The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey." Players who have won this award in the past have overcome serious injury, addiction, disease or loss to continue their respective careers. Last season's winner, Ian Laperriere of the Philadelphia Flyers, won the award after breaking his eye orbital and suffering a severe concussion blocking a shot in the 2010 playoffs. He valiantly attempted a comeback in the offseason, but instead turned his focus to helping out the organization from mentoring players to doing public relations.
This year's nominee from Philadelphia is 40-year-old winger Jaromir Jagr, and while he may be deserving of it now, if you told any hockey fan in the 90s that he would be nominated for this award, they would have laughed in your face. Still, there is merit to nominating Jagr who silenced doubters by having a strong bounce-back season with the Flyers. He has 18 goals and 49 points through 66 games and his reputation as a mentor and an unbelievably hard worker warranted the future Hall of Famer's Masterton nomination this year.
Former winners of this award, which include players like Phil Kessel and Jason Blake—who both overcame cancer—and Jose Theodore, who played despite the death of his son, do make Jagr's nomination appear ridiculous. However, Jagr's work ethic and his love for the game have allowed the European sniper to not only return to the NHL, but excel in the league yet again. Many point to linemate Claude Giroux for Jagr's resurgence, but there isn't any doubt that Giroux has improved his game through the advising of Jagr. Both players have even admitted to being able to read each other's movements on the ice.
Along with being a mentor to Giroux, Jagr acts as a role model and adviser to young players both on and off the ice. He runs private training sessions with players like Matt Read and Sean Couturier, but perhaps the biggest impact Jagr has made is with winger Jakub Voracek. Both players share the same hometown (Kladno, Czech Republic) and Voracek has revered Jagr since he was a child. When Voracek found out that he would be playing with his childhood idol, the big forward was all the more pleased that he was a new member of the Flyers.
"It’s sort of a dream come true to play on the same team as him," said Voracek. "He’s always there if I need him and, of course, he’s still one of our best players." Even veteran players have taken notice of Jagr's hunger to compete and love for the game that has never diminished, wherever he has played. "He’s been amazing," according to Scott Hartnell. "He’s just relentless in the way he keeps himself in shape and prepares for every game. All he cares about is helping the team win, and with the way he works every day, well, it makes the rest of us want to work harder, too."
A look at Jagr's trophy case reveals that there isn't much room left for more awards. The former MVP and Art Ross Trophy winner for leading scorer may have to add a Masterton trophy to his prestigious collection. Jagr hadn't known about the trophy until he was nominated for it, but nevertheless he saw it as an honor. "A lot of great players and people have won it, so I’m grateful to be considered," said Jagr.
Regardless of the criticism from many sources in the hockey world, Jagr's devotion to his team and to the game of hockey make him an exemplary Masterton nominee. He has served as a mentor, a friend and a leader for a team that took a chance on an "aging" superstar who proved to them that he is ageless.
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