April 26, 2010
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy has, for years, been the Lifetime Original Movie version of a hockey award. Once in a while, it'll serve as a career achievement award for long-serving veterans; most of the time, the winners will have persevered through horrific injuries, illness or personal pain.
The award is given to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
The last three winners? The Nashville Predators' Steve Sullivan(notes), who returned from nearly two years of injury rehab to contribute to the team; the Toronto Maple Leafs' Jason Blake(notes), who was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia but still played a full 82-game season; and the Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel, who while with the Boston Bruins missed 12 games of the 2006-07 season because of testicular cancer.
Each chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominates one player from the 30 teams, and the top three vote-getters are named as finalists. This year's final three are all deserving of the honor: Kurtis Foster(notes) of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jed Ortmeyer(notes) of the San Jose Sharks and Jose Theodore(notes) of the Washington Capitals. Theodore would be your likely Masterton winner in our estimation.
Grab the Kleenex; here are your 2009-10 Masterton Trophy nominees:
Why Jose Theodore Deserves The Masterton. Here's what the PHWA wrote about the Capitals goalie:
Theodore had to deal with some adversity on the ice at the end of last season, but that was forgotten when his infant son Chace passed away this summer from complications stemming from his premature birth. Theodore not only regained the starting job, he had his best season since winning the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002, capped by a 20-0-3 run over the final three months. What's of greater importance is the way he has handled himself in the dressing room and with fans.
Working out of D.C., I've seen this firsthand, and nominated Theodore with the Washington chapter. The local media treated the situation with deference. Theodore treated the local media with a respect for their duty, participating in all the preseason malarkey about goalie controversies and the like while dealing with this personal pain.
In my time as a sportswriter, there have been a few instances in which a player or coach finds solace in his chosen occupation. That a player like Theodore is able to do so, and to excel at his job in the face of that tragedy exemplifies what the Masterton should be about.
Why Jed Ortmeyer Deserves The Masterton. Here's what the PHWA wrote about the Sharks forward:
Ortmeyer not only has to work hard each shift to ensure he has a place in the NHL, but he also battles a challenging health condition that requires daily attention. At some point each day, Ortmeyer must use a needle to inject a blood thinner directly into his stomach to combat a hereditary blood-clotting disorder that has threatened not only his hockey career but also his life. Ortmeyer first experienced clotting problems in 2001 following knee surgery and has nearly walked away from the game twice, most recently in 2008 when he played for the Predators.
This New York Times piece on Ortmeyer really brings home the dire nature of his condition and the risks he takes in keeping the NHL dream alive. From the Times in Nov. 2009:
"His risk of having something happen is real," said Dr. Nicholas J. Morrissey, a vascular surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center who has not treated Ortmeyer. "Because things that to you and I that are not a bother can be bothersome to someone who is on blood thinners."
Concussions, cuts, bruises - regular occurrences in hockey - are particularly dangerous for Ortmeyer. His mother, Judy, tells him to retire whenever he is hurt. And his older brother Jake said, "There have been a couple times where he takes a funny hit or goes down funny, and I'm like, 'Oh, jeez, be good, be all right,' just for the fact that the kid has had such a long string of bad luck."
Good lord, can they give out two Mastertons this year? Or maybe make it three ...
Why Kurtis Foster Deserves The Masterton: Here's what the PHWA wrote about the Lightning defenseman:
Foster's NHL career was nearly shattered as he fell into the end boards in a game between his Minnesota Wild and San Jose on March 19, 2008. The next day Foster underwent surgery in which a rod was inserted into his left femur to help stabilize a badly broken bone. Following a year of extensive rehabilitation, Foster was back in the game, appearing in 10 late-season games with the Wild. Signed by Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, Foster posted career-best totals in games (71), assists (34) and points (42) in 2009-10, topping Lightning defensemen in scoring.
Just in case you've forgotten how horrific this was:
Who Wins The Masterton? Unless Foster's injury rehab or Ortmeyer's unique situation charmed more PHWA voters than we anticipated, it'll be Theodore. From the Washington Post's story on Theodore in March:
"There's not a day" he doesn't think about it, Theodore said. "I can remember sometimes, it could be a 2-2 game, and you start thinking about your son, or you start thinking about different stuff. Or you could be getting dressed [in pads] and trying to get focused and you get carried away thinking."
"Christmas was much tougher," he added, his quivering voice trailing off. "It's as simple as seeing kids around. You could be in the game and you see a dad in the stands with his son and you think about it. It's about being strong enough to get focused right away so you don't . . ."
Three worthy candidates from this list of nominees; anyone you believe deserved it just as much?