The vast majority of accolades that will be handed out at the 2011 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 22 will go to players judged to be the "best" in their particular category -- the star scorer, the top goaltender, the most-celebrated rookie.
One award, however, isn't about lighting up the stat sheet or piling up the wins and shutouts. The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which honors the late Minnesota North Stars player who died in 1968, is handed out annually to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
It's a special award that takes an athlete with a certain set of characteristics to earn, and it's hard to find a more worthy list of nominees than the three announced by the League on Tuesday: Anaheim Ducks goalie Ray Emery, Calgary Flames forward Daymond Langkow and Philadelphia Flyers forward Ian Laperriere.
After getting off to a strong start with the Flyers during the 2009-10 season, Emery's career was temporarily derailed by a torn muscle in his abdomen, followed by the discovery he had avascular necrosis, a serious hip problem that led to the end of two-sport star Bo Jackson's career in the 1990s. Emery had successful hip surgery last April and eventually signed as a free agent with the Ducks. Called up late in the season due to vertigo issues suffered by normal starter Jonas Hiller, he went 7-2-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage to help Anaheim clinch the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Emery also started the final five games of the Ducks' first-round series against the Predators.
Langkow also spent much of the 2010-11 season working his way back from a serious injury that at one point was thought to possibly be career-ending. He was struck by a slap shot from then-teammate Ian White during a game between the Flames and Wild on March 21, 2010, and suffered a fractured vertebra that ended his season and threatened his future in hockey. Langkow was eventually cleared for full-contact practice just over a year after suffering the injury, and he returned to the Calgary lineup on April 1, 2011 and played in the team's final four games. In his season debut against the Blues, Langkow recorded an assist and a plus-2 rating.
Laperriere suffered numerous facial injuries and a contusion to his brain in blocking a shot by then-Devils defenseman Paul Martin during a first-round playoff game last April, yet returned to the lineup a month later to be part of the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Final. Laperriere still has nerve damage to his eye suffered as a result of the shot block and hasn't played for Philadelphia this season, but he remains a constant presence around the team's training facility, running drills for injured and extra players. Laperriere has also helped the Flyers in the areas of television, community relations, scouting and player development.
Last season, Washington goalie Jose Theodore, who played in 2010-11 for the Minnesota Wild, was the Masterton recipient. The goalie's son, Chace, died during the previous summer because of complications stemming from his premature birth. Despite dealing with grief, Theodore had one of the best seasons of his career, going 20-0-3 in his final 23 appearances. He also set up a charity, "Saves for Kids," which benefits the NICU unit of the hospital where Chace spent his entire brief life.