-- The look was one of surprise on Chicago Blackhawks
goalie Ray Emery
's face Thursday when informed by reporters that he was the team's candidate for the 2012 Bill Masterton
The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
The 29-year old Emery also was the Anaheim Ducks
' Masterton candidate a year ago after returning to the NHL and leading them into the playoffs following a long and arduous comeback from a career-threatening hip injury condition called avascular necrosis. Blood flow was cut off to the head of his femur, leading to degeneration of the joint. It's the same injury that ended the career of two-sport star Bo Jackson.
Goalie - CHI
GAA: 2.77 | SVP: 0.902
"That's an honor," Emery said of being Chicago's Masterton nominee. "It seems like a while ago that I had that operation done [surgery in April 2010], but that's definitely something I look back on as a tough time [and] also a growing experience. [It] made me realize how much I really appreciate being able to play the game. Any time you get recognized for something like that, it's humbling."
Emery became a free agent last summer and signed a tryout offer with the Blackhawks, which meant he had to make the team in training camp in order to stick in Chicago. He not only did that, but has turned out to be a key player at different times with the up-and-down season of second-year starter Corey Crawford
In 33 games, Emery is 15-9-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
"Last year was kind of an all-or-nothing type situation," Emery said of his time with the Ducks. "I didn't know if, when I came back, I was well enough to play or what level I could play at. That happened and I felt good about it. I felt there was room for improvement, but at the same time I felt it was going to be a challenge to play for a full year and for that hip to stay healthy for a full year and to contribute to a team. This year, it's been all I could ask for as far as that goes, and it's not over yet. I'm excited about the playoff opportunities."
The fact he's able to play at all still is quite a story. Even Emery said the thought of early retirement crossed his mind a time or two during the arduous rehab.
Holmstrom a surprise Masterton nominee
Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent
isn't a typical Masterton Trophy nominee, but the Wings are honoring his years of hard-nosed play by putting his name in the hat. READ MORE ›
"There was a time where it seemed like it was a long shot or it was kind of a possibility that it might not happen," Emery said. "I always thought I'd give it my best and thought I could do it, but I wasn't 100-percent sure that even if I did all the right things I could get back."
After proving he could, Emery now has earned back-to-back Masterton nominations -- which are chosen by each chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
"I really appreciate that," Emery said. "It was a difficult thing and I think there were a lot of things that people don't see, as well. When people recognize you for it, it's nice. It's humbling."
Coming to the Hawks on that tryout offer was humbling, too.
"It was different," Emery said. "I haven't had a tryout in 10 years or something, but I knew I'd get a chance to play somewhere. Even last year, I came back with Anaheim and started off in the minors and kind of got lucky a bit and worked my way up. You can do that if you're willing to be patient and work for it."
Emery will be a free agent again this coming summer, but said he would like to stay put in the Windy City -- if that's an option.
"I've enjoyed my time here," he said. "I realize they have a great group of guys [who are] going to be here for a time to come, so yeah ... works for me."