-- Before this season, the undrafted Dan Girardi
was known, if it all, as a meat-and-potatoes type of defenseman -- steady, reliable, not all that flashy and someone you might not notice during the course of a game.
That changed during training camp when Rangers No. 1 defenseman Marc Staal
was shut down with a concussion that wound up keeping him out for the first half of the season. The spotlight fell on Girardi to fill that void. Rangers coach John Tortorella bestowed the "A" Staal wore to Girardi, who had such a solid first half he was selected to his first All-Star Game.
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 26
SOG: 105 | +/-: 13
On Wednesday, Girardi was honored once again, this time as the Rangers' nominee for the Bill Masterton
Memorial Trophy, awarded by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"It means a lot," said Girardi, who narrowly edged Staal for the nomination. "I feel like I'm an ideal candidate for the Masterton Trophy. I'm pretty excited. I really didn't know too much about it. I looked up a little bit today. When I woke up from my nap, my agent texted me and said, 'You're nominated.' I was like, 'Oh, all right. I'll take it.' I knew what it was, but I took a little deeper look and it means a lot to be nominated.
"I'm dedicated, I've gone through a lot from where I've been to this point. I feel like it's a good description for how I want to act as a hockey player and as a person."
The 27-year-old Girardi grew up in Welland, Ont., and played his junior hockey with the London Knights of the OHL, where he won the 2005 league championship and Memorial Cup. After going undrafted in 2003, he signed a contract with the Rangers and joined the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack for the 2005-06 season.
Girardi was called up to the Rangers for good during the 2007-08 season and has missed just two games due to injury since then.
With Staal out until Jan. 2, Girardi has emerged as an elite defensive defenseman. He's fourth in the NHL in ice time at 26:28 per game and has five goals, 21 assists and is plus-13 while matching up almost exclusively against the opposition's elite scorers at all times. Girardi has also been consistently among the League leaders in blocked shots the past three seasons.
"It's well-deserved," Tortorella said. "An undrafted guy; an All-Star now. The way he plays, the way he goes about his business at practice. Everything about him falls in line with (the award). It's really good for him."
Tortorella has spoken at length since becoming Rangers coach at the end of the 2008-09 season about how Girardi deserves more recognition. Now that he has it, Girardi is not exactly feeling all that great about the extra attention that's come his way this season.
"I really like being under the radar because I can stay away from you guys and negative stories in the paper," Girardi joked to the assembled media. "I think with Marc starting the year not playing and getting the 'A' from Torts, a lot more responsibility was put on me this year and I really liked that challenge. I liked being able to take that role.
"And even when Marc came back and he got his 'A' back, which he deserves because he had it before I did, I feel like that didn't change anything in my mindset. I feel like I want to do the same thing, be a leader, and just play hard, play the way I do, and it's been a good ride so far."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo