The Professional Hockey Writers Association has nominated Johnny Boychuk for the Masterton Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Bruins players have won the Masterton four times in the past, tied for the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens with the most for a single team.
Boychuk’s road to being a defenseman on a Stanley Cup champion team is long and arduous and the kind of thing that sportswriters love because of the…well, the perseverance and dedication shown. Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2002, he spent years in the AHL with four different minor-league teams before finally getting a chance in Denver in 2008. But when he suited up for the Avs, he was a forward.
He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to play. Maybe defense, maybe forward. His coaches really wanted him to be a tough guy, a fighter unafraid of big physical play to get the puck, and though he did what he was told, he nursed the desire to play D. However, he was so far down the totem pole–fourth-lining it in the minors–that he really didn’t feel like he had any say in the matter.
Upon his 2008 trade to Boston, though, he felt like he had more control over his own destiny. Finally he switched to D, and though he was back in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, he made himself known. He did so well in his first campaign that he won the Eddie Shore award, which is basically the Norris Trophy for the AHL. That was impressive, but even then some folks figured that that would be what Boychuk did–made a huge splash, but in the minors, and basically stayed there for the rest of his playing years.
Nope. He would get a chance to prove himself as a Boston Bruin and he ran with it, contributing in the regular season and the playoffs. The transition from mostly-Providence to mostly-Boston player was made complete in 2010-11, when he did not play a single game in the Rhode Island capital. Oh, and he also won the Cup. The big one. The best one.
All 30 teams get to nominate someone for the Masterton and then the pool is whittled down to three finalists before the NHL Awards in June. The Bruins Masterton winners in the past are Charlie Simmer, Gord Kluzak, Cam Neely and Phil Kessel. All four won because of overcoming, or valiantly attempting to overcome, injuries or illnesses.
Boychuk’s nomination is less about that and more about being patient, working hard and striving towards playing in the big times. That ideal of hard work being rewarded in the best ways encompasses what the Bruins are about, so his nomination makes perfect sense. He’s probably not going to win it (I would be surprised if it goes to anyone other than Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens), but the nomination is an honor in and of itself.