The Masterton Trophy, voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA), is presented annually to the NHL player voted to best exemplify the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. And though the PHWA nominated New York Islanders’ defenseman Thomas Hickey for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last season, he’s making his case for a second consecutive season as the team’s nominee.
Strength & Perseverance
After 716 days between games, Hickey returned to the lineup on March 20 against the Philadelphia Flyers to fill in for Noah Dobson, who just recently came off the COVID Protocol list after testing positive earlier this month. It was an emotional return for the veteran defenseman. After losing his older brother, Dan, to cancer in March 2020, Hickey preserved through injuries and a clogged Islanders’ depth chart on defense to eventually make his way back into the lineup this season. Before the game against the Flyers, he continued to stand by on the Islanders’ taxi squad, waiting for an opportunity.
His return to NHL ice showed he’s still more than capable of being in this league and exemplified his strength and dedication to the game despite difficult off-ice events. Though he wasn’t tested very much in his own zone, he did prove his offensive abilities haven’t disappeared. In his first game back, an Islanders’ 6-1 victory over the Flyers, he had two assists, a strong game against a difficult opponent during a crucial part of the season. His comments after the game sum up the journey he’s taken over the last two years.
“It’s been a lot more exhausting than being physically ready – keeping your head in,” Hickey said during his post-game media availability. “You wonder, doubt creeps in. I’m just proud of myself… I have a great support system and that helps, and the support from my teammates. I’d definitely say the mental side of it is much harder than the physical side.”
Hickey will continue to have an opportunity in the lineup as Dobson gets back up to speed over the next week or so, strengthening his chances as this season’s nominee.
Past Islanders Recipients
A number of Islanders have been the recipient of the Masteron Trophy since the team’s inception in 1972. Ed Westfall (1977), Mark Fitzpatrick (1992), and Robin Lehner (2019) have received the honor.
Westfall was the first captain of the Islanders in 1972 after being claimed in the NHL expansion draft from the Boston Bruins. He received the award in 1977, which “represented a long, strong career as an unsung hockey player, quietly leading his team(s) from the shadows of the superstars,” according to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Fitzpatrick joined the Islanders during the 1988-89 season in a trade for Kelley Hrudey. Heading into the 1990-91 campaign, team doctors discovered Fitzpatrick had a blood disease called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which affects the body’s white blood cells. He only managed two regular reason games before having to hang up the skates for the remainder of the campaign. However, despite the fatal nature of the disease, Fitzpatrick overcame this adversity and returned to the Islanders for the 1991-92 season, who put together a 34-35-11 season.
Lehner was the most recent awardee for his amazing comeback year during the 2018-19 season with the Islanders. After a number of years struggling with substance use and bipolar disorder, Lehner sought help after a panic attack during a game while playing for the Buffalo Sabres during the 2017-18 campaign.
“I took that first step and it’s been life-changing for me,” Lehner said in his acceptance speech at the NHL Awards show at Mandalay Bay. “Got to keep pushing, end the stigma. I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean I’m mentally weak.”
Lehner and goaltending partner Thomas Greiss also took home The William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team’s goaltenders who allow the fewest goals during the regular season.
Hickey will have an opportunity to take home this award if nominated for a second straight year by the PHWA. In his 9th season with the Islanders, he can also help them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third consecutive season. In previous postseasons, Hickey was a force, scoring overtime goals to help secure the Islanders’ first playoff series win since 1993 as they defeated the Florida Panthers in 2016.
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Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.