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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Gary Roberts and what it takes to win the Masterton Trophy

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. It is named after former Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton, who died after suffering a head injury suffered during a January 1968 game (he hit his head on the ice after a clean body-check).

The trophy bearing his name was first awarded at the end of the 1968 season, going to Claude Provost of the Montreal Canadiens. In the subsequent years the trophy typically went to a non-star but well-respected player who played a significant number of games or seasons, particularly for a single team.

Over the years the trophy began to be awarded to players who preserved over hockey and non-hockey related injuries and illnesses. Currently, each NHL team nominates one player from their roster, with the Professional Hockey Writers Association chapter members selecting the winner via poll. As one of the most underappreciated NHL awards, I thought it would be worth looking into the stories of the 10 players who won the Masterton Trophy in the 1990s:

  • 1990 - Gord Kluzak, Boston. A former 1st overall pick, Kluzak suffered a series of knee injuries throughout his career, resulting in 11 surgeries. He played only 13 games over his final three seasons and retired at the end of the 1990 season.

  • 1991 - Dave Taylor, Los Angeles. Taylor played his entire 17 year career (1111 games) with the Los Angeles Kings. He was team captain from 1985 until 1989 (when Wayne Gretzky arrived).

  • 1992 - Mark Fitzpatrick, New York Islanders. Fitzpatrick missed the majority of the 1990-91 season with a rare and potentially fatal neurological disease linked to a specific dietary supplement. In 1991-92 he returned to the Isles, playing 30 games, winning 11

  • 1993- Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh. The Magnificent One returned from a Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis and treatment to win the Art Ross Trophy despite missing 24 games. He also won the Hart and Pearson Trophies.

  • 1994 - Cam Neely, Boston. The goal-scoring forward attempted a comeback from numerous knee injuries that caused him to miss all but 22 games during the previous two seasons. He played 49 games during the 1993-94 season, scoring 50 goals, tying for eighth overall in the NHL.

  • 1995 - Pat Lafontaine, Buffalo. The elite scorer returned from a series of head injuries that caused him to play only 16 games the previous season and 22 games in the lockout shortened 1994-95.

  • 1996 - Gary Roberts, Calgary. Returned from career-threatening neck injuries, played 35 games in 1995-96. He would miss the following season, but return to play an additional 11 seasons.

  • 1997 - Tony Granato, San Jose. Came back from a career-threatening head injury suffered in a game during the previous season. He would finish third on the team in goals with 25.

  • 1998 - Jamie McLennan, New York Islanders. Goaltender McLennan contracted bacterial meningitis during the 1995-96 off-season and nearly died. He missed the entire 1996-97 season and returned in 1997-98, playing 30 games with St. Louis, winning 16.

  • 1999 - John Cullen, Tampa Bay. Cullen overcame his diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, underwent chemotherapy and received stem cell treatment. He missed the 1997-98 season and came back to play four games for Lightning in the 1999-00 season.

Card 189 - Rod Brind’Amour

The centre was drafted ninth overall by the Blues in the 1988 draft and after one season at Michigan State would make his NHL debut during the 1989 playoffs, scoring two goals in five games. During his true rookie season in 1990-91, Brind’Amour would score 26 goals and 61 points, be named to the all-rookie team and finish fourth in Calder Voting.

After two seasons with the Blues he would be traded to Philadelphia prior to the 1991-92 season alongside Dan Quinn in exchange for Ron Sutter and Murray Baron. During his first three seasons as a Flyer his point totals would increase from 77 to 86 to 97 (career-high), and he would score 30+ goals each season, including a career-high 37 in 1992-93.

During the 1997 playoffs, Brind’Amour would help guide the Flyers to the Cup Finals against Detroit, scoring 13 goals and 21 points in 19 playoff games, leading the playoffs in goal scoring; sadly the Flyers would be swept by the Red Wings. The two following seasons Brind’Amour would score 74 points each season, recording his fourth season of 30+ goals.

In January 2000 he would be traded with goalie prospect Jean-Marc Pelletier to Carolina for Keith Primeau and a draft pick. During his time with the Hurricanes Brind’Amour would develop into a more defensive forward, and would lead Carolina to the 2002 Cup Finals, only to lose to Detroit once more.

