Named in honor of the late Minnesota North Stars center, who died on Jan. 15, 1968 after sustaining a head injury on the ice two days earlier, the Bill Masterton Trophy has been awarded annually since the 1968-69 season to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the sport.
Every season, each of the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) has the opportunity to select one candidate for the Masterton Trophy from the NHL team whom the members currently cover. Jaromir Jagr
is the Flyers’ nominee for 2011-12.
The 40-year-old Jagr currently stands eighth (and first among European players) on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. He returned to the league this season after a three-year absence to play in the KHL. He ranks third on the Flyers in scoring this season, and now stands in sole possession of 11th place on the all-time goal-scoring list.
However, the key to Jagr’s nomination lies not in his return to the NHL at an advanced age, but rather in his unparalleled work ethic that enables him to continuing playing the game effectively at its highest level. Jagr sets a positive example for youngsters on the team by taking them under his wing both on and off the ice.
While he has helped mentor many of young players on the team this season, Jagr’s influence has been the most profound on Jakub Voracek
, who hails from the same hometown (Kladno, Czech Republic) and who grew up idolizing the superstar forward.
“It’s sort of a dream come true to play on the same team as him,” said Voracek. “He’s always there if I need him and, of course, he’s still one of our best players.”
The player, who has collected a trophy case full of major individual awards and also has a pair of Stanley Cup rings, an Olympic gold medal and a pair of IIHF World Championship gold medals, takes nothing for granted. His late-night skating sessions on the vacant SkateZone ice and round-the-clock focus on physical conditioning, have quickly become legendary around the team. The passage of time has done nothing to diminish Jagr’s hunger to compete. If anything, his devotion to the sport and attention to detail has only grown stronger through the years.
Even the veteran players on the Flyers team sometimes pause to marvel at the example Jagr sets.
“He’s been amazing,” said linemate Scott Hartnell
. “He’s just relentless in the way he keeps himself in shape and prepares for every game. All he cares about is helping the team win, and with the way he works every day, well, it makes the rest of us want to work harder, too.”
Off the ice, Jagr has been a breath of fresh air for his teammates and the local media alike. He usually arrives at the rink with a smile on his face, and leaves the same way. His combination of playfulness and perceptiveness about the game help to keep things loose while also offering the benefit of insights gained over a career that now spans more than two decades.
Over the course of his career, Jagr has collected a host of individual honors. He is a six-time finalist and one-time winner of the Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player in the NHL, Three-time Ted Lindsay Award (formerly Lester Pearson Award) as MVP selected by fellow NHL players and five-time Art Ross Trophy winner as the league’s top scorer. This season marks his first Masterton nomination.
“I never heard of that [Masterton] trophy until I was told I was nominated for it,” Jagr said with a mischievous grin. “But it’s an honor to be recognized like that. A lot of great players and people have won it, so I’m grateful to be considered.”
Jagr’s nomination as the Flyers’ candidate has drawn a critical response in some corners of the hockey world. But his teammates and head coach stand behind the selection.
“I think he’s the perfect example of dedication to the game,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “He still loves the game and it shows in everything he does for our team.”
Recently, Jagr battled through a hip injury that forced him to leave the game during the Flyers’ 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Although initially feared to be lost for a few games, Jagr suited up to voluntarily to play on the fourth line and power play with the rest of the team racked by injuries. He wound up scoring a power play goal in the next game. By the end of the next game, he had reclaimed his place on the top line with Hartnell and Claude Giroux
Even if Jagr never scored another goal in the NHL, his future spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto would be secure. But before he hangs up the skates for good – at a time of his own choosing – Jagr has made clear that he still has plenty to give back to the game. The Flyers have been the beneficiaries this year, and that devotion to his team as well as his craft make him a worthy Masterton nominee.
To date, there have been three Flyers’ players to win the Masterton Trophy. Last season, Ian Laperriere
joined Bobby Clarke (1971-72) and Tim Kerr (1988-89) among the ranks of passionate and committed hockey players recognized with the award.