The Toronto Maple Leafs have officially named veteran defenceman Roman Polak as its nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy.
The award, given out annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey”, will be presented this June at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. Each of the NHL’s 31 teams has a player nominated by the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PWHA), but the list is whittled down to just three official nominees by the NHL in advance of the award ceremony.
Now, Polak may seem like a puzzling choice given that he’s a somewhat marginal NHLer, but don’t forget that he was essentially a training camp walk-on who ended up earning himself an NHL contract through hard work and determination. It’s easy to forget that Polak suffered a catastrophic leg injury during the Leafs’ opening round playoff series against the Washington Capitals last season and, for a time, it looked as though his NHL future was in doubt. Polak worked hard to rehab his injury to full health while skating and practicing with the Leafs on a professional tryout (PTO) contract. Once it was determined that he was healthy enough to play, he was awarded with a one-year, $1.1 million contract and regular playing time from head coach Mike Babcock. It’s this kind of perseverance that has earned Polak his Masteron nomination.
“It feels good, and it’s always good when someone sees what you did during the summer and during the season,” said Polak of the nomination. “But I’m not going to lie; I don’t need an award for it. I did it for myself only, not for somebody else. I tried to come back. I didn’t know if it was going to work or not, but it was all for me. Not the coaches, not the team. This time I was kind of selfish about it.”
Just how dark were those days when it seemed like Polak may never play again?
“I try to forget [about] it now because first of all, it was painful,” he said. “It was hard, but I’ve had a lot of injuries throughout my career so I know how to handle pain and what kind of pain it is. With this injury it was kind of weird because the more you move, the better it is. Even if we have a day off [now], I usually feel bad after. I have to keep moving and at least [take] a little walk outside with the kids or something – keep it going, keep it moving.”