fragile jaw bone that inexplicably kept growing. The power forward turned into "Dr. Google," scouring the internet for an explanation.
Eventually, the family visited Boston Children's Hospital. There, the medical staff's initial diagnosis rocked the family to their core: Cancer.
"He doesn't have cancer," Boyle recalled saying. "He does not have cancer."
Over and over, he kept repeating it. He does not have cancer. He does not.
"It was our worst nightmare," Boyle said. "It doesn't even compare to the news that I got about me. It was so much harder."
The doctors performed a biopsy and began to prepare the family for how their lives would change. Still, Boyle held out hope, as the medical staff left the room to conduct more testing to confirm their initial diagnosis.
Finally, after an agonizing wait, the doctor emerged with tears in his eyes. Tears of joy. Young Declan didn't have cancer after all.
"I knew it!" Boyle recalled saying, instinctively embracing the stranger in the white coat in a long, tearful hug.
While Boyle wouldn't have to watch his son endure cancer treatments, Declan's condition was still quite serious. He was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation of the jaw, a rare condition in which blood vessels form abnormally and arteries and veins become tangled, disrupting normal blood flow.
As Boyle attacked his own illness, the father spent plenty of nights on the floor of his son's room, turning Declan over so he wouldn't swallow too much blood. The toddler endured 14 surgeries and too many sleepless nights to count.
But by the time Brian was in full remission in October of 2018, his son had won his battle, too.
As Lauren neared full term, she sat down Declan to show him the ultrasound of his unborn baby brother.
"Will he have a boo-boo on his chin like me," Declan asked, crying.
"He's such an empathetic kid," Boyle said. "He was so worried his younger brother was going to have to go through what he did."
From behind a phone screen, Boyle consoled and reassured his son. Honored with the NHL's Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2018 for his perseverance and dedication to hockey, Boyle continues to exemplify those attributes today — but in different ways.
Unable to catch on with a club last season, Boyle wasn't going to retire until he was ready. He continued to train alone in Massachusetts and suited up for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship as a way to keep his name in NHL circles.
He arrived in Pittsburgh for training camp on a professional tryout agreement with no guarantees he'd even make it to Game 1. But given the 6-foot-6 Boyle's physical playing style and the Penguins' growing need at the center ice position, he made the club. Now, as the team approaches full strength, Boyle is engaged in daily battles for playing time in the bottom six.
"I know he was motivated to play last year, and he didn't get the opportunity," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I do think that when a player goes through that type of experience, it offers that player a certain perspective. He doesn't take one day for granted. You can see the passion in his body language. He loves to play. He loves to be around the team. His influence on the rest of the group has been great."
Meanwhile, off the ice, Boyle is finding ways to father over FaceTime. He gives much of the credit to this wife for holding the home team together, shuffling their children to activities and putting together a Christmas "out of a magazine."
"I have an understanding and supportive wife, who has been asked to go above and beyond what was probably thought to be a normal life," Boyle said. "She held it together a couple of years ago when things were kind of falling apart for us. And she's holding it together now."
One blessing is that Declan, is becoming obsessed with playing and watching hockey. His favorite player? Sidney Crosby, of course. When Boyle officially made the Penguins club, he bought a replica jersey for Declan.
"I saw the disappointment on his face when he turned it around and saw Boyle No. 11," Boyle laughed.
The fact that Declan's favorite player is Crosby makes him like so many other youngsters in elementary school. Which is exactly how Boyle wants it.
As for Boyle, what keeps him going? He doesn't hesitate: "Stanley Cup."
After clearing so many hurdles, Boyle wants nothing more than to raise the trophy that's eluded him — and for his son to be there to witness it.
"It's pretty special for me that he's found that love I have for this game at such a young age," Boyle said. "We've been able to bond over that. You get blessings with different things. Life will take you different roads and different places. But you've got to count your blessings."