If there's one thing hockey players are known for, it's perseverance and dedication to their sport. Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith embodied that grit and toughness during last season's run to the Stanley Cup when he infamously took a puck to the mouth, knocking out numerous teeth, but returned to play later in the game.
One of the NHL's more special postseason awards, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, doesn't go to the player who scored the most goals, recorded the most points or was judged to be the most indispensable to his team. Instead, it honors the player who has overcome adversity -- on and/or off the ice -- and in doing so displays that perseverance and dedication to the game.
Last season, Washington goalie Jose Theodore, now with Minnesota, won the award after enjoying one of the best statistical seasons of his career while also setting up a charity, "Saves for Kids," which benefits the NICU unit of the hospital where his late son Chace spent his entire brief life. At the midway point of the 2010-11 campaign, here's our view of how the Masterton race shapes up:
Brent Burns, Minnesota Wild -- Three seasons ago, the Minnesota defenseman was on his way to becoming a breakout star in the League, as he put together career highs of 15 goals and 43 points while playing in all 82 games. Then a concussion and a shoulder injury requiring surgery cost Burns large chunks of the ensuing two seasons and looked like they might derail his career.
Instead, Burns has come back strong this season. Playing in 38 of the Wild's first 40 games, he's tied for the team lead in goal scoring with 12 -- including 6 power-play goals -- and his 26 points rank third on the club. Overall, his goal total is second among NHL defensemen trailing only Dustin Byfuglien. He's also 13th among blueliners in ice time, averaging 24:36 per game.
David Booth, Florida Panthers -- One of the scariest images from the 2009-10 season was Booth absorbing a crushing open-ice hit from Philadelphia captain Mike Richards and being carried off the ice on a stretcher with a concussion that would cost him several months. Booth is healthy again this season and rounding back into form for Florida, posting 10 goals and 20 points during his first 38 games.
Marco Sturm, Los Angeles Kings -- The veteran forward changed addresses while he was rehabbing from a knee injury suffered during last season's playoffs while with Boston. With Sturm on the verge of returning to the lineup, the Bruins swung a deal with the Kings and Sturm found himself back in the Western Conference, where he began his career with San Jose. Strum adds speed and creativity to a line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and has 2 goals and 4 points in his first nine games with his new team.