‘It’s happy news’: Flames’ Kylington ‘honoured’ to be Masterton Trophy nominee

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Oliver Kylington has been, as he likes to put it, “feeling the love.” And not just from the adoring crowd at the Saddledome.

When he’s out and about in Calgary, the 26-year-old Kylington — once again a fixture on the Flames’ blue-line and truly one of the NHL’s feel-good stories of this season — is oftentimes approached by well-wishers.

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“A lot of people have been wanting to say that it’s nice to see me back in town, nice seeing me back on the ice and just happy overall having me back and that they’ve missed me,” Kylington beamed. “I’ve been very thankful for that and I just try to see it as thanking them back by playing as good hockey as I can.”

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Opponents, too, have offered up words of encouragement.

Since Kylington returned from a lengthy leave for mental-health reasons, a personal struggle that forced him to miss all of last season and the first half of this current campaign, it’s not uncommon to see a player from the other side deliver a pat during the pre-game warm-up or after a whistle.

Some are former teammates, while others Kylington only knows by their stats or jersey numbers.

“I never thought anyone would do that,” he said. “It’s just nice to see that they appreciate and see what I’ve done and appreciate what I’ve done for myself but also maybe for others. To get a stick-tap and just hear they’re happy to see me back out there again, it’s nice to hear.”

Whether it’s at the grocery store, at the gas station or from teammates, coaches or other competitors from across the league, there’s another message that Kylington will now be fielding.

Congratulations.

The smooth-skating Swede has been announced as the Flames’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an annual nod to the NHLer “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” The selection was made by the Calgary chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

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“I’m very honoured,” Kylington said. “It’s happy news, just a cool thing really.”

At least from this vantage point, Kylington should be a strong contender for the award.

This isn’t the sort of dedication and perseverance that can be measured only by what you see on the ice or what his teammates witness in the weight room.

It was determined at the beginning of training camp that Kylington was not yet ready to participate but instead of heading home to Sweden, where he spent all of the 2022-23 campaign, he was adamant about staying in Calgary and continuing his work with mental performance coach Matt Brown and other resources.

Oliver Kylington
Oliver Kylington is pictured after returing to the Flames in January following a leave for mental-health reasons. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

His on-ice comeback started with small-group skates, then a conditioning stint with the AHL’s Wranglers.

He returned to the Flames’ lineup in late January, right before the all-star break. The ovation that night at the Saddledome was goosebumps-worthy.

While Kylington has preferred to keep the details private, which is certainly understandable, he is one of the first NHLers to be open about needing time away from the sport to focus on his mental health. He has talked about the significance of feeling like himself again and has repeatedly stressed his appreciation for the support of the organization and the fan-base.

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After learning of his Masterton Trophy nomination, he was asked about the potential impact of his story, especially among those who may have previously considered mental health to be something that you just keep to yourself.

“I can understand what you’re saying because I’m raised with that type of a generation, where you just compress everything, you don’t talk about stuff, you just march forward,” Kylington replied. “But I think it depends what type of experiences you had. My experience was unfortunately in ways where I had to deal with a very narcissistic person, so I learned how to suppress, I learned how to shove stuff away. And when you do that at times, and for too long, it will come at you and it will come hunt you. I think I learned really that you can’t run away from your problems.”

Those powerful words will resonate with many.

You can be assured there are plenty of hockey fans and hockey players — and not just in Calgary — who have been inspired by Kylington’s return. 

He has provided hope for those who are struggling, provided proof there can be better days ahead. When he talks about the work that was required before he could get back to the game he loves, he is serving as a role model in a completely different way.

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“I hope maybe it helps people to understand that there’s certain moments in life when there’s adversity and it’s OK to be in it and not flee from it and not do stuff to think that it’s just going to vanish,” Kylington said. “It’s OK to say that it’s a problem. It’s OK to not follow the norm, really. We all are humans and we’re not going to be at our best at hard times, and I think it’s just important to create a forum that people can be honest with each other to say really what they have in mind and how they feel and what is going on in their life.

“If my story can really help people, I’m thankful and I’m grateful. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” he continued. “Everyone’s journey is very individual. It’s very personal. You can take bits and bites of my story, and that can maybe help someone. But at the end of the day, as an individual, you have to do the work yourself and face your problems, your individual problems, and do that journey yourself.”

From the slate of 32 team nominees, the three finalists for the Masterton Trophy will be announced later this spring and the winner will be revealed at the NHL Awards.

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2023-24 MASTERTON TROPHY NOMINEES

Anaheim Ducks: URHO VAAKANAINEN

Arizona Coyotes: CONNOR INGRAM

Boston Bruins: DANTON HEINEN

Buffalo Sabres: UKKO-PEKKA LUUKKONEN

Calgary Flames: OLIVER KYLINGTON

Carolina Hurricanes: FREDERIK ANDERSEN

Chicago Blackhawks: COLIN BLACKWELL

Colorado Avalanche: JONATHAN DROULIN

Columbus Blue Jackets: ZACH WERENSKI

Dallas Stars: MATT DUCHENE

Detroit Red Wings: ALEX LYON

Edmonton Oilers: VINCENT DESHARNAIS

Florida Panthers: OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON

Los Angeles Kings: VIKTOR ARVIDSSON

Minnesota Wild: MARCO ROSSI

Montreal Canadiens: JOEL ARMIA

Nashville Predators: MICHAEL MCCARRON

New Jersey Devils: CURTIS LAZAR

New York Islanders: CAL CLUTTERBUCK

New York Rangers: JONATHAN QUICK

Ottawa Senators: CLAUDE GIROUX

Philadelphia Flyers: SEAN COUTURIER

Pittsburgh Penguins: SIDNEY CROSBY

San Jose Sharks: JUSTIN BAILEY

Seattle Kraken: JOEY DACCORD

St. Louis Blues: NATHAN WALKER

Tampa Bay Lightning: MIKEY EYSSIMONT

Toronto Maple Leafs: ILYA SAMSONOV

Vancouver Canucks: NOAH JUULSEN

Vegas Golden Knights: ALEX PIETRANGELO

Washington Capitals: TJ OSHIE

Winnipeg Jets: LAURENT BROSSOIT

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