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Flames’ Kylington plays first NHL game in 20 months

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The last time the Saddledome was this loud during player introductions was probably, ironically, the last time Calgary Flames blueliner Oliver Kylington suited up for an NHL game – back on May 26, 2022 in the playoffs versus the Edmonton Oilers

As his name was read in the starting lineup on Thursday night, Flames fans, some with “Welcome back, Oliver” signs, rose and cheered. Kylington was shown on the jumbotron, smiling and nodding. The reception meant everything to him. Before the puck dropped, an official gave him a fist bump on the ice. 

The 26-year-old Swede had missed the past 20 months while taking care of his mental health. Head coach Ryan Huska put him in the starting lineup as a gesture from the organization. 

"It's touching, for sure,” Kylington said after the disappointing 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

“It really is. I just wanna give it back. I just wanna show my abilities on the ice and I think that's my way to give it back."

“Goosebumps before the game, people standing up and cheering him,” said captain Mikael Backlund.

“That was awesome.”

Huska said the gesture was an important way to show Kylington that he never really left the team, despite having been away physically for so long. 

“It was a big moment for him,” the coach explained.

“You’re proud of him for what he’s gone through. He’s had a tough stretch and I think a lot of people recognize the challenges probably that he would have faced and it was nice to see the ovation that he did get.”

Kylington looked every bit the part of skilled, puck-moving blueliner with a smooth stride and, on a night the Flames looked disjointed as a whole, he was one of their better skaters. 

He ended the evening with more than 13 minutes of ice time on a pairing with Jordan Oesterle. Kylington was credited with three shot attempts and two blocks, but showed confidence in jumping up in the rush. He had a couple of end-to-end rushes and didn’t hesitate in pinching in the offensive zone. 

“It felt really normal for me,” Kylington said.

“I thought he did a really good job tonight,” Huska said.

“He was one of the bright spots for our team, for sure.”

The Flames (21-22-5) have now lost four straight games and are six points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

“It’s gonna take him some time to get back into it, but I thought he looked good tonight,” Backlund said.

Before the puck dropped, Backlund shared a message with Kylington.

“I just said, ‘Just enjoy it,’” Backlund said.

Kylington also reminisced about an end-to-end rush where he had hoped to drive the net more aggressively. 

“I regretted that I didn’t take the puck to the net and break it to the [far] post,” he said.

“I feel like I can still do what I’m doing, so I’m just working at it and progress and hopefully pucks will go in and we get wins.”

Earlier this week, Kylington admitted that, at one point, he didn’t think he would return to the National Hockey League. His place in the Flames lineup on Thursday was the result of over a year of hard work and dedication, and recovering at his own pace. 

The fans at the Saddledome can also look in the mirror and know that they played a part. Both Kylington and general manager Craig Conroy credited Flames fans in the city for how much they respected him and supported him over the past year and a half. 

“The support he gets from [media], the support he gets from the city when he goes out, the people want him to do well,” Conroy said.

“They’re not coming at him in a negative way. They’re supportive. Not every city would be like that. Not every fanbase would be like that. [They’d say], ‘Hey, his job is to play.’ Our media, our fans, it’s been so supportive that I think you guys should get credit for that, too. I think that helped Oliver. The anxiety to go to the rink and see the media and be out with the fans and see people, he’s recognizable. That’s helped him on this journey too…from what he’s told me, everyone’s been first class.”

Kylington intends to repay that support with his play on the ice.

“This was nothing I could ever expect,” he said of the support he’s felt in Calgary. 

“When you see people writing to you, people cheering for you, applauding you, it really touches you in a way I wasn’t expecting. It means a lot, but…I want to win. We have to look forward to Saturday.”

Calgary hosts the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night as they play their final game before the All-Star Break, ending their six-game homestand.