Oskar Lindblom

Oskar Lindblom's smile provides picture-perfect moment for Flyers

Oskar Lindblom's smile provides picture-perfect moment for Flyers

Matt Niskanen always marvels at Oskar Lindblom's presence.

“Fantastic, every time he shows up," he said. "The guy never stops smiling.”

Pretty impressive given the circumstances.

“It really is," Niskanen said. "He was like that obviously before he got the news, and hasn’t changed. The guys love having him here. Even to chat for just a few minutes and see his face, it’s great.”

On Monday at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers were once again uplifted by Lindblom, their 23-year-old teammate who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma. It was picture day and the Flyers were all smiles. And there was Lindblom, wearing his No. 23 jersey, standing, smiling and completing the group photo.

“Everyone is in a better mood when he’s around," Joel Farabee said. "He’s a huge part of this team, so having him around is great. I know it made my day a whole lot better."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

Lindblom, who was diagnosed in December and continues to undergo treatment, remains a crucial part of the team. Lindblom's nameplate always hangs over his locker at the Wells Fargo Center and on the road. With his recovery and the club's schedule, Lindblom and his teammates see each other periodically. But when he visits, the Flyers are left beaming.

“The boys try to visit him as much as we can," Ivan Provorov said. "He’s been around for a few team events and it was definitely great to see him around the locker room, around the boys. Everyone misses him and it’s great to see that he’s recovering well.

“With hockey sometimes, you forget about just life in general. This is something bigger than a lot of things and it’s just great to see him happy and great to see him smiling.”

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

The Flyers, winners of nine straight games, are fighting for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Pressure builds this time of year as March gives way to playoff hockey in April.

Knowing Lindblom's fight with cancer puts wins and losses in perspective for the Flyers.

"This is just a hockey game," Kevin Hayes said. "Obviously we want to win every night, our coaches want to win, our fans want us to win, but hockey is an extreme lower level of anything compared to cancer.

“It’s always a good day when you see Oskar. He’s going through a battle and we see him every chance we get. He just brings a bunch of energy to this room. I don’t know how I would handle what he’s going through, and he’s handled it with professionalism. He brings everyone into a happier place. If you’re having a bad day, you don’t have a bad day anymore when you see Oskar."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

The 2019-20 Flyers are a tight-knit group.

Rallying behind Lindblom has brought the team closer together.

“It’s awesome," Michael Raffl said. "He’s part of the team. We care about each other here. It’s always nice to have him around and seeing how he’s doing, how everything is developing.”

Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault can't get enough of Lindblom's smile.

“He was in great spirits," Vigneault said Monday after practice. "It was great having Oskar in the team picture today."

What would be a team picture without that smile?

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

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For Oskar Lindblom, for Flyers, Robert Hagg is playing, performing and smiling

For Oskar Lindblom, for Flyers, Robert Hagg is playing, performing and smiling

Robert Hagg walked out one of the equipment rooms at Flyers Skate Zone, exchanged friendly greetings and smiled in his locker stall.

The 25-year-old defenseman is enjoying himself during a season in which enjoyment has met obstacles.

Hagg is amid a contract year and has dealt with healthy scratches in a competitive group of blueliners. Cracking the lineup was a task in itself. Staying in it has been another test.

But those pressures of the NHL paled in comparison to the news he received alongside his close friend and teammate Oskar Lindblom. In December, the 23-year-old Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones.

"He’s a mentally strong kid," Hagg said Tuesday. "It’s impressive."

So Hagg pushes forward. He's tough on the ice, but sports a big smile off of it — just like Lindblom. Hagg never needed another reason to work hard and have fun. After learning of Lindblom's cancer diagnosis, he had one.

You’re putting life in a different perspective," he said. "It was really tough when we found out and a couple of weeks after that. Ever since then, I felt like he wants us to keep playing, keep winning, that’s what he wants. That’s the only thing you can do for him, as well. Keep fighting with him, but he wants you to play and do well.

I think there’s an extra push for the whole team knowing that. It’s great when he’s coming down, you can tell everybody is happy. We had a chance to see him the other day, the whole team, you feel the vibe, there’s so much energy coming into the locker room and I think that helps. It’s going to help now and in the end, too, because we need all the energy we can get.

Through their Swedish connection, Hagg and Lindblom have grown close with the Flyers. They knew each other prior to joining the Flyers' organization, playing together in 2012-13 on Sweden's U-18 IIHF World Junior Championship team and U-18 international club. This season, through success and hardship, their bond has fortified.

