A year and a day after celebrating the birth of his son Chace, Washington Capitals goalie Jose Theodore won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy at the NHL Awards Show for the way he dealt with his son's death.
Chace Theodore passed away 54 days after being born due to respiratory complications from his premature birth. Jose dealt with it off the ice by creating a charity, "Saves for Kids," to benefit the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, the hospital where his son died.
"Obviously, it was a tough year emotionally, but I'm really proud of the way I handled myself," he said. "Then winning this award just brings back some tough memories or good memories, it depends, but it's tough. With all the support I had, it was just fun to see people around me that cared for that."
Theodore pledged money for each save, win and shutout he made during the season. With matching donations and support from the Caps and their fans, Theodore presented a check worth $35,000 to Children's National Medical Center on May 7.
On the ice, Theodore not only regained the starting job, he had his best season since winning the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2002. He finished with a 30-7-7 record, a 2.81 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in helping lead Washington to the club's first Presidents' Trophy. His winning percentage (.761) was the highest of any goaltender in franchise history. He finished the season 20-0-3 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in games after Jan. 13, setting a team record for most decisions without a regulation loss.
He said playing hockey was a big help in coping with his son's death.
"It's not an award growing up that you look at it and you aim for because a lot of times it means you had a sickness or a tragedy," Theodore said. "So it's not something you look toward. But I always admired the people that won it, because I know they have to make comebacks and fight through a lot of adversity. For me, off the ice was really tough, but being on the ice for my teammates was just a way to forget about everything and forget a little bit about reality and going out there and playing hard. That was the time that I could really just enjoy myself for a bit."
Theodore also said the tragedy put hockey into perspective.
"It just makes you realize giving up a bad goal is not the end of the world," he said of his son's death and its aftermath. "It happened three weeks before training camp opened. I didn't know how I was going to react focus-wise and everything. And to be able to have one of my best seasons I had, I'm really proud of that and looking forward to having a more normal summer, and next year being able to keep building up."
The Masterton honors the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Kurtis Foster and San Jose Sharks forward Jed Ortmeyer were the other finalists. Foster posted career bests of 71 games, 34 assists and 42 points, after returning from a broken leg. Ortmeyer had 19 points in 76 games. He must inject a blood thinner into his stomach each day to combat a hereditary blood-clotting disorder.
The award was presented by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to honor the late Bill Masterton, a player for the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited those qualities. Masterton died on Jan. 15, 1968, as a result of an on-ice injury.