|Defenceman Matt Carkner is the Senators' nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance and dedication to hockey. They're qualities that earned Carkner a spot on the Ottawa roster out of training camp (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
His long road to full-time employment in the National Hockey League is the ultimate testament to dedication.
So it almost seems fitting that Matt Carkner
, a career minor leaguer before catching on with the Ottawa Senators this season, is the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy. It is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance and dedication to hockey.
The 29-year-old native of nearby Winchester, Ont., has surely needed plenty of that during eight seasons of riding the buses in the minors. Carkner saw only two games of previous NHL action before he battled his way onto the Senators' roster in training camp. A month later, he gained the security of a two-year, one-way contract.
Reason enough for the media who cover the Senators for the city's three newspapers to bestow upon Carkner a much-deserved nomination for the Masterton. Not that he thinks he did anything special to get where he is today, a decade after the Montreal Canadiens made him a second-round pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
"it’s a pretty good honour to be recognized as a player that has persevered through some adversity to get to his goal," he said. "To me, it’s just what I did — it’s nothing special, what I’ve done, but it’s a neat thing to get recognized, for sure."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston, one of Carkner's biggest fans, has long admired the work ethic and determination that the 6-4, 231-pound blueliner brings to the rink each day. He saw it for two seasons in the American Hockey League, when both were with the Binghamton Senators.
"Not many rookies crack (an NHL) lineup at his age," admitted Clouston. "I just think it shows the type of character he has, the type of individual he is and he has improved. You can improve at later stages of your career. He’s 29 years old and he’s a lot better player than he was at the start of the season and he’s a lot better player than he was last year. Both years down in Binghamton with me, he improved.
"He works extremely hard, he knows his limitations and his biggest asset is that he plays within those limitations on most nights. When he does, he’s effective and he’s just a real good team guy as well."
"It’s just something that made me the player that I am today. I’m happy that I got through it and it’s very satisfying to have made it. It’s one thing that I’m always going to do, work hard to get better and better. I’m enjoying it here but I also know there’s a lot of work to do." - Matt Carkner
That attitude quickly endeared Carkner to his teammates, the majority of whom will never experience or understand what it took for the hard-nosed defenceman to finally make it to the big time. And Carkner takes none of it granted, not even for a second.
"It feels unbelievable," said Carkner of life in the NHL. "When you see guys who have been here their whole careers … they don’t understand how it was in the minors. When we take the bus trip to Montreal, everyone’s complaining. To me, it’s like home sweet home. But it’s just something that made me the player that I am today.
"I’m happy that I got through it and it’s very satisfying to have made it. It’s one thing that I’m always going to do, work hard to get better and better. I’m enjoying it here but I also know there’s a lot of work to do."
Team guy that he is, Carkner is quick to credit defence partner Chris Campoli for helping to make him a better player this season.
"(Campoli) has helped me out tremendously this year," said Carkner. "He just keeps me up and helps me with a few skilled parts of the game, where I'm lacking. I've got a lot of great players to learn from here and, of course, you're going to get better. You're playing with great players."
The Masterton winner will be announced June 23 at the NHL awards night in Las Vegas.