Richard Zednik said he was “surprised” when informed recently he was the Panthers’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
He is likely the only one.
The Panthers speedy right winger, who nearly lost his life last season when his throat was lacerated by a skate, was nominated by South Florida’s chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association as their nominee for the Masterton, presented annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
“I can’t believe it,” Zednik said. “It’s a great honor…it’s a nice surprise.”
Zednik, a 13-year NHL veteran, was severely injured Feb. 10 of 2008 when he was cut on the neck by the skate of former Panther Olli Jokinen while playing at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.
Rushed to Buffalo General Hospital, Zednik underwent emergency surgery an hour after the incident to surgically repair a partially severed carotid artery that one doctor described as hanging “like a thread.”
Just days after the surgery, Sonya Noor, M.D., said Zednik “actually asked me when he could go back to training.”
Zednik was released from Buffalo General six days after the surgery and returned to South Florida, where he was given a rousing ovation during a Panthers game as he watched the game from a private suite.
After spending the off-season in Montreal and his native Slovakia, Zednik returned to South Florida in September and began practicing with the Panthers for his return.
Asked if there was ever a question about returning to the game of hockey, Zednik said; “I never had a question I would come back. Like I said, I was even more eager to come back and prove I could come back and play the same way as before.”
“There was no retirement talk, that’s for sure,” he added. “When you layoff for three months you just want to come back to train and workout. That’s what I did. I had fun and enjoyed it.”
|Zednik is tended to by a team trainer and helped by teammate Jassen Cullimore #22 after being cut during the third period against the Buffalo Sabres on February 10, 2008 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Despite the frightening incident and a slow start, Zednik is having one of his most productive seasons with 17 goals and 15 assists. The incident has had no affect on his style of play. In February, he scored highlight goals by jumping over defenders and soaring through the air.
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer has been impressed with Zednik’s perseverance and dedication.
“My first reaction to it would be that you’ve made a pretty good case for yourself, and you’ve made enough money, to probably never have to play the game again and put your feet up and enjoy your wife and kids and call it a career,” DeBoer said. “I give him all the credit in the world. He jumped back in the fire. It didn’t take him nearly as long as I expected it might. He went through a few weeks early in the season where I thought he was a little tentative. Then, from that point on, it was like it hasn’t had an effect on him. That’s amazing.
“To come through a near-death experience like that probably changes your prospective on things. For him, I think it’s reinforced how much he enjoys the game and being around the guys. You can see that in his play. He’s come to the rink as a freshened player.”
When asked on the anniversary of the incident earlier this year if he appreciates things a little more, Zednik replied, “You enjoy everything a little more.”
“You enjoy your times with your family, the guys in the locker room, and (that I’m) still playing hockey.”
The Masterton will be awarded at the 2009 NHL Awards from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18. The show will be broadcast live on VERSUS in the U.S., and on CBC in Canada.
The Masterton Memorial Trophy is named after Bill Masterton, the NHL’s first fatality. A 29-year-old center with the Minnesota North Stars, Masterton died of a massive brain injury in Jan. 15, 1968 when his head hit the ice during a game against the Oakland Seals.
Past winners of the Masterton have included Jean Ratelle (1971), Bobby Clarke (1972), Henri Richard (1974), Lanny McDonald (1983), Doug Jarvis (1987), former Panther Mark Fitzpatrick (1992), Mario Lemieux (1993), Cam Neely (1994), former Panther Gary Roberts (1996), Saku Koivu (2002), Steve Yzerman (2003) and Phil Kessel (2007).