Pascal Dupuis had one wish when he learned about the return of a blood clot that threaten to end his career in November 2014.
Dupuis wanted to play in just one more game.
Danger was always part of the equation. Just being on the ice would be a major risk to Dupuis’ health. But his love of the game drove him to return. It drove him to early mornings of intense training. It drove him to endure a constant battery of medical tests. It drove him push his body beyond the limits of mortals.
Following nearly a year of intense rehab, training, medical testing and constant monitoring, Dupuis returned to the Pens’ lineup for 18 games in the 2015-16 campaign.
“My goal was to make it back to the ice,” Dupuis said. “I did. When you get back out there and touch the ice, and get that feeling again, you don’t want to leave it. That was the dangerous part for me, not wanting to leave it again.”
After two medical scares during the season, Dupuis realized that it was time for him to stop playing the game that he loved. In the most painful decision of his life, Dupuis stepped away. Not because he didn’t have the desire and drive, but because he physically couldn’t do it.
“As athletes, we live a life that leads us to think we’re invincible and let’s us believe that we’re bigger than injuries. But the truth is we’re not,” he said in a speech after being named the inaugural recipient of the Dapper Dan Courage Award. “I tried to block out the fear associated with my condition. I told my self, I’m a hockey player. Hockey players are tough. Sometimes though, you can’t ignore the real signs that your body is sending you.
“Walking away, choosing to put hockey aside, was far scarier than playing with my condition on the ice.”
Dupuis’ entire career embodies dedication, perseverance and sportsmanship to the game of hockey. And it’s because of his embodiment of those qualities that the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Hockey Writers’ Association chose Dupuis as the Pens’ representative for the Bill Masterton Trophy.
“Once we found out that Pascal was eligible it was an easy decision,” Chapter Head Rob Rossi said. “When you take perseverance, sportsmanship, dedication to hockey, you just check every box.
“What Pascal tried to do this year, especially after the last two years, and knowing what he went through with multiple blood clots and all the training, how agonizing the decision was, and knowing that he had the courage to step away, which is the hardest decision a player ever has to make, it was unanimous. Nobody else received a first-place vote.”
“Pascal exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to this sport as well as any player in our league that I have ever been around,” said Pens general manager Jim Rutherford, who has been around the NHL for over 20 years. “Everybody knows what Pascal means to this team on and off the ice when he is playing. But even now, when he is not playing, he is still helping our team win.”
Rutherford asked Dupuis to remain with the team and help out in a new capacity. He is around the team on a daily basis, attends games, gives feedback to the coaching staff and players, and continues to do anything he can to help the Pens.
“I care for these guys. I want them to do well,” Dupuis said. “I like to think that I can help some of them, the team a little bit, during the games or just talking player-to-player.”
Even without playing, Dupuis is exemplifying the qualities of the Masterton. After all, most people might not realize is how painful it is for Dupuis to be around, but not be a part of it.
“It doesn’t help coming here and being part of the daily routine,” he said, “showing up to the rink and seeing my teammates from three months ago putting on equipment and going on the ice. When I’m home I’m completely fine. But as soon as I come here, that becomes the hardest part.”
Dupuis’ continued commitment to the Pens is another reason the local hockey writers honored him with the Masterton nomination.
“Trying to comeback until you physically can’t anymore, and then sticking around, that’s a painful process for him,” Rossi said. “You can tell talking to Pascal that it’s a very hard thing for him to be around this team. He wants to play so badly. But his dedication to this team and his teammates, to help nurture the young guys and be there for the veterans, if that’s not dedication, if that’s not perseverance, if that’s not sportsmanship, then I don’t know what is.”
While he is being honored this season, Dupuis’ arduous journey really began more than two years ago. Dupuis suffered a torn MCL/ACL on Dec. 23 at Ottawa when Marc Methot knocked Sidney Crosby into his knee. Knee surgery ended Dupuis’ 2013-14 season.
In January 2014 during the recovery process from surgery, a blood clot formed in Dupuis’ knee. He was treated with blood thinners during his rehab and continued to work, hoping to return if the Pens made a long postseason run.
Dupuis returned to the lineup for opening night the following season in October. But the blood clot returned and traveled to his lung. So after 16 games played, Dupuis’ 2014-15 season came to an abrupt end in November.
Once again, Dupuis spent months in the gym rehabbing and training, and in hospitals meeting with doctors to monitor his condition. Following a long year, Dupuis once again made a dramatic return for opening night in October for the current season.
Dupuis played with the blood clot last season, knowing it would end his year. But this season he promised his family that if he didn’t feel right about anything that he would alert the medical staff. On Nov. 6, Dupuis “didn’t feel right,” and the medical staff, erring on the side of caution, held him out of that evening’s game in Edmonton.
Though the blood clot hadn’t returned, Dupuis had another scare at San Jose on Dec. 1. Again, it was not related to the blood clot. But at that time, Dupuis had to face the fact that his body could no longer handle the demands of a constant battery of tests.
“I was starting to be hesitant on the ice, going through games and not trying to ignore the signs,” Dupuis said. “That’s what you’re used to doing. You block a shot, you get hurt, yes it hurts, but you ignore it and play through everything.
“Since having these little incidents there I was trying to listen to my body. You can’t play hockey that way.”
So after 14-plus NHL seasons, 871 regular-season games, 190 goals, 219 assists, 409 points and one Stanley Cup championship, Dupuis stepped away from hockey.
And when you look at everything that he’s done over the past two-plus years, it’s hard to see anyone else in the NHL matching his dedication, sportsmanship and perseverance to the sport he's loved since childhood.
“We feel in Pittsburgh, on behalf of the Chapter, that there is no more deserving candidate in the NHL this year,” Rossi said. “If you look at the Masterton Memorial Trophy, to me, in 2016, Pascal Dupuis deserves to be that winner.”