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Looking For A Feel Good Story

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Look, I’m a sucker for a feel-good story and the Masterton Trophy, named for the fallen hockey player Bill Masterton, is a great idea.

It can be a fine award. When Jason Blake announced he had leukemia and nonetheless played all 82 games for the Leafs last season, I would have given him the award for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey myself.

Same thing with Phil Kessel, Saku Koivu and Mario Lemieux, all of whom overcame a form of Cancer. You can throw in Bryan Berard, who continued to fashion a career although legally blind.

The problem with the Masterton, presented at the NHL awards night, is simple enough. Since it is voted by every chapter of the hockey writer’s association, every chapter has to have a nominee.

That’s 30 nominees and there just isn’t that much perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey out there. Guys are too busy trying to make a living.

And so the writers substitute real heart and soul stuff, Blake’s leukemia for example, for afflictions that are nowhere near up-to-standard.

This happened in Toronto where local reporters voted defenceman Ian White the local chapter representative for the Masterton. The reason? White sat out his first 11 games at the behest of coach Ron Wilson. When he came back into the lineup it was as a forward.

That’s it. That’s all the trauma. In other words, Ian White is up for a trophy because he had a lousy training camp and then did not quit the game altogether when sent to the press box.

Even that can’t outstretch the news that Claude Lemieux is up for the Masterton in San Jose. You remember Claude Lemieux? Chris Draper certainly does. Lemieux became famous in Montreal when Pat Burns, God love him, refused to send his trainer out to minister to Lemieux’s false injuries. He was left to writhe around until it was time to limp off. The man brought the turtle to the NHL and when The Hockey News dubbed him The Grate One, no one raised a voice in his defence.

These are not generally the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey that we have in mind but here is the thing, Lemieux returned to the NHL after retiring in 2003. So far, in 16 games, he has an assist. That’s it. One measly assist. And the affliction overcome by Claude Lemieux? Old age.

Then there is George Parros, the Anaheim Ducks enforcer donates his hair to charity which is wonderful but Parros pounds out miscreants on the side. While I am sure the well-educated Parros is genuinely beatific, funneling discarded hair or fingernails for that matter doesn’t really qualify as philanthropy.  If you can find the perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey in this, I would be glad to listen.

There have been profound stories this season. Buffalo’s Teppo Numminen came back from serious heart surgery. The Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron has dealt with recurring concussion problems and terrible trauma. Both these two are worthy winners. So too, had he not been reinjured, would have been the Leafs’ Mike Van Ryn.

But it’s time to let someone in New York or a panel of newspaper people make the selection. It’s the only way to keep the great stories from being drowned under the bad ones.
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