Kurtis Foster admitted he has a lot to be thankful for.
Two years after the Lightning defenseman underwent surgery on March 20, 2008 to repair a shattered femur, the result of an incident in which he was pushed into the end boards by San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell as each chased down an iced puck, Foster returned to the ice in 2009-10 to complete a career year in his first full season back in action.
Foster not only recorded a career-best 34 assists and 42 points to lead all Tampa Bay defensemen, but he also and played an essential role on the Lightning’s power play unit. As a testament to his admirable comeback the NHL announced on Monday that he has been named as a finalist for the Bill Masteron Memorial Trophy along with the Sharks’ Jed Ortmeyer and the Capitals’ Jose Theodore.
The Masterton Trophy is awarded to the player who best exemplifies “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” with the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominating a player from each team as well as voting on the winner.
“Any time you are nominated for an award like that is always an honor,” Foster said. “My wife, myself, and my family know what it took to get back, but to be recognized throughout the entire league in front of some of the other players who might not be aware of what it takes is pretty special. To win the award would be a great feeling, but no matter what happens, I can’t be thankful enough.”
This year’s nomination marks Foster’s second after the 28-year-old blue-liner appeared in 10 games for the Minnesota Wild at the end of the 2008-09 season. Although he was honored to be nominated last season, he feels this year’s is a more rewarding experience.
“It’s a little different,” Foster added. “The Lightning gave me an opportunity to come in and work my way back into the lineup and I felt like this season was really a good chance to show the league not only the player I was, but that I could be more. To be recognized for this and for the hard work I put in, it’s an honor, but to know that I’m on an uphill climb to be where I want to be. It is funny how it all kind of works together. It’s really nice.”
After the injury, Foster took nearly a year to rehabilitate his leg before returning to the ice, which he did for the first time in a conditioning assignment with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League on Feb. 8, 2009. He returned to the NHL the following month on March 7.
Coming off such a devastating injury and entering this past season with a lot of uncertainty, Foster exceeded expectations, playing in a career-high 71 games with the Lightning in 2009-10. If named the winner of the award, Foster would be just the second player in Lightning franchise history, joining John Cullen who won the trophy in 1998-99 after overcoming non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“This year was definitely a step in the right direction of where I want to be,” Foster said. “If I can win the award to top it off, it would be a great feeling.”