One almost quit hockey a decade ago. Another spent much of last season buried in the minors. Several have battled back from debilitating injuries or personal hardships.
And all of them are grateful to just have the chance to compete in the NHL.
This year’s nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication,” are an admirable lot. Each of them, including Ottawa’s Andrew (Hamburglar) Hammond, Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk and Columbus’s Nick Foligno, has dealt with adversity that would humble most men.
Only one though will get to take home the prize.
Here are the 2015 nominees as named by each team’s local PHWA chapter, along with highlights from their nomination blurbs. Our five favorites to win the award are below.
WILD: Devan Dubnyk
On April 2, Dubnyk started his 35th consecutive game for the Wild and 36th in a row this season—the most consecutive starts in the NHL since 2009. He talks passionately about how torturous a season last year’s was for him and the hard work and determination it took to get to this point where he has become the arguably NHL’s biggest surprise and feel-good story.
SENATORS: Andrew Hammond
The Hamburglar lost his first 14 collegiate games and didn’t experience a winning season during four years of college, but he played well enough to earn a professional contract from the Senators. Despite a slow start to the 2014-15 season with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton, Hammond stayed committed to his dream of playing in the NHL. When it arrived, he didn’t look back, failing to allow more than two goals in his first 12 NHL starts, tying Frank Brimsek’s 76-year-old record.
PREDATORS: Pekka Rinne
Following off-season hip surgery in 2013, Rinne developed an E. Coli infection in that same hip in October 2013, and was sidelined for 51 games. He returned for the final month of the season and played for Finland at the 2014 World Championships, where he was named MVP. Rinne is active in Best Buddies of Tennessee, which works with individuals who have developmental disabilities. He and team captain Shea Weber have purchased suites to all home games, where they host pediatric cancer patients and their families.
PENGUINS: Kris Letang
During the past 15 months, Letang has suffered a stroke and two concussions. Through it all, he arguably did his finest NHL work this season. Even though the Penguins are protective of Letang because of his past brain injuries, the defenseman ranks among the top 10 in NHL ice time. Long a gym rat, his dedication to the sport was never more on display.
COYOTES: Shane Doan
A bout of Rocky Mountain spotted fever cost the Coyotes captain 12 games last season, but it wasn’t until this season that the severity of that health scare was revealed. Doan was almost immovable while recovering from the bacterial infection, which caused severe headaches, fever and muscle aches. At one point, he spent 18 hours in the hospital undergoing tests including a spinal tap. But amid that frustration, the 38-year-old continues to be the epitome of sportsmanship and dedication.
Rest of the field
DUCKS: Andrew Cogliano
Teammates and coaches laud his determination and year-round commitment to fitness. He’d be the first to say that good fortune has played a role in his appearing in 619 consecutive games, the league’s longest active ironman streak, but Cogliano has always been willing to play through the bumps and bruises and occasional illnesses.
BRUINS: Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron personifies dedication to the game of hockey. He routinely gives maximum effort on the ice, he plays hurt and he sets a textbook example for his teammates.He’s been Boston’s best player most nights while always emptying his effort tank.
SABRES: Mike Weber
This season Weber has averaged the most minutes of his career and it’s been a daunting task while playing for the NHL’s worst team. But he’s a mentor in the locker room to younger teammates such as Ramsus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, a respected alternate captain, and a spokesman in tough times.
FLAMES: Kris Russell
Pound-for-pound—Russell is listed as being 5' 10", 173—he may be one of the toughest defensemen you’ll find in the NHL, and displays that attribute not only by his efforts in the corners and in front of the net while battling opponents, but also blocking shots. The NHL leader in that category, he set a league record with 15 during a win over the Bruins in early March.
HURRICANES: Nathan Gerbe
When his brother-in-law died in a traffic accident in Michigan just before the winger’s first training camp with the Hurricanes, Gerbe left to be with his sister and has become a father figure for her children. He’s also involved with military-support organizations like Defending the Blue Line.
BLACKHAWKS: Scott Darling
Darling took a long, hard road to the NHL on and off the ice—the Blackhawks are his 12th team in the last five seasons. He played in the Southern Professional Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League (where he was cut by the Las Vegas Ramblers) and American Hockey League before signing with the Blackhawks last summer. Off the ice, Darling has battled an addiction to alcohol and says he took his last drink in the summer of 2011.
AVALANCHE: Alex Tanguay
Tanguay missed all but 16 games during the 2014-15 season because of hip and knee injuries, ultimately having hip surgery after a failed midseason comeback. At age 34, his career was in question during the first year of his third stint with Colorado. And then early this season he was struck in the face by a shot from Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, breaking his jaw and sidelining him for several games. Now 35, he is enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career, scoring 20 goals for the eighth time and becoming the 299th player to appear in 1,000 NHL regular season games on March 4.
BLUE JACKETS: Nick Foligno
Foligno’s daughter, Milana, was born with a congenital heart defect that required emergency surgery early in the 2013-14 season. He juggled her incredible health scares and his responsibilities to his team last season and played a significant role in the Blue Jackets making the playoffs for only the second time in their history. He scored a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 4 against Pittsburgh that stands, for many Columbus fans, as the greatest moment in the franchise’s history. This season, with the health of his daughter stabilized, Foligno has had a breakout season, reaching career highs in goals (26), assists (39), points (65).
STARS: Patrick Eaves
Eaves has battled back from several injuries and continues to be an integral part of the lineup for Dallas. Playing in 41 games, he’s tallied 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) and is +8 while logging 13:21 per game in ice time. Hes missed three games in November with a lower body injury, 21 in December and January with a broken foot, and seven in February with a concussion.
