Cougar prospect keeping diabetes in check

Bobby Clarke, Cory Conacher and Max Domi all made it to the top of the hockey world.

They conquered the challenge of living with Type 1 diabetes and played in the National Hockey League.

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That's an exclusive club Prince George Cougars forward Brendan Boyle wants to join.

Playing a sport that demands so much of the body, the fact Boyle has gotten to the verge of cracking the Cougars roster as a 17-year-old rookie shows he's not the type to let Type 1 derail his dreams as an elite athlete.

"There's different challenges but the main thing is overcoming it - you still do anything you want to do," said Boyle. "Just work to what you want to achieve and you can do it. Max Domi's a great example of that and John Schick, who played in the CFL, he's a diabetic.

"You just have to make sure you stay on top of it. It's just like working towards anything else, it takes awhile to adjust to it but then you're good to go once you figure it out."

Boyle was just coming into his teen years when his pancreas started failing him. It wasn't producing enough insulin, the vital substance that allows his body to convert blood sugar into muscle energy. Nobody else in his family had the disease. It just happened to pick him.

"You just have to stay on top of what you're eating and make sure you know what's in it before you take anything and be careful not to overreact to things," he said. "If your blood sugar's a little high you don't want to take too much insulin and be low. You just try and counter what you eat.

"I've never actually gotten too low during a game but sometimes you peak a little bit and you feel it in the legs and they get a bit heavy and a little weaker. You have to think a bit about how to get (blood sugar) down a bit, just so you're in that peak zone where you perform your best."

Common warning signs of diabetes include: increased thirst, hunger, frequent urination, dry mouth, fatigue, weight loss, blurred vision and headaches.

"I lost 10 pounds actually and I was just sick constantly and had to go to the bathroom, like three or four times a night, so we knew something was wrong," he said.

Boyle wears an insulin pump, a pager-sized device which he tucks in a pocket under his hockey pants. It delivers fast-acting insulin, good for three or four hours, and he has a button control he can press to give more insulin if he needs it. The pump takes the place of insulin injections, and he can leave it connected to his skin for three days at a time.

"I was at a hockey tournament in Chicago three days after I got diagnosed and you're supposed to have a week course on learning everything, but I was determined to go to that tournament and I had to learn how to give myself needles," he said.

The Cougars listed Boyle in September 2017 just before he began his first season of major midget with the Okanagan Rockets. He thrived last season as the Rockets' second-leading scorer, collecting 18 goals and 40 points in 37 games.

Now, a bigger, stronger, faster version of Boyle is stating his case to play in the WHL with the Cougars. The six-foot, 179-pound forward has played in three of the four preseason games this month. The Cougars pared down their training camp roster early and have been to just 27 players for the past two weeks, which has given rookies like Boyle plenty of opportunities to impress their bosses.

"If you didn't know he had diabetes you wouldn't even think of it, just the way he carries himself - he's such a character kid and he plays with a big heart and likes to skate. And he can skate," said Cougars head coach Richard Matvichuk. "He's a guy with a team-first mentality. Give him credit for what he does on and off the ice to take care of his body. It's amazing. He knows when to eat, what to eat and to do the right thing."

Boyle has been playing on a line with Reid Perepeluk and Connor Bowie, who both love to bash bodies. That combination could stay intact as the Cougars' fourth line this season.

"Camp's been really good, especially this year with the small amount of guys and the extra level of competitiveness," said Boyle. "I feel like I've got my forecheck going good and that's what I need to do to succeed. I would say I'm a good skater and I try to use that speed on the forecheck and try to finish my checks when I can and try to make plays

"It's a lot of fun playing with such talented players. We have a lot of team speed and lots of skill up front. I've got two big boys out there helping me out. I didn't have my best camp but I'm looking to keep getting better."

Boyle was born in Regina and moved to Calgary when he was three months old and played minor hockey there until his first year of midget, when he moved to Penticton to attend the Pursuit of Excellence hockey academy. Playing for the POE midget elite 15s he finished the 2016-17 season with 25 points in 28 games.

The Cougars signed him just before training camp last year and Boyle got his first taste of the regular-season action when he was called up last February. He spent three weeks in Prince George and played three games. Centring a line with Kjell Kjemhus and Liam Ryan, Boyle was left with an indelible memory less than four minutes into his first game, Feb. 9 against the Kamloops Blazers on Lumberjack Night at CN Centre

"Kjell got that first (career) goal on my first shift," said Boyle. "He welcomed me to the league nicely. The nerves were gone after that shift."

The Cougars wrap up the preseason Saturday at CN Centre when they host the Blazers. They start the season Friday, Sept. 21 in Victoria. The Cats' home opener is set for Sept. 28 against the Kelowna Rockets.

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