Every year members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association chapters in the 30 NHL cities nominate a player from the NHL team in that city to be the recipient of the Masterton Trophy, awarded to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
This season, we've nominated Quintin Laing for that honor.
"It wasn't easy," says Laing. "Eight years. First two years in the East Coast [League] and then six in the AHL. You've just got to love the game and love what you do and I do. I just kept playing hard and hoping for a chance. I got it this year, thanks to [Caps coach] Bruce [Boudreau]. The last 40 games have been just a dream every day. Every day has been just like a living dream.”
Even in junior hockey, Laing was not a prolific scorer. He began his junior career with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets in 1996-97 and his only season with 20 or more goals was his final year at Kelowna (1999-00) when he scored 22. Laing was originally drafted by Detroit (102nd overall) in 1997, but did not sign with the Wings.
The son of former World Hockey Association player Bill Laing, Quintin Laing began his own pro career with the Jackson (Miss.) Bandits of the ECHL in 2000-01. He split his first two seasons between Jackson and Norfolk of the AHL. In 2002-03, he spent the entire season with Norfolk, netting five goals and 17 points in 69 games.
Norfolk was the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate in those days, and he must have opened some eyes with his intangibles and his defensive prowess -- as he has done in Washington this season -- because the Hawks signed him to a contract on June 4, 2003. Laing totaled a dozen goals and 22 points in 78 games with Norfolk the following season, but it was enough to make Laing's NHL dreams come true. He got into three games with the parent Blackhawks that season, recording an assist.
Laing went back to Norfolk in 2004-05, the lockout season. He was there again the following season when the Hershey Bears ousted the Admirals in four straight in the first round of the playoffs. The Bears would go on to win the Calder Cup. That was Laing's sixth and final season with the Ads; he signed with Hershey for the 2006-07 season. Last season, Laing scored 15 goals and totaled 45 points for a Hershey team that advanced to the Calder Cup finals for a second straight season before falling to Carey Price and the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Laing was 28 when the current 2007-08 campaign got underway, and there was nothing in his profile, his background or his résumé that hinted at what this season would hold for him. After playing 20 games (two goals, eight points) with Hershey, the Caps summoned Laing to Washington when injuries sidelined forwards Boyd Gordon and Chris Clark. The recall was a mild surprise to most; but Laing's staying power at this level is what has earned him the Masterton nomination.
"It's perseverance," says Caps center Brooks Laich
. "He gets a shot finally, you wait a long time and I'm sure you wonder if it's ever going to come and you wonder 'Are they so much better than me?' Then he has gotten here and proven that he belongs here, and it's through hard work and perseverance. It's nice to see a guy like Quintin have success.
"He knows his role and he executes it. The things he does do are things that we needed. He came in and he paid the price every game. He's got ice bags on his legs and arms because he has blocked shots. It doesn't matter who it is, he'll throw his body in front of it and our team really appreciates that."
No one expected Laing to remain with the team continuously from the time he was recalled in late November, but he's still here and he's still doing what it takes to stay here whenever he is in the lineup. Laing has only one goal in his 37 games with the Caps this season, but it was a game-winner against New Jersey. His value to the team is not in his goal-scoring; it's in his intangibles.
He kills penalties, blocks shots, forechecks, hits people, checks, goes to the net. Laing has 49 blocked shots in 37 games, and is one of only two NHL forwards with more than 20 games played who has more blocked shots than games played. Laing has now cracked the top 20 (he's tied for 18th) among NHL forwards in blocked shots. He is smart enough to realize that these are the qualities that got him to the NHL, and the ones that will keep him here for however long he stays.
Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig has been a Masterton nominee himself in past year.
"You look at where Q came from, and to be honest with you, I didn't know about Quintin," admits Kolzig. "He was down in Hershey and I had to re-introduce myself when he got called up. He has rubbed off on a lot of guys with his tenacity and his courage when he blocks shots. You look at a guy like Viktor Kozlov against New Jersey all of a sudden throwing the body down there [to block a shot], so he's got an effect on guys.
"It's guys like him that really are the glue that keep a team together. He does all that dirty work. And to see where he has come from and persevered, he is just happy being here. I'm glad for him."
The Masterton Trophy is named in honor of Bill Masterton, a Minnesota North Stars forward who died on Jan. 15, 1968 after sustaining head injuries in a game against the Oakland Seals.