The Bill Masterton award is given out annually to the player who most exemplifies the qualities of perserverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The three nominees for 2011 all have ties to the Flyers organization. Ian Laperriere, Ray Emery, and Daymond Langkow round out the list. The Professional Hockey Writers' Association (PHWA) vote on the award that is to be given out tonight in Las Vegas.
Laperriere, as many of you know, was struck in the face with a puck during the Flyers magical playoff run in 2010. Although a Flyer for just one season, before his injury, Laperriere had endeared himself to almost every fan of the orange and black. The way he played the game was the way it should be played. With heart, determination, and intestinal fortitude that was second to none. The reprocussions from that blocked shot ultimately ended Laperriere's career. It wasn't the 70 stitches required to close the subsequent laceration, but it was the brain contusion that finally shelved the gritty forward. Ian's fire for the game couldn't be quenched. He remained an integral part of the organization doing what he could to help the team. Including skating with Chris Pronger when the defenseman was trying to return to the lineup from injury. For his perserverance and love for the game, Ian is one of three nominees for the Masterton trophy.
The second nominee is Ray "Rayzor" Emery. Emery was also a member of the Flyers for one season. Ray had a degenerative condition, avascular necrosis, in his hip similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson's career far too early. At 28, Emery was written off and his career was all but over. At least everyone but Emery thought so. After undergoing a complicated bone-graft surgery to repair the deteriorated ball joint in his right hip, the 28-year-old fought his way back to the NHL. He quickly regained his old form. Once called up with the big club in Anaheim, Emery posted a 7-2 record with a 2.28 Goals against average and a .926 save percentage. Very respectable numbers for someone who's career is thought to be "over". For his determination and "never give up" attitude, Emery is the second Masterton nominee.
The final nominee is Daymond Langkow. A member of the Flyers from 1998-2001 Langkow amassed 41G and 86A for 127 points in 209 career games. On March 21, 2010 as a member of the Calgary Flames, Langkow suffered a severe neck injury. He was hit on the spine by a puck and suffered a fractured vertabrae as a result. Despite several setbacks in his recovery, Daymond returned to the ice almost a year after the initial injury. April 1st he played his 1014th career NHL game, completing a comeback that many thought was impossible. For his determination to return Langkow is the third Masterton nominee.
All three nominees have overcome great adversity to be where they are today. They epitomize the characteristics that embody the spirit of this award. Although each man deserves this award in one way or another, only one can win. Who will walk away with the award Wednesday night?
The smart money is on Emery. After fighting back from an injury that is career ending for most is something that cannot be overlooked. Dedication to the game is an understatement for Ray. Despite being told several times that his career was over, he pushed on and found his way back to the ice. Look for the "Rayzor" to cut his mark and join the likes of Jose Theodore and Adam Graves as Masterson Award winners. And to be perfectly honest, I couldn't be happier for the guy, win or lose.