By Allan Muir
I've always thought the only honor less desirable than the Masterton Trophy was being recognized at the Academy Awards ceremony during the In Memoriam reel.
The only way to win this one is through "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey"... with a heavy emphasis on perseverance. Translated: Your career must have been interrupted by some personal tragedy on the scale of a Lifetime Network movie of the week to qualify.
At least the stories of Sidney Crosby, Adam McQuaid and Josh Harding all have happy endings. The three were honored today as the finalists for this year's award, as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
All hockey fans know Crosby's story: The world's top player finally returned to the ice in full health this season after missing extensive portions of the previous two due to concussion symptoms. Performing at a level unseen in nearly two decades, Crosby was running away with the scoring title when adversity struck again. Literally. This time, he was hit in the face by a slap shot. The injury derailed his season and his Art Ross dreams, but determination to return in time for the postseason highlighted his dedication to the game.
McQuaid, a depth defender with the Bruins, "suffered a season-threatening injury in September when his right arm grew increasingly swollen," according to an NHL press release. "He was diagnosed with a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that was causing dangerous blood clots to form in his body. After undergoing two emergency surgeries to remove the blood clots, the defenseman was deemed unfit to continue his normal offseason workouts in order to give his body adequate time to heal. McQuaid’s dedication to his rehabilitation efforts later in the fall hastened his recovery and he skated alongside his teammates on opening night of the 2012-13 season against the New York Rangers at TD Garden."
Harding's story might be one of the most incredible in the history of the award. The Minnesota Wild backup goaltender was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last fall. Among the symptoms are loss of coordination, balance, vision and cognitive impairment, making MS a debilitating disease under any circumstance but unimaginable for a professional athlete. While most thought his career was over, Harding wasn’t ready to give up so easily. He made lifestyle and training adjustments to extend his playing potential and in his first start of the season, he made 24 saves to shut out the Dallas Stars, 1-0.
Harding was placed on Injured Reserve on Feb. 12 after suffering complications from the medications he was taking, costing him 33 games, but he continued the fight. He was rewarded on Apr. 22 when he was activated for the last week of the season by the Wild.
All three are worthy finalists. In most years, Crosby's tale would run away with it. But not this time. It's hard to imagine anyone other than the incredibly inspirational Harding taking this one home.
There are still four more honors to announce leading up to the presentations of hardware during the Stanley Cup final. Here's the remaining schedule:
Wednesday, May 15: Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
Thursday, May 16: Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (skill/sportsmanship)
Friday, May 17: Jack Adams Award (top head coach) Monday, May 20: Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone (player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice)