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Kylington savours return skate with Flames teammates

Oliver Kylington Calgary Flames Oliver Kylington - Getty Images

Calgary Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington didn’t know if this day would come. 

Kylington took the ice with his Flames teammates on Monday for the first time since a playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers in May of 2022. The blueliner has been away since then to focus on his mental health.

“Yesterday, I had a moment for myself,” he reflected after the 40-minute session at the Saddledome. “There was one point in time I didn’t think I was going to be here, so it was kind of emotional but in a good way. I was excited to come here today and see everyone and share the ice with everyone and play hockey again.”

Teammates embraced him immediately, offering stick taps and plenty of words of encouragement. 

“What he’s been through and what he’s gone through, it takes a lot of strength,” goaltender Jacob Markstrom said. “He’s been working hard on himself.”

Kylington didn’t look out of place Monday, showcasing the trademark skating stride that propelled him from second-round pick to key cog on Calgary’s defence during their Pacific Division title season. He even sniped a goal top-shelf on goalie Dan Vladar.

“I can still shoot,” the 26-year-old Swede said, with a grin. “I’m pretty good with it.”

Kylington remains on long-term injured reserve but is allowed to practice with the team. He played two games with the AHL’s Wranglers as part of a conditioning stint earlier this month. Teammates lit up into smiles afterwards when talking about their teammate’s long-awaited return.

“We’re all just excited to see him back and loving hockey again,” said Kylington’s defence partner Chris Tanev.
“They’re all with him and they all support him all the way through,” head coach Ryan Huska said. “It hits home when someone goes through tough times like that, so having him back and all the guys seeing all the stuff he’s gone through to get himself to a position where he’s closer to playing, they’re happy for him.”

During his absence, Kylington’s teammates balanced keeping in touch with knowing that he needed space. 

“I think he went through different phases of, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you guys’ and, ‘Hey, I don’t want to talk to you guys,’” Tanev said. “Sometimes when you’re going through stuff, it helps when guys are reaching out. Sometimes, you don’t want to talk to anyone. There’s a bit of a roller coaster, but everyone just being there and supporting him is the most important thing.”

Huska checked in with Kylington occasionally, sometimes during the road trips while on the bus. 

“I’d send him a text to see how he was doing or if his buddy was still in town or family was still in town,” he said. “You try to respect their time away too.”

Kylington’s return intersects with Flames forward Dillon Dube stepping away from the team to take care of his own mental health. On Sunday, the team issued a statement saying that Dube is “under the care of health professionals.”

Kylington has been in Dube’s position and is sympathetic to his situation. 

“I've played with Dubs a long time,” Kylington said. “I know him pretty well. I'm not sure what he's going through, but I'm there for him. When he's ready and he wants to share, I know how it feels, so I'm there for him, and I think the whole organization supports him and his position and just wants him to feel better and take those steps to get back. I just care for him.”

The mental health conversation in hockey has evolved over the past few years, with teams and players now more open about the challenges they’re facing. The Flames mentioned mental health in their public communication about Kylington and Dube and are hosting their annual Hockey Talks game on Tuesday to raise awareness about the issue.

“Now guys will tell you, ‘Hey, I’m struggling right now,’ or, ‘I’m in a bit of a rut,’” Huska said. “Before, it was never the case. More it was, ‘Hey, you’re not playing well. You need to fix your game.’…they’ve changed pretty significantly.”

The organization’s message to Dube is the same as it was for Kylington: there is support for players dealing with those challenges. 

“If [Dube] wants to go for a coffee, he wants to go for a beer, he wants to go for dinner, needs someone to tuck him in or hang out with him…anyone in here, I think if someone calls them, I think they would get up and go over and help them right away,” Tanev said.