As mentioned earlier, the finalists for this year’s Bill Masterton Trophy — given annually to the player best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey — are Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty.
Before the vote, a few things to consider:
— This award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
— The Maple Leafs are quite familiar with this trophy. Phil Kessel, Toronto’s leading scorer this season, won the Masterton in 2007 after missing 12 games because of testicular cancer mid-season. A year later, then-Leafs forward Jason Blake won the award after playing a full 82-game season following his diagnosis with chronic myelogenous leukemia.
— The last Canadien to win the award was Saku Koivu in 2001-02. Koivu overcame non-Hodgkin lymphoma to resume his captaincy duties for Montreal.
— No Senator has ever won the Masterton.
Onto the poll…
Alfredsson, Lupul and Pacioretty are your Masterton finalists
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
This year, a trio of players from Canada’s Eastern Conference teams have been named finalists — Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty.
The 39-year-old returned for a 16th season with the Senators — the only team he’s ever played for — after offseason back surgery and a bleak outlook for 2011-12. Ottawa was coming off a 13th-place finish with a new head coach and one of the NHL’s youngest lineups, but rallied to finish eighth in the East on the strength of Alfie’s play. He had 27G-32A-56PTS, a plus-16 rating and was named a captain at the 2012 All-Star Game.
Much like Alfredsson, he recovered from a back injury to put forth an All-Star performance.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who held the same role in Anaheim when Lupul initially injured his back in 2009, said he’s amazed Lupul accomplished what he did this season.
“He was hunched over, he couldn’t stand upright,” Carlyle told the Toronto Sun. “He had a hard time just moving. And he dropped about 20 pounds.”
Lupul said that number was closer to 40.
The 28-year-old finished the year with 25 goals and a career-best 67 points, despite playing just 66 games.
His comeback might be the most impressive of all. Pacioretty recovered from a fractured vertebrae and concussion in Mar. 2011 — after the infamous Zdeno Chara hit — to score 33 goals and 65 points, becoming the first American player in Canadiens history to score 30 times.
“Everybody knew from the get-go that this guy [Pacioretty] was special,” Habs center David Desharnais told the Montreal Gazette. “He has a good shot, he’s a good skater who has good ability. He’s just proved this season that he’s one of the best.
“To overcome a broken neck the way he has is unbelievable.”
Potter’s story is one of defying the odds. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL entry draft, Potter spent four years with Michigan State University before he played in a single minor league game. From there, he spent the next six seasons playing primarily for AHL squads. Over that span, he participated in just nine NHL games and going into the Oilers’ 2011-12 training camp, he was already 27 years old.
At that point, if you haven’t established yourself as a regular in the NHL, you’re probably not going to.
“It has definitely been a long road for me,” Potter said. “At some points you start to question yourself, if you can make it to that next level. You think that maybe you should head overseas or take a different route or start using your education. But I truly believed that I had something to give and that I could make it to that next level. I just never really gave up on it.”
Potter finally got that opportunity when he earned a roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers. Since then, he’s led all Oilers’ defensemen with 20 points in 53 games. He’s also in logging nearly 20 minutes per contest.
Next season Potter will have to prove himself all over again, but he’s prepared for that.
“You can’t get too comfortable,” he said. “You have to try and get better every summer, get bigger and stronger and faster. You can’t let up or lose your competitive edge at all. There’s a lot of people in the AHL waiting and fighting for spots.”