TAMPA — Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"It's an honor," Stamkos said. "Obviously, I would like to have done all those things while being healthy this year. I'd probably trade that in. I take pride in the way I go about it and being a professional, how you prepare to go out and ultimately help your team anyway you can, both on and off the ice. The group we have here, there are plenty of guys who could have been nominated, it's definitely an honor."
The award is presented by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Stamkos, who played in only 17 games this season before having surgery on his right knee to repair a lateral meniscus tear, was nominated by the Tampa Bay chapter of the PHWA.
Jaromir Jager of the Panthers won the award last season.
Former Lightning player John Cullen won the award in 1999 after he tried to come back from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The winner will be announced in June.
This is the third time Stamkos has worked his way back from a major injury. He missed most of the 2013-14 season after breaking his right tibia in November. Last season, it was blood clots that resulted from thoracic outlet syndrome that kept Stamkos out of all but one of the Lightning's playoff games.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it has been impressive to watch Stamkos rehab from his knee surgery, especially since this is his third time going through a lengthy rehab process.
"I think that's what's impressive about him is he's been through this and some guys would say enough's enough and he's gone the other way," Cooper said, "and that's a tribute to him."
Stamkos said this rehab has been particularly frustrating because the progress moved slowly during the beginning. That made it even more of a mental grind.
"It's difficult," he said. "I can't sit here and say I was extremely motivated and got up every morning looking to do some of the stuff, because it's a grind, not only physically but mentally. Some days it's, 'What's the point of even doing this today? It doesn't feel like it's getting any better.' You have those moments. You're human. It's about trusting the process and trusting the expertise of the people that I've been lucky enough to surround myself with here."
Stamkos thanked the Lightning training staff and his surgeon for helping him through the process.
Ultimately, Stamkos knows the only way to return from a major injury is to follow the step-by-step process of the rehab.
"You're not going to take that step whether it's the next day or two weeks later without getting up that day and working on something," Stamkos said. "This one is probably the toughest one just from a physical standpoint of not a lot of improvement quick. You had to grind it out, but it's so worth it in the end when you can get out there on the ice and start practicing with your guys and gradually feel better to where you are today. That was definitely the best with all that work. It's tough when you're in the mix to think about that, but there's a sense of pride when you can get there knowing the work you put in."