In a season during which the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense has gone on a bumpy ride, it’s been nice to see Michal Rozsival come back from a gruesome ankle injury suffered in the 2015 playoffs and go on to be one of the less-problematic parts of the unit. As a result of this, he’s receiving a little extra recognition.
Rozsival was submitted as the Blackhawks’ finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association will vote on a winner from the 30-player field — one athlete from each NHL team — on June 22.
The Masterton Memorial Trophy has been given out most every year (the 2004-05 lockout season excluded) since the 1967-68 campaign. It was created in honor of Bill Masterton, a Minnesota North Stars player who died as the result of head injuries suffered in a January 13, 1968, game. Masterton is the only player to date who has died directly as a result of in-game, on-ice injuries.
The award is given to a player who most exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication in the rink. Many winners have also gone through some extreme ordeal on or off the ice, such as a major injury or illness. The initial winner was the Montreal Canadiens’ Claude Provost in 1968, because he “embodied the definition of perseverance and dedication to hockey” during his career.
Some of the things previous winners have overcome or dealt with are diabetes (Bobby Clarke in 1972), some form of meningitis (Tim Kerr in 1989 and Jamie McLennan in 1998), Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (Mark Fitzpatrick in 1992), some form of lymphoma (Mario Lemieux in 1993, John Cullen in 1999 and Saku Koivu in 2002), alcoholism (Ken Daneyko in 2000), becoming legally blind in one eye as a result of injury (Bryan Berard in 2004), testicular cancer (Phil Kessel in 2007), leukemia (Jason Blake in 2008) and multiple sclerosis (Josh Harding in 2013).
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Other winners have suffered major knee, back, shoulder and head injuries, which is where Rozsival would fall. Still others were honored with the award for their great perseverance in posting strong seasons after some down times prior. It really depends on the field each given year so far as what sort of “perseverance” gains the award. The 2015 winner, for example, was Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who bounced back from a rough several NHL seasons in a big way, pretty much carrying the Wild to a postseason spot (and one series win) after a January trade to Minnesota.
Chicago has had just two winners in the award’s history. Pit Martin received the honor’s third version in 1970 for a strange reason. After a rough 1968-69 campaign, Martin said only three of his Blackhawks teammates “wear their uniforms with any desire to win” and said the team’s management “wasn’t interested in winning.” The following season, Martin posted 30 goals and 33 assists as the Blackhawks won their division. So that’s one way to do it.
The other Chicago winner is the aforementioned Berard, who was injured while a member of the Maple Leafs in 2000. Ironically, that injury came (accidentally) at the hands of current Blackhawk Marian Hossa. Hossa’s stick came up on a play and clipped Berard in the right eye, resulting in a retinal tear and detached retina. He was at one point told he might lose the eye altogether, but he came back to play six more NHL seasons, including the 2003-04 campaign with the Blackhawks.
The 37-year-old Rozsival probably could have retired after his ankle injury in the Western Conference semifinal series against Minnesota. His ankle turned gruesomely while trying to make a basic pivot in order to skate backwards, and he went down in a heap. He was later photographed hoisting the Stanley Cup while one leg was propped up on a wheeling device. So Rozsival could have gone out a for-sure champion. Instead, he felt he had more to give to the sport of hockey and the Blackhawks, and he hasn’t really been wrong.
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Rozsival has posted 11 points in 45 games this season and has actually been one of the more steadying presences on a young and battered blue line. Outside Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Brent Seabrook on good days, Rozsival has been a pretty solid constant, or as solid as the slow-footed skater can be. He’s made far fewer mistakes than some of his counterparts, hasn’t tried to go outside his game and has found ways to chip in more on the offensive end of late.
I would say Rozsival is a solid top-three or runner-up contender for this honor, but I don’t think he’ll win it. Reason being, the New York Rangers have selected Mats Zuccarello as their nominee. Zuccarello could have died as a result of taking a Ryan McDonagh slapshot to the head during the 2015 postseason. In all, he suffered a hairline skull fracture, brain bleeding and a stroke. Yet he was back playing again this regular season and is second on the Rangers with 57 points while playing in all 76 of the team’s games. Frankly, Zuccarello is probably a shoo-in for this award.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t applaud Rozsival for his determination to come back from what could’ve been a career-ending injury in order to actually contribute to the 2015-16 Blackhawks. Rozsival is given grief around Blackhawk Up and on social media, but he seems like a genuinely good guy, and when we step back from the game for a moment, we should appreciate his perseverance and strength.
Here’s a complete list of nominees for the 2016 Bill Masterton Award:
Anaheim: Andrew Cogliano
Arizona: Max Domi
Boston: Jonas Gustavsson
Buffalo: Ryan O’Reilly
Calgary: Mark Giordano
Carolina: Nathan Gerbe
Chicago: Michal Rozsival
Colorado: Carl Soderberg
Columbus: Fedor Tyutin
Dallas: Jamie Benn
Detroit: Pavel Datsyuk
Edmonton: Matt Hendricks
Florida: Jaromir Jagr
Los Angeles: Vincent Lecavalier
Minnesota: Nate Prosser
Montreal: Mike Condon
Nashville: Carter Hutton
New Jersey: Andy Greene
New York Islanders: Travis Hamonic
New York Rangers: Mats Zuccarello
Ottawa: Zach Smith
Philadelphia: Shayne Gostisbehere
Pittsburgh: Pascal Dupuis
St. Louis: Brian Elliott
San Jose: Joe Thornton
Tampa Bay: Anton Stralman
Toronto: James Reimer
Vancouver: Dan Hamhuis
Washington: Dmitry Orlov
Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien