The three finalists for the 2009-10 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy are Kurtis Foster of Tampa Bay, Jed Ortmeyer of San Jose, and Jose Theodore of Washington.
The Masterton Trophy is presented annually to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." The winner is selected by a poll among the 30 chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season. A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.
The trophy was presented by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars, who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, and who died Jan. 15, 1968 following an injury sustained in an NHL game.
The winner of the trophy will be announced at the 2010 NHL Awards, to be held in Las Vegas on June 23. The ceremony will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and CBC in Canada.
Here is a closer look at the finalists.
Kurtis Foster, Tampa Bay LightningOn March 19, 2008, Foster's career nearly was shattered as he fell into the end boards at HP Pavilion in San Jose. The defenseman was chasing down an icing call when he got pushed from behind by San Jose's Torrey Mitchell, a play that left Foster lying on the ice in agonizing pain. For 12 minutes, he was attended to by Minnesota Wild medical personnel as his left leg was put into a splint before he was placed on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. The next day, Foster underwent surgery in which a rod was inserted into his left femur to help stabilize a badly broken bone.
At the time, Foster's thoughts were about whether or not he ever would play hockey again. After understanding exactly what kind of surgery he underwent, he later would admit that he realized he was lucky to even walk again.
For months, however, Foster hung on to his desire to return to the NHL. He worked closely with Minnesota medical personnel and trainers undergoing extensive rehabilitation. Nearly a year after his accident, Foster returned to practice. On Feb. 8, 2009, he was back in the game, starting a rehabilitation stint with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League, where he had a goal and 6 points in six games. Then, on March 7, 2009, he returned to the NHL with the Wild, appearing in 10 games with Minnesota, totaling a goal and 6 points.
Foster signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent July 8, 2009, hoping to revitalize his career and be an offensive force from the blue line. In 2009-10, Foster set career highs with 34 assists and 42 points in 71 games, leading all Lightning defensemen in scoring. He also blocked 70 shots and, at times, took shifts as a forward, doing whatever it took to remain on the ice and contribute in any way he could.
Jed Ortmeyer, San Jose Sharks
"It's more important to get the info out there to help people know more about my situation Hopefully someone else in a similar situation will have the information to help them determine if they can play."
-- San Jose Sharks forward Jed Ortmeyer, who suffers from a hereditary blood-clotting disorder
"It's more important to get the info out there to help people know more about my situation," Ortmeyer said. "Hopefully someone else in a similar situation will have the information to help them determine if they can play."
The process is tricky and the timing must be precise. The blood thinner, Lovenox, needs to be in his system during the down time when he's not on the ice and it needs to be out of his system when he plays or practices so that a hard check or a high stick does not cause fatal bleeding.
Ortmeyer first experienced clotting problems in 2001 following knee surgery and has nearly walked away from hockey twice, most recently in 2008 when he played for the Nashville Predators.
"There have been a couple of times that I thought to myself and talked to my family about not playing again and about whether the risk outweighs the reward," he said. "After rehab, resting and being away from the game, I had the itch and wanted to get back to play."
This season, his first in San Jose, Ortmeyer has set career-highs in goals (8), assists (11) and points (19). An important cog in the team's fifth-ranked penalty killing unit (85.0 percent), Ortmeyer was fifth among all San Jose forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (1:30).
"Corny as it is and clichéd as it is, I enjoy playing hockey, and they always say you never know when your last shift is going to be," Ortmeyer said. "I wanted to go out on my terms and not be forced out by some medical issue."
Originally signed as a free agent by the New York Rangers in 2003, following an outstanding career at the University of Michigan, Ortmeyer has posted 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 306 regular-season games with the Rangers, Predators and Sharks.
Jose Theodore, Washington Capitals
G - WASHINGTON
SV%: .911 | GAA: 2.81 | SO: 1
Since then, Theodore not only regained his starting job, but also had his best season since winning the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2001-02, posting a 30-7-7 record with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage to help the Capitals win the Presidents' Trophy.
What's of greater importance is the way he has handled himself in the locker room, with fans and the media, and with "Saves for Kids," the new charity Theodore and his wife Stephanie founded to benefit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the hospital in which Chace spent his entire brief life.
With Saves for Kids, Theodore wanted to create a foundation to honor his son's life and give back to the hospital where he and his wife had spent so many days in the summer.
At Children's National Medical Center, the 54-bed quaternary-level unit (now termed Level IIIC, the highest distinction available by the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines) is one of the region's major neonatal referral centers for sick newborn and/or infants (ages birth to three months). Children's NICU services more than 40 in-region and out-of-region hospitals.
At the end of the season Theodore will make a donation to the NICU at Children's National based on his statistics, donating $2 for every save, $100 for every win and $500 for each shutout. F.H. Furr Plumbing Heating Air Conditioning Inc., a Lennox Premier Dealer, will match Theodore's donation dollar for dollar during the regular season. During the playoffs, Theodore will up the ante, donating $5 for every save, $200 for every win, $750 for every shutout and an additional $500 for every playoff round won.
"I think it was tough for him at the start, but I think coming to the rink was an escape for him to try and forget about things, but that's easier said than done," teammate Matt Bradley said. "I don't know if I could have done as good of a job as he's done. It shows what kind of a person he is to be able to stay focused and do his job."
Added teammate Brendan Morrison: "He's been very engaging, and he hasn't distanced himself at all. He's been the consummate teammate. Nobody would begrudge him if he were distant because everyone knows his situation, but he, somehow, has been able to keep his personal life from negatively affecting his job. I have a lot of admiration and respect for him."
Fans also have the opportunity to donate to Saves for Kids via PayPal on WashingtonCaps.com, either pledging based on Theodore's statistics or making a one-time donation.
Contact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org