"When he moved over here, we got closer because we saw each other every day basically," Hagg said. "But I felt like even going through this part, it’s bringing us closer as friends, too. You’re getting closer if you’re from the same country, speak the same language and you can help each other out in that way. I felt these years have brought us closer together and I think it’s bringing us even closer together right now.”

Hagg and Lindblom live nearby each other in downtown Philly on the waterfront.

"My girlfriend and his girlfriend are pretty tight," Hagg said. "I talk with him quite a lot."

As Lindblom has undergone his cancer treatment, Hagg has seen his friend's strength.

"He’s still like the same person, you can’t really tell what he’s going through," Hagg said. “He’s living the same way he did before. It’s good to see him. … Nothing bothers him."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

With injuries to Shayne Gostisbehere (knee) and Justin Braun (groin), Hagg jumped on his chance to play. He has come out of the lineup only three times since Dec. 29, a stretch in which he has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and a plus-16 rating over 26 games. In those 26 games, the Flyers have gone 19-5-2.

“He’s found a way to earn a spot in our group through an opportunity — Ghost got hurt, Haggs came in and has played real well, and at the same time, the team’s game has picked up," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday. "He’s playing within his limits — he’s high percentage, he’s physical when he needs to be and one of our best defensemen at blocking shots.

"I’ve liked what he has brought to our group, so hopefully he can continue to contribute the way he has been doing.”

As a third-pair defenseman, Hagg knows his game. And he has played it well. Not trying to do too much and doing the little things have kept him in the lineup.

Furthermore, his fearlessness in blocking shots (team-best 6.30 per 60) and standing up for others is not lost on his teammates.

“He brings a lot to this team, plays the right way defensively and he’s there to block every shot he can," Kevin Hayes said Tuesday. "We have a couple guys like that on our back end. It’s a stat that no one really cares about, but it goes a long way within this group. We know how important he is to this team. I mean, he’s a great guy, too, so it makes it that much better.

“He’s a happy guy, he’s a great teammate. I’m happy he’s on my team.”

In the second year of a two-year, $2.3 million deal, Hagg has played some of his best hockey as an NHLer with restricted free agency ahead this offseason.

"Of course it’s a big year because it’s a contract year, but I went through it two years ago, as well," he said. "Last year, I thought I had a good season and this year, when I’ve been playing, I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job and that’s the only thing I can control. That’s what I’m focusing on. When I’m in the lineup, I want to stick in, so I’m taking every [opportunity] as I can and try to do the best of it.”

Hagg, not an offensive-minded blueliner by any stretch, has joined in on the scoring. Through 47 games, Hagg has put up 13 points (three goals, 10 assists), seven shy of matching his career high.

“I've felt pretty good the whole year, but of course lately, a little bit more offense from my side," he said with a smile. "It’s always fun to put the puck back in the net and getting a few assists here and there."

He even scored the first man advantage goal of his career in the final minute of a 6-2 blowout over the Panthers last month. One power play shot this season, one goal.

“One hundred percent so far, so should be in there," Hagg said with a laugh. "No, it was a fun time, 50 seconds left in the game, it was fun to try how it feels to be out there.

“I feel the whole season has been like that, fun season. I can’t imagine it’s already March."

For Lindblom, Hagg and the Flyers will keep pushing.

"Even though there have been ups and downs during the whole year, in this room, I’ve had a lot of fun this year," Hagg said, "and I think it’s only the start of it, too.”

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Mike Milbury shows he's 'Oskar Strong' for Flyers' Oskar Lindblom

Mike Milbury shows he's 'Oskar Strong' for Flyers' Oskar Lindblom

Mike Milbury wasn't analyzing a Flyers game.

He was calling the Bruins-Lightning contest Tuesday night at Amalie Arena on NBC Sports Network.

And in doing so, on a national broadcast, he showed that he's "Oskar Strong" for Oskar Lindblom.

Milbury sported an "Oskar Strong" pin during the game to support Lindblom, the Flyers’ 23-year-old forward who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma.

To see that on a national stage is really cool. We've seen the pin and "Oskar Strong" shirts more and more across the NHL, which has been awesome. It says a lot about the hockey community and how it comes together for causes much bigger than wins and losses. 

Milbury wearing the pin was pointed out on Reddit and here are some pictures from the broadcast. Much respect to the NBC hockey analyst and to all those who wear the pin daily.

(NBC Sports Network)

(NBC Sports Network)

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