The award is given out annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
Ryan entered the NHL/NHL Players’ Assistance program on Nov. 20 to get help for alcohol addiction. After going public with his story in an effort to help others with addiction issues, an emotional Ryan returned to the ice Feb. 27 and scored three times in a 5-2 win over visiting Vancouver.
“My journey started in November, but the process of getting there began a long time before that,” Ryan said Thursday on a videoconference. “Wasn’t healthy, wasn’t doing the right things for myself and wasn’t treating a lot of things that were left unchecked by myself, my group around me for a long period of time.
“Once I started to identify those things, the sobriety part of it was the easy part. It’s about having conversations now and letting go of some things that have hindered me for a very, very long period of time that I put away and tried to get away from with alcohol with avoidance, with whatever it might have been.”
Ryan said he still has tough days, but that the down times are farther apart.
“I feel like I’m in a much better place than I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “And that only comes with doing the work. I’ve been doing that and feel good.”
Johns missed all of last season and the first 47 games of this one with painful headaches due to post-concussion syndrome. He scored four games into his return on Feb. 3 against the Rangers, with his parents in attendance at Madison Square Garden.
“My journey was a long one. Throughout the first five or six months, I was doing anything I could possibly to get back on the ice as soon as possible,” Johns said. “I never in my wildest dreams (thought) it would take 22 months to fulfil that. But I think about a year in I started to lose a lot of hope because every doctor I was going to see or every specialist I was going to see they were telling me one thing and then the other was telling me a different thing. A handful of them told me that they would probably never tell me to play hockey again.
“I leaned on my support system a lot, probably too much at times. But that was probably the biggest thing that helped me get through.”
Lindblom was diagnosed in December with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumour that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones. He completed radiation treatments on July 2.
The rising star had 11 goals and 18 points in 30 games this season. While he has recently skated at the Flyers’ complex in Voorhees, New Jersey, he has been ruled out of playing when the NHL season resumes.
“It’s incredible what he’s been through,” Johns said of Lindblom, who wasn’t on the call because he underwent a procedure as part of his recovery.
“Very different from our situations. It was a story that we you know, everybody NHL was following. It’s just incredible to see how well he’s doing.”