TAMPA — Artie Boyle was part of the sellout crowd at Amalie Arena for the NHL All-Star Game in late January.
And Boyle, 63, stood with the rest of the 19,092 fans that gave his son, Devils forward Brian Boyle, the largest ovation of the weekend. Boyle, 33, a former Lightning center, had to fight back tears.
"You could sense that he was humbled," Artie Boyle said. "He loved Tampa. He hated to leave."
And this city hated to see Boyle go, dealt at last year's trade deadline to Toronto. Boyle was with the Lightning for fewer than three seasons. He wasn't one of the team's biggest stars. Yet there seemed to be a special love affair between the hulking 6-foot-7 Hingham, Mass., native and Tampa Bay, which will continue Saturday when Boyle returns with the Devils.
Why was there such a connection?
"I think what made Brian so special was how he wore his heart on his sleeve," said Michael Glesking, a 30-year-old Lightning fan from Tampa.
"He wasn't the most skilled. But he was very passionate. He was always showing a lot of emotion in a league where a lot of players just simply don't show a lot of it."
Everyone empathized with Boyle and his family following his leukemia diagnosis over the summer. And the fact that Boyle's 2-year-old son, Declan, has been in and out of the hospital hit home for any parent.
But even before that, the blue-collar Boyle had the Lightning fans' hearts.
"Brian Boyle was simply an Everyman," said Lightning fan Shawn Wolfe 49, from Tampa. "In a sport filled with great guys, he stood out. And that's not easy to do."
Boyle's grounded nature stems from a unique Irish Catholic family, as he's one of Artie and Judy Boyle's 13 children. Boyle has always been a man of strong faith, especially after Artie beat terminal kidney cancer 15 years ago.
"It has changed my life," Boyle said.
Boyle is just one of the guys, Artie said. That includes during Sunday night pickup hockey games in Hingham. Men ages 20-60, from all skill levels, play in a local rink. They'll cook out after. Have some beers. Boyle joins on Sundays in the offseason.
"He's just so relatable," said Ryan Callahan, Boyle's former teammate with the Rangers and Lightning. "I saw it in New York, the impact he had and how fans loved him there. I knew when he came here it'd be nothing different. He's the type of guy that you can see yourself having a beer with. That's who he is. That's his personality. That's why guys in this room loved him so much."
Boyle was a regular in the card game on the back of the Lightning charter flights with Callahan, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. You could hear them laughing and joking in the middle of the night. "They're still peas in a pod," Artie said.
Boyle was often a go-to quote for reporters looking for the conscience of the team, win or lose. Boyle offered refreshing honesty, and perspective.
"He always told it like it is with no sugar coating," said Lightning fan Kathy Crouthamel from Tampa. "One felt they could trust what he had to say."
And Boyle had his teammates' back on the ice. Ask any Lightning fan, and one of their favorite Boyle moments was the "Chicken Dance," when Boyle waved his arms to mock Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader, who refused to fight him in the 2016 playoff series.
"It will go down in Lightning lore," Glesking said.
"If you weren't a fan of Brian before," Crouthamel said, 'You sure were afterwards."
And the Boyle fans saw on TV, or read about in the newspaper was the same person they met in quiet moments outside the arena.
"Brian Boyle is a prince among men," said Jan Cory, a 57-year-old Lightning fan from Sarasota. "Not only does he look like a Disney Prince Charming, he carries himself with a very professional manner yet makes himself very approachable to the fans. I always felt like tiny little blue birds should be flitting around his shoulders!"
Boyle may have played longer in New York (five seasons), but Tampa is where he began raising his family. He got married in the Orlando area shortly after signing a three-year deal in July of 2014. He and wife Lauren had their first of two children, Declan, during the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. They welcomed the Times into their Tampa condo to capture their first Christmas as parents.
Boyle was an NHL player. Lauren was a model. But it was the tiny Declan, with an "eligible bachelor" pacifier in his mouth, who ran the house.
Declan has had six surgeries while battling arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a disorder in the vein that disrupts blood flow. "Hopefully, we're done now," Artie said.
Artie will be at Amalie again Saturday, visiting Brian's brother, Andrew, 20, who is a student at Eckerd College. Boyle, who missed two games with a shoulder injury, could be a game-time decision against the Lightning. "Andrew was the one most upset that Brian left Tampa," Artie joked.
Well, along with thousands of Lightning fans.
"Who knows, at the end of his career?" Artie said. "He'd come back in a heartbeat."