RED WINGS: Pavel Datsyuk
At age 36, Datsyuk remains hockey’s best two-way forward and one of the most thrilling players to watch because of the way he can steal the puck off an opponent’s stick and dangle like no one else. He is the Wings’ only point-per-game player (58 after 57 games, with a team-best +11).
OILERS: Matt Hendricks
Hendricks epitomizes consistency and hard work for Edmonton, continuing to block shots, drop his gloves and lead the way despite the fact that the Oilers’ playoff hopes have been nil since December.
PANTHERS: Tomas Kopecky
Last year he was struggling to score and going through one of the toughest seasons of his 10 years in the NHL with the Panthers. He hoped a trip to the Sochi Winter Olympics to play with his Slovakian national team would help his game when he came back to South Florida. It didn’t. Kopecky was taken out by an elbow to the head from Slovenia’s SabahudinKovacevic; the hit was so brutal that Kovacevic was suspended. Kopecky returned to the Panthers this year and has been a key part of their improved fourth-line play. His penalty killing is something that coach Gerard Gallant has come to rely on.
KINGS: Robyn Regehr
Regehr is an old-school, stay-at-home defenseman who has been the glue of the Kings’ defense corps. The oldest player on the team at 35, he has been poised under pressure and remains a physical force, averaging more than three hits per game and more than 20 minutes of ice time per game.
CANADIENS: Andrei Markov
It was all a bit surprising when the Canadiens, just a few weeks removed from a late playoff push, decided to keep veteran defenseman. Montreal wanted to go young at the blue line, but more importantly, why would they choose to keep a 36-year-old whose skills appeared to be rapidly declining? Yet the Habs decided that Markov was well worth three more years, and the Russian D-man answered with his best season in years. As of March 27th, he had played in all of Montreal’s games this season, logging more than 25 minutes of ice time on most nights, and was on his way to the best plus/minus ratio of his 14-year career.
DEVILS: Jordin Tootoo
Tootoo was a Masterton nominee while playing for the Predators in 2012, an acknowledgment of his battle to overcome alcoholism. Since then, he has faced and overcome challenges that make him an even more deserving nominee. A minor leaguer for most of last season, his career reached a potential end at the conclusion of 2013-14. He was invited to training camp by the Devils on a tryout contract and was so impressive that he won a contract. The author of a best-selling book about his life and battle with drinking. Tootoo has remained sober and an inspiration to others with his dedication and perseverance.
ISLANDERS: Lubomir Visnovsky
The 38-year-old defenseman appeared in only 24 games in 2013-14 due to concussion symptoms and has played through a recurring back issue this season, his 15th in the NHL. Yet he has still had a positive impact on the Islanders during their drive for a playoff berth.
RANGERS: Marc Staal
An alternate captain, Staal is selfless on and off the ice, and dedicated to his career, team and teammates. After missing the first half of the 2011-12 season with post-concussion symptoms and the second half of the 2012-13 season after taking a puck in the eye, he has been a staple for coach Alain Vigneault and the Rangers as a shutdown, match-up defenseman.
FLYERS: Nick Schultz
SHARKS: Scott Hannan
A lot of people would have bet against Hannan staying in the NHL for 1,000 games after the league took a lot of clutching and grabbing out of the game in favor of speed before it resumed play after the 2004-05 lockout. But the defenseman made the adjustment, persevered and passed that milestone in this, his 16th season.
BLUES: Brian Elliott
This past offseason, the club finally handed the goaltending reins to Elliott, signing him to a three-year, $7.5 million contract extension and named him their No. 1, a role that took him six full season in the NHL to achieve. Given the opportunity, he responded with his second All-Star selection. As of this writing he is 24-13-3 with a 2.18 GAA, .920 save-percentage, and five shutouts. He's also surpassed Jaroslav Halak as the franchise’s career shutouts leader, with 21.
LIGHTNING: Tyler Johnson
The 5' 8" center from Spokane, Washington, is a regular on both the power play and the penalty kill and has often been given the task of taking on the opposing team’s top offensive lines. After posing a +23 rating while setting a franchise rookie record of 24 goals last season, Johnson has surged during his sophomore campaign, surpassing his first-year offensive totals while ranking among the league leaders in plus/minus throughout the season. He is the only undrafted player among the NHL's top 15 points leaders heading into the final week of the regular season.
MAPLE LEAFS: Stephane Robidas
There were doubts that a 37-year-old defenseman who had suffered two broken legs could make the Maple Leafs, yet alone have an impact. But Robidas helped stabilize Toronto’s blueline under very trying circumstances. On many occasions, coaches and teammates cited his influence in the improvements made by the younger Leafs defensemen, notably Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly.
CANUCKS: Henrik Sedin
The backbone of the Canucks, a consummate leader and a true professional who is as accountable and approachable an athlete as you'll ever see in any sport, the Canucks captain remains an elite center. He’s ranked in the top 10 of Western Conference scoring leaders for most of the season.
CAPITALS: Eric Fehr
Two seasons ago, Fehr was literally a broken player. Three shoulder surgeries had taken their toll on the center who was the 18th overall pick of the 2003 NHL draft and, without a pro contract, he was left with little choice other than to rehabilitate his career in Finland. Signed by the Caps as a free agent before the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Fehr, 29, is on the verge of matching his career high in goals (21) while taking on the new role of checking-line center and best-selling author.
JETS: Ondrej Pavelec
Pavelec, 27, has endured the ups and downs of the Jets/Thrashers franchise since 2009, but has emerged as an important factor for Winnipeg during the most urgent part of the season as the team tries to secure its first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs since relocating in 2011.