At this time last year, Oskar Lindblom was on the verge of completing his radiation treatments.
On July 2, 2020, Lindblom walked the 5th floor of the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, sounding cheers from medical professionals as he rung a bell to announce a courageous victory in his fight against Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones.
Less than a year later, Lindblom has won the 2020-21 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an award given annually to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey."
Lindblom is the fourth Flyer to ever win the Masterton Trophy, joining Bob Clarke (1971-72), Tim Kerr (1988-89) and Ian Laperriere (2010-11). This season, the Wild's Matt Dumba and the Sharks' Patrick Marleau were also finalists for the honor, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
"I feel very, very honored and proud to win this award and to compete with these types of players like Matt Dumba and Patrick Marleau, that are great players and great people on and off the ice. It's very special for me," Lindblom said in a release by the team Tuesday. "Just to be able to get back on the ice again was so, so good and I can't say more than that. It was an awesome feeling to be back on the ice again.
"I would like to thank my family, my girlfriend, my whole team, the organization and especially the doctors and nurses who have been helping me along the way, and everyone else who have been with me the whole way. I just want to say a big thank you to all of you."
While the Flyers experienced an unremarkable 2020-21 season, Lindblom's return to being a regular in the club's lineup epitomized remarkable. It represented everything about Lindblom, a humble Swedish native who is beloved in the Flyers' locker room and admired in the city of Philadelphia.
"He always has a smile on his face, he's always positive," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in July 2020. "Tremendous team orientation. It's always about the team. He's always worried about others. And he's a hell of a hockey player."
The 24-year-old winger played in 50 of the Flyers' 56 games this season, putting up eight goals and six assists. On March 17, he was scratched for the purpose of rest amid a grueling 17-game month. The next night, Lindblom delivered a two-goal game. He was working his way back into form after beating cancer last July and being shut down for two-plus weeks in February because of a bout with COVID-19.
"You talk to Oskar, he knows that he wants to do more, he wants to do more to help the team," Laperriere, then-Flyers assistant coach and now head coach of the Phantoms, said in March. "Personally, I'll give him a longer break for what he's been through last year. Knowing what he's been through, he couldn't train, he lost muscle mass and even the training he did during the break, it's not enough [time] for what we went through."
Lindblom's life and career were rocked in December 2019, when he received his cancer diagnosis. Lindblom missed the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season as he fought for his life. After completing his radiation treatments last summer, he astoundingly returned to the Flyers' lineup for two games during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in September.
Before his diagnosis, Lindblom was tied for the 2019-20 team lead in goals with 11 and was projected to finish with 30. Lindblom has remained cancer-free and pushed himself through last offseason and the 2020-21 campaign to regain his strength and conditioning. With the crammed schedule and little practice time, on top of testing positive for COVID-19, it was challenging for Lindblom to feel like himself on the ice again this season.
"That schedule didn’t help because I felt like the recovery part was a big part that I was struggling with," Lindblom said last month. "I felt better in the end, but I still feel I have a lot more to give. I actually feel great to get back to work this summer, I'm excited for that because I know what I can do out there. When I'm in good shape, I know I can play well in this league. It's been a tough year both physically and mentally, so it's going to be nice to recover here and get back in shape like I once was."
Lindblom had a special moment with his teammates in April on Hockey Fights Cancer night at the Wells Fargo Center. In warmups, the Flyers all wore purple and black No. 23 Lindblom jerseys and had Lindblom take a solo lap before joining him on the ice.
“Every time I look at him, I see a beautiful young man," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said in April. "I wish he had the same hairdo that he had last year, but it’s coming back. I have flashbacks sometimes of when we had to tell him in Denver that he had cancer — we didn’t quite know what type it was, but we had to send him back to Philly. Some of the flashbacks that I have are him every time he’d be around the team with no hair, smiling and being positive. I think it made everybody in our group — players and coaches and management that were close to Oskar — realize how important every moment is, to make sure that you're always at your best and doing the right things when you see someone go through that, such a wonderful person."
Last month, Lindblom said playing hockey again has been "unbelievable."
"I didn't know what to expect, if I ever could play again from the start," he said. "Just to play on the highest level in the world and I could still manage to do that, it's making me proud just to think about it. I feel great about myself and I know I've got some work to do this summer, but I'm proud of myself that I was able to play this year."
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