Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was named one of three finalists for the NHL’s 2015 Bill Masterton Trophy, which will be awarded at the league’s annual Award Show in Las Vegas on June 24.
“First I want to thank my family,” Letang told the Penguins’ official website. “And I want to thank the team, from the ownership to the coaches, especially the medical staff. They gave me all the assets to make a full recovery from my stroke. I couldn’t have asked for better care.
“They took care of me like I was their own son.”
Letang was selected as the Penguins’ Masterton nominee, given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” by the local media in back-to-back seasons (2014, ’15) for his incredible return from a stroke, suffered in January 2014.
Letang, 28, set career highs in goals (11-tied), assists (43) and points (54) in 2014-15. His .78 points-per-game ranked fourth among all league defensemen and was only behind Erik Karlsson’s .80.
Letang not only made a full, healthy recovery following the stroke. He enjoyed his best personal season and a Norris Trophy (best NHL defensemen) caliber year in 2014-15.
“I felt good about this year, especially after last year with everything that happened,” Letang said. “All the work I put in this summer and the work the doctors did for me, it turned out that way. I was not expecting to have a year like that, but it all came together.”
Letang suffered the stroke in late January, 2014 as the team left for their West Coast road trip. Letang, whose first question after being diagnosed with a stroke was when he could play hockey again, missed over two months and 26 games of action, returning April 9 against Detroit.
After the playoffs, Letang spent the entire summer finding the right training program to help him return as one of the NHL’s best at his position. He worked closely with doctors to change his routine, getting more rest and being efficient with his workouts. All of that hard work in the summer was performed with one goal in mind: being the best.
“Last year I was just trying to come back and play hockey. This year I wanted to come back to the level I was playing before and be a guy that will make an impact on my team,” Letang said. “That’s why I worked really hard this summer with the doctors, with trainers, just to get back to what I’m capable of doing.”
Letang, who missed the final seven regular-season games and all of the 2015 postseason with a concussion, deals with the effects of the stroke every day of his life, whether lack of stamina or having dizzy spells.
“There are a lot of little details that people can’t really see,” Letang said. “You know your body so well and you’re used to something and then it changes. You see differently. You get dizzy. It’s just getting used to the new me, with the help of doctors.”
Letang suffered the stroke at the age of 26. It was a shocking occurrence not only for someone so young, but someone who is the best-conditioned athlete in his sport. He has used his condition to help raise heart awareness. Letang co-chaired the 2014 Pittsburgh Heart Walk this past November, which helped raise over $6,500.
Two other Pens in the team’s history have won the Masterton Trophy: Mario Lemieux, 1993; Lowell McDonald, 1973.