• Lundqvist Named Rangers MVP Again
• Past Extra Effort Award Winners
On Feb. 4, 2010, Brandon Prust
stood in front of his locker at the Madison Square Garden Training Center and faced the local reporters for the very first time.
He had just arrived in a trade with Calgary, but he wasn't the biggest news of that first day in New York. Instead, the spotlight focused on veteran Olli Jokinen, who also came over in the deal with the Flames. Prust was essentially the "other guy" in the trade -- a player unknown to many local fans and reporters but well-scouted by the Rangers organization, which had pushed Calgary for his inclusion in the Jokinen deal.
Prust had very little experience with the city of New York and had never played in a game at Madison Square Garden, but he was clearly excited to be here. After those initial interviews, when the cameras were switched off, the reporters asked him if he had any sense of the reputation of Rangers fans. When he admitted to knowing very little about the fanbase, the reporters mentioned some players that fans had embraced in the past -- basically letting him know that as long as he displayed relentless effort on every shift, New York fans would love him.
|Rangers forward Brandon Prust skates over to join the McDonald family after learning he won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, presented by Lightspeed Trading, on Thursday night. He is the 15th player to win the award in its 23-year history. |
Those words must have resonated, because within 14 months, Prust would go on to win the highest honor Rangers fans bestow upon a Blueshirts player each season -- the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, presented by Lightspeed Trading.
On Thursday, Prust was named the winner in an online vote held on newyorkrangers.com as well as text-message voting during the final weeks of the 2010-11 season.
"It's definitely quite the honor and there's been a lot of great Rangers to win that award, so it's definitely an honor to be on that list of guys and to be listed on that trophy," said Prust.
Thousands of Blueshirts fans voted for the award, which since 1988 has gone to the player fans believe goes "above and beyond the call of duty" both on and off the ice. The award honors McDonald, a New York City police officer who was shot and injured in the line of duty in 1988.
On Thursday night prior to the Rangers' game against the Atlanta Thrashers at MSG, Prust was presented with the 23rd annual award by Officer McDonald, his wife, Patti, and son Conor, who recently joined the New York Police Department and appeared with his father in full uniform.
The traditional ceremony featured an appearance by two-time winner Ryan Callahan
. The Blueshirts alternate captain, who suffered a broken ankle on Monday night, appeared at the ceremony on crutches. Once again, the ceremony's highlight was McDonald's annual speech to the team -- which has become a source of inspiration in each push for the playoffs.
"What a great night this is," said McDonald. "We may be one of the last ones in (the playoffs), but we will not be the last one out. We have just four words for our opponent tonight and the rest of the NHL for the weeks to come: "We win, you lose".
The McDonald family and Callahan were joined by Stephen Ehrlich, the Chief Executive Officer of Lightspeed Trading, in presenting the award to Prust on the MSG ice. On behalf of his company, Ehrlich then presented the Steven McDonald Foundation with a check for $25,000 on behalf of his company.
Prust becomes the 15h player to win the award, which was captured by Callahan in each of the previous two seasons. Entering training camp last fall, it was going to take a remarkable effort to prevent Callahan from tying Rangers legend Adam Graves' record of three straight Extra Effort Awards, but Prust found a way.
"These Ranger fans are very passionate, they love their team and can be hard on us, so it's good to have them behind me," Prust said. "It's greatly appreciated."
With two games remaining in this season, the 27-year-old Prust has already set career highs in virtually every statistical category, including goals (12), assists (16), points (28), penalty minutes (160) and shots on goal (82).
He has also led the Rangers with five shorthanded goals -- a remarkable feat for a player who had never scored a shorthanded goal in 115 NHL games prior to this season. Prust has scored more shorthanded goals than any Rangers player since Theo Fleury had seven in 2001-02.
Prust is one of only four Rangers players who have appeared in every game this season, and he has been more than willing to play through injuries. Perhaps no Rangers player has been banged up as much a Prust on a nightly basis, yet he has never tempered the style of play that has made him one of the top grinders in the league.
One other statistic was particularly noteworthy. Prust leads the Rangers with 18 fighting majors -- six more than Sean Avery
, who is in second place behind him. He also ranks fourth overall in the NHL in this category, as he has been willing to drop the gloves with much bigger players, including some heavyweights that skaters his size don't normally challenge.
Stats hardly tell the whole story with Prust, however. Rangers head coach John Tortorella often talks about how doing "little things" well is so important to success, and Prust is a master of such detail. Most of his points resulted from play away from the puck that led to scoring opportunities for himself or others.
If one goal encapsulates Prust's season, perhaps it is the one he scored in a 4-3 OT shootout win over Phoenix on Dec. 16 at MSG. Trailing 2-0 after the game's first six minutes and 3-1 late in the second period, Prust scored a shorthanded goal with only 5.1 seconds left in the middle period that set the stage for Derek Stepan
's tying goal in the third.
The remarkable goal came after Coyotes netminder Jason LaBarbera misplayed Dan Girardi
's zone-clearing shot behind his net. Prust hustled into position to steal the puck and then beat LaBarbera back to the net for a goal that literally changed the game.
Other big goals came on Dec. 2 at Uniondale, when Prust tied up the Islanders 3-3 en route to a 6-5 win; on Feb. 22 at Carolina, when he gave the Rangers an early 1-0 lead over the Hurricanes; and on March 24 vs. Ottawa at MSG, when he saved a point by tying the game with only 2:45 left in the third period.
Four of Prust's 12 goals opened the scoring in their respective games, and five of them pulled the Rangers into a tie. All were celebrated with his infection on-ice enthusiasm and sparked the team in their own way.
On a team known for grinding, Prust has been the teeth of the gears. As part of a highly successful line with Brian Boyle
and Ruslan Fedotenko
, Prust has helped Boyle also achieve career-highs with 21 goals, 14 assists and 35 points.
In a Jan. 22 game at Atlanta, Prust, who had been playing with a sore shoulder already, injured his foot blocking a shot but tried to stay in the game. Two nights later, he was back in the lineup at Washington..
“Prust is something else," said Boyle on the eve of that game. "He’s a warrior, and it’s an honor to play with him.”
Boyle wasn't alone in his feelings about Prust, as Rangers fans proved in honoring him with the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. Anyone who has followed the Rangers can now attest to the fact that the "other guy" from the February 2010 trade with Calgary has now managed to redefine former NHL All-Star and Olympian Olli Jokinen as the "other guy" in what will forever be referred to as the Brandon Prust