Brian Boyle isn’t the kind of guy to hold grudges. But he doesn’t mind if some people find him a little difficult to be around—on the ice at least.
That’s his game as a third line center for the New York Rangers—to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the guy in the opposing jersey.
“I’m a very heart-on-my-sleeve-type guy. I can’t hold a grudge,” the strapping six-foot-seven-inch, 244-pound forward told CNY last week during an interview at the Rangers practice facility in Tarrytown.
The Rangers had just shut out the Nashville Predators, 3-0, the evening before, to regain their winning ways atop the National Hockey League standings.
“That’s the way I was raised,” he said. “Nobody ever internalized anything. We had to get things out in the open in my family and then move beyond it. But it needs to be talked about immediately, or it drives me crazy.”
It was seldom quiet in the Boyle household in Hingham, Mass. Theirs is a big, loving Irish Catholic family of 13 kids, with Brian right smack dab in the middle. From that perspective he was able to observe and learn from the experience of his older siblings and act as a mentor/role model for his younger ones.
“I think it was a great spot for me, it was a blessing to be where I was,” he said. “You learn a lot about respect and how to make it a team, so to speak, to function by buying into the whole scheme.”
Right now Boyle is buying into John Tortorella’s up-tempo, fore-checking scheme that has the Rangers on track for their best season since the Stanley Cup-winning 1993-1994 campaign.
After enjoying a breakout season last year, with 21 goals, the 27-year-old Boyle has had more difficulty finding the net this year. He scored his third goal on Jan. 15 in a victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Following the game he received the Rangers now- famous “Broadway hat,” the battered fedora presented by the players to the teammate they feel has risen above the call of duty that night.
“It was awesome to see him get one,” Ranger captain Ryan Callahan told the media afterward. “It’s hard to find another guy who deserves it more the way he’s been playing of late." Those sentiments were echoed by Tortorella who said “especially the last couple of games he’s done everything.”
Boyle knows exactly where he fits into Tortorella’s scheme.
“I’m just trying to do the things I’m supposed to, play hard, be physical, be defensively responsible,” he explained. “That’s where I’ve carved out a niche. Those are the things that will keep me in this league. The goals, sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t. But the way you got to play is that hard style, be difficult to play against, every single night.”
Growing up in New England Boyle always wanted to be a hockey player. On afternoons when he wasn’t at the rink, he was on a frozen pond behind the family home, playing with his father, other siblings and friends. One time, he recalled his father crashed through the ice retrieving an errant puck, disappearing for a moment beneath the ice into the freezing murky water.
“It was scary for me, I was 4 or 5 years old and I remember it clear as day,” he recalled. “He’s reaching for the puck and he just collapsed all the way in over his head.” A few seconds later, dad dragged himself out of the pond, went into the house, put on dry clothes, grabbed another pair of skates and returned to the pond game. Lesson one in hockey’s unique true-grit culture conveyed and learned.
Another life-threatening situation involving his father brought Brian Boyle face to face with the power of faith.
“It was part of our lives,” he said. “We went to church every Sunday and we all went to Catholic school but it was just part of the way I was raised. Then when my dad got sick…in my freshman year in high school, that’s when we realized how important the power of prayer was.”
Arthur Boyle had contracted renal cell carcinoma, kidney cancer. Over the next few months Boyle watched his once- vigorous father become increasingly frail. He had surgery to remove the cancer but it had metastasized into his lung.
“It looked like he was dying before our eyes,” Brian recalled. “Then he went to Medjugorje, Bosnia (a popular site of religious pilgrimage because of alleged Marian apparitions.) He came back and (the cancer) was completely gone, a clean bill of health. It was enough to change my life in terms of my faith.”
Brian attended St. Sebastian’s, a rigorous boys’ academy in Needham, Mass., before heading to Jesuit-run Boston College to play under legendary collegiate coach Jerry York. He captained B.C. to the 2007 NCAA championship game.
“I went there from a pretty sheltered life at an all-boys Catholic school,” he acknowledged. “It was something that I always wanted. You just do a lot of growing up there. But I think I had a good enough upbringing where I knew I had to put in everything I was blessed with and try and get the most out of it. It wasn’t always easy but it’s taken me pretty far.”
And he gave a lot of credit to his coach. “Coach York is hard on his players, but he’s very fair,” he said. “He has an interesting way of doing things. He’ll get mad at you, but he doesn’t swear.”
Boyle chuckled when asked to compare his collegiate coach to his current coach.
“Torts is a bit more fiery,” he said. “They both tell you what they think. They’ll pat you on the back when they think you’re doing a good job and they’ll kick you in the butt when they think you can do better. But I don’t think anybody would get those two confused.”
Whatever motivational method he uses, the Rangers coach has his players performing very well.
“Our physicality, our forecheck, our stinginess defensively, those are staples of our game that we’ve built the last couple of years,” Boyle said. “That’s what we do, that’s our identity, Rangers hockey. We’re doing well, first place. But we’ve still got a long way to go, obviously. A long way to go.”