Oskar Lindblom practiced with the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday for the first time since being diagnosed with a form of bone cancer in December, but there’s no timetable for when the forward might play again.
“This is my goal, to get back with the team, get back to life,” said Lindblom, who turned 24 on Saturday.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said the focus is Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 after the Flyers’ 5-0 loss in Game 2 on Friday, but Lindblom’s presence brought a different mood to the morning skate.
“The group was ecstatic to have him back even though it was a morning skate,” Vigneault said. “Great young man, beautiful smile, great to have him around.”
Among the more emotional moments was the post-practice stretch, which Lindblom led from the center ice face-off circle while teammates smacked their sticks to honor him.
“The coaches were almost in tears,” Vigneault said. “When you think about everything that Oskar has been through, everything our team has been through, showing the support and going through the different stages, to have him back. … Every team at the end has a team stretch where a lot of times comments are made about certain things. But today was all about Oskar and the excitement to have him back with our group.”
Lindblom said the support of his teammates helped him during his treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma. The Flyers announced his diagnosis Dec. 13 and he finished his treatment July 2.
“It’s been everything,” he said. “They talked to me like I’m still with the team even if I’m not there. Those tough weeks, when I felt so bad and trying to think about life and they’d call me, text me, help me get more energy. It helps me through the whole process. Now I’m here and I’m happier than ever.”
The next step is for Lindblom to continue his NHL career. His 11 goals were tied with forward Travis Konecny for the Flyers lead at the time of his diagnosis and he appeared to be blossoming into a two-way, top-six forward.
He said he also understands returning to play is a process that he’ll have to be patient with.
“To be honest I have no idea,” Lindblom said. “Can take a couple weeks, months. We’ll see how I feel when I start skating here for real with the team. I’m going to take it from there. I’m not going to stress anything here. Just take it slow and see what happens.
“I need to be strong enough that I can put myself in a situation where I’m good enough to play. I don’t want to be out here if I’m not going to help the team or put myself in a tough spot. As long as I feel ready and my body is strong enough, I think I’ll put myself up there. Otherwise I’ll keep practicing and work myself up.”
The Flyers are comfortable being patient. Lindblom was a surprise addition to the Stanley Cup Playoff roster and signed a three-year, $9 million contract July 22. He could have become a restricted free agent after the season.
The contract showed the confidence the Flyers have in Lindblom’s recovery.
“Our organization wholeheartedly believes in Oskar,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said that day. “Our players believe in him. [Vigneault] believes in him. And I believe in him.”
After Lindblom completed his cancer treatment, he returned to his native Sweden to work out and spend time with friends and family. He arrived in Toronto, the hub city in the Eastern Conference, on Aug. 7 and served a seven-day quarantine.
“I just wanted to get back home and see my family and friends for a little bit before I flew back here and joined the team,” he said. “I felt like I got that time I needed. Then I started itching to get back to the team and start skating again. [I now] feel energized and I’m ready to go here.”