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Kylington named Flames nominee for Masterton Trophy

Oliver Kylington Calgary Flames Oliver Kylington - Getty Images

Calgary Flames blueliner Oliver Kylington is the team’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which goes to the player “best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship, dedication to hockey.”

The award nominee is voted on by members of the Calgary chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and will be presented at the NHL Awards in June. 

Kylington returned to the Flames lineup in January after a year-and-a-half away to focus on his mental health. The defenceman has five points in 26 games this season, and is back to playing more than 18 minutes most nights. 

“Very honoured,” he said Monday of the nomination. “I heard the people that have played for the Flames that have been [nominated], and I’m just honoured to be on that list.”

The Flames have had two Masterton winners in franchise history, Lanny McDonald (1983) and Gary Roberts (1996). 

Kylington stepped away from the sport shortly after his breakout 2021-22 campaign, where he was a stalwart on a pairing alongside Chris Tanev during the team’s run to the Pacific Division title.

His road back was far from linear, and he faced multiple challenges en route to donning an NHL jersey again. 

Kylington was set to rejoin the Flames ahead of training camp this season before he experienced a trigger during fitness testing and had to step away.

“He just couldn’t do it,” Flames general manager Conroy told TSN in January. “He couldn’t even come inside and upstairs to do anything. So, unfortunately, we had to take a step back.

“…I’ll give Oliver a ton of credit. He didn’t want to ever give up. He wanted to talk to some people. He wanted to try. We set him up with some people to talk to.”

On Monday, Kylington shed some light on what he went through prior to returning to the team. 

“I had to deal with a very narcissistic person, so I learned how to suppress [my feelings],” he said. “I learned how to just shove stuff away. When you do that for too long, it’ll come at you. It’ll come hunt you. I learned that you can’t run away from your problems.”

Kylington says he’s now in a much better place, contributing to a Flames team that’s in the midst of a roster transition. Above all, he feels good – on and off the ice.

“I feel appreciative of hanging out with people that I haven’t seen for a long time and just spending time competing with old teammates and new teammates and being back in an environment that I’ve been away from for a long time,” he said. “I’m just appreciative of life, really.”

Head coach Ryan Huska, who also coached Kylington in the AHL, said he has seen a big difference in the blueliner’s demeanor since he returned.

“For a young guy to go through some of the mental health challenges that he went through and find a way to still persevere and keep himself engaged and in great shape, to be able to step back after a year-and-a-half away from the game says a lot about him as a person and his character,” Huska said. “He’s free right now…more the way that I saw him as a younger guy…he’s got a smile on his face again. He’s back to his usual, energetic self.”

It’s common to see opposing players give Kylington a stick tap and words of encouragement in warmups and during games. He’s felt that support across the hockey world and throughout Calgary. Several times, Kylington has praised Flames fans and the organization for their important role in his healing journey.

“I never thought anyone would do that,” he said of the outpouring of support. “You feel loved…it’s nice to see that they appreciate what I’ve done for myself.”

Kylington hesitated when asked if he views himself as a role model or trailblazer for mental health in the hockey world. Each person’s path is their own, he insisted. If they are inspired by his, that’s just a bonus.

“If my story can really help people, I’m thankful and grateful,” he said. “But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t…everyone’s journey is very personal. You can take bits and [pieces] 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.”