It takes huge amounts of courage, will, dedication and determination to play in the NHL. But for three players this season, they took it to another level.
Ottawa Senators right wing Daniel Alfredsson, Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Joffrey Lupul and Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty have been named finalists for this year's Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
The winner is selected by a vote of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and will be announced at the 2012 NHL Awards Show, June 20 at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.
The 39-year-old Alfredsson showed his dedication in deciding to return for a 16th NHL season after needing offseason back surgery. He also would be returning to a team with a new coach hired after a 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
All Alfredsson has done is lead the team on and off the ice. He had 27 goals -- including the 400th of his career -- 59 points and a plus-16 rating, and was named an All-Star captain.
"The success this team has had is because Daniel Alfredsson's the captain," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "He's made my job a lot easier."
Not only is Alfredsson highly regarded for his skill and leadership on the ice, but off the ice he's been a leading advocate for mental health causes with the Royal Ottawa Hospital and the Do It For Daron Foundation, which honors the memory of the daughter of assistant coach Luke Richardson.
Lupul had back problems of his own to recover from. That and a blood disorder threatened to derail what had been a promising career.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who held the same role in Anaheim when Lupul initially injured his back in 2009, said he's amazed Lupul accomplished what he did this season.
"He was hunched over, he couldn't stand upright," Carlyle told the Toronto Sun. "He had a hard time just moving. And he dropped about 20 pounds."
Lupul said that number was closer to 40.
Finally healthy again at the start of the 2011-12 season, though, Lupul had a career resurgence that started almost from the first puck drop in October. He had 11 points in 11 games in the season's first month and never looked back. He paired with Phil Kessel to form one of the most dynamic scoring combinations in the League, and until a separated shoulder ended his season in March, he had been one of the Leafs' top performers.
He was named an alternate captain for the All-Star Game, and finished with 25 goals and a career-best 67 points, despite playing just 66 games.
Off the ice, he purchased five 24-person suites at home games for use by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
Pacioretty had his own serious injury to recovery from. It was March 8, 2011 when he collided with the partition at the end of visiting bench at Bell Centre. The hit left Pacioretty with a fracture vertebrae and a concussion that ended his season.
The 23-year-old spent the offseason recovering, starting with a charity hockey game in July. He reported to training camp healthy, and went on to have his best NHL season, totaling 33 goals and 65 points. The native of New Canaan, Conn., became the first U.S.-born player in Canadians history to score 30 goals.
"Everybody knew from the get-go that this guy [Pacioretty] was special," teammate David Desharnais told the Montreal Gazette. "He has a good shot, he's a good skater who has good ability. He's just proved this season that he's one of the best. To overcome a broken neck the way he has is unbelievable."
Away from the ice, Pacioretty created the Max Pacioretty Foundation to help the Montreal General Hospital raise money to buy a Functional MRI machine for the Traumatic Brain Injury Centre at Montreal General Hospital/McGill University Health Centre.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor