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Carolina Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen is the team’s Masterton Trophy nominee

Something felt off to Frederik Andersen in the early going of the 2023-24 NHL season.

On the ice, he was doing just fine: He lost one game in his first six starts, allowed two or fewer goals in the the last four of those games and was easily the steadiest keeper the Carolina Hurricanes had during a tough defensive stretch to start the year.

Off the ice, though, was a different story.

“I was feeling some pain low, in the lungs,” Andersen said. “That kind of hindered me breathing. As I was going through in the moment, I was probably not as worried about it as I was after I learned about what could have happened.”

Andersen’s pain turned out to be a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot was stuck in an artery in one of his lungs. More testing revealed that Andersen, an 11-year NHL veteran, had a blood clotting issue. His season, perhaps his career, was in jeopardy.

“It came out of nowhere,” Andersen said. “There were some symptoms, and that initiated the check-ups and stuff. I went in to get checked out.”

His last game before being shut down was Nov. 2.

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) reaches back to make a stick save against the Calgary Flames during the second period at PNC Arena.
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) reaches back to make a stick save against the Calgary Flames during the second period at PNC Arena.

More than 40 games after being “checked out,” on March 7, Andersen returned to game action, allowing one goal on 26 shots in a win over Montreal.

“I guess you could call it an obstacle,” Andersen said. “I’m proud of the way I handled it throughout the process until now, and I’ve had a really good support system around me that’s helped me to battle through this.”

The Canes’ organization stuck by him the whole way.

“For him to know the organization was behind at every step, getting healthy was the top priority, that’s how we handled it, that’s how we should,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

For his perseverance in coming back from a potentially career-ending setback, and for his dedication to the game both as he worked to return and since he’s resumed playing, Andersen is this year’s Carolina Hurricanes nominee for the NHL’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded each season to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game,” as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Each of the PWHA’s 32 local chapters submit one nominee for the award each season, and after a national vote, the top three are selected a finalists. The Masterton Trophy winner is announced during the Stanley Cup Finals, along with the NHL’s other major awards.

Last year’s nominee from the Hurricanes was Jordan Martinook.

But awards — and hockey in general — took a back seat in Andersen’s life in November.

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) celebrates their win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena.
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) celebrates their win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena.

“I was more curious about what I was dealing with,” Andersen recalled. “I didn’t know about it at first. I think that was maybe almost like a blessing, that I didn’t know much about it at the start. You go in and you try to learn from the doctors in here, and all the research you can do on your own without cluttering the message.”

After learning more about what was wrong, Andersen then started looking at his options.

“I think the first few days I was definitely trying to learn, because it’s important to know enough to know what kind of decisions you’re making,” he said. “At the end of the day, your doctors are there to support you and give you advice. It’s not as cut and dry as people think, always, in the medical world. You’ve got to weigh different things, and at the end of the day it’s your call, and you’re your own doctor.”

The course of action Andersen chose was a three-month “heavy dose” of blood thinners, which limited his access to the ice.

“That was probably the biggest shock, to be honest,” he said.

“It’s been difficult mentally,” Andersen added, “and something that you have to step back and realize it’s something that’s more than hockey, and something that could have ... you never know what consequence it has down the road.”

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) looks on before the game against the Calgary Flames at PNC Arena.
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) looks on before the game against the Calgary Flames at PNC Arena.

With fewer than 10 games remaining in the regular season, Andersen has resumed his position as the Hurricanes’ top goalie, fitting back into a rotation with Pyotr Kochetkov. Including the game on March 7, Andersen has started seven games since his return. He’s won all seven, allowing just eight goals on 187 shots — a save percentage of .959 — while posting two shutouts.

Next up? Finishing the regular season healthy.

And then?

“I think the story’s not quite done yet with him,” Brind’Amour said. “Hopefully it ends with even something better. But just the fact that he came back ... You take the worst-case scenario out of it, which is he wouldn’t be able to play again, I think that was the worst case that everyone was worried about. So it’s a win, either way.”