During the 2005-06 season Brind’Amour would score 31 goals (the fifth and final time breaking the 30 goal barrier), 70 points and win the first of back-to-back Selke Trophies. The Hurricanes would defeat the Cinderella Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, with Brind’Amour scoring 12 goals and 18 points in 25 games.

In 2006-07 he would record 82 points, proving he still had the offensive skills to go with his defensive acumen. He would play three more seasons in Carolina before retiring after the 2009-10 season.

In a 20 year career, Brind’Amour played in 1484 games (25th all-time), scored 452 goals and 1184 points. Surprisingly he played in only one all-star game (1992) and was assistant captain with Philadelphia (1994-2000) and Carolina (2000-04), and captained the Hurricanes from 2005-09.

After retiring he joined the Hurricanes as director of player development, was an assistant coach from 2011 to 2018 and since 2018-19 has been their head coach.

YouTube clip: not putting up with Gary Bettman’s pomp and circumstance and just grabbing the Cup.

Card 190 - Gary Roberts

A left winger, Roberts was drafted 12th overall by Calgary in 1984. Following the draft he would play two seasons in the OHL and part of the 1986-87 season in the AHL before making his NHL debut later that season, scoring five goals and 15 points.

During his first two full NHL seasons, Roberts increased his goal totals to 13 and 22 respectively, recording 250 penalty minutes or more each season. In his third season he would win the Cup with the Flames, scoring five goals and 12 points in the 1989 playoffs. He would carry the momentum of the Cup victory forward with a breakout offensive season in 1989-90, scoring 39 goals and 72 points. 1991-92 would see Roberts score career-highs in goals (52) and points (90) and lead the league with a shooting percentage of 27%.

Roberts’ career would take a turn for the negative during 1993-94, as he would begin to miss games due neck injuries. After scoring 41-43-84 in 93-94, he would play only eight games in 1994-95, undergoing two major surgeries in 1995 before making a comeback in January 1996. During the 95-96 season he would play 35 games, scoring 22 goals and 42 points, again leading the league in shooting percentage and being awarded the Masterton Trophy. Sadly his neck injury had not significantly improved and Roberts would retire at the end of the season.

During the 1996-97 season Roberts would undergo rehab and physiotherapy, putting him in a position to return for the 1997-98 season. After an amiable trade request to an eastern team to reduce travel strain, Roberts was traded to Carolina with Trevor Kidd for Andrew Cassels and Jean-Sebastien Giguere in August 1997. In three seasons with the Hurricanes he would record 20+ goals twice.

For the 2000-01 season Roberts would sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs; he would score 29 goals and 53 points, and lead the NHL in shooting percentage for the third time in his career (21%). The following season Roberts would lead the Leafs to the Eastern Conference Finals against his former team, Carolina, leading the Leafs in scoring with 19 points in 19 games.

Injuries would again take their toll on Roberts, as he would play only 14 games in 2002-03 due to shoulder surgeries. In 2003-04 he would score 28 goals with the Leafs, his final season in blue. Following the 2004-05 lockout he would sign with Florida, playing 1.5 seasons with the Panthers before a trade to Pittsburgh. After 57 games with the Pens over two seasons Roberts would be traded one last time, going to Tampa Bay along with Ryan Malone. He would play 30 games with the Lightning before retiring for good in March 2009 at age 42.

In a 21 season career Roberts played in 1224 games, scoring 438 goals and 910 points. He ranks 19th all-time in penalty minutes (2560), 24th in shooting percentage (24%), and played in three all-star games (1992, 1993 and 2004). Roberts currently runs his own high performance centre and fitness institute in Toronto, training current NHLers such as Steven Stamkos. He was also recently hired by the Seattle Kraken as a sports science & performance consultant.

YouTube clip: scoring the triple OT winner against the Ottawa Senators in Game 2 of 2002 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

191- Kirk McLean

Goaltender McLean was drafted 107th overall by New Jersey in the 1984 draft. He would spend the 1985-86 with Oshawa in the OHL, making his pro debut with the Devils later that season. 1986-87 would be spent primarily with Maine in the AHL, but include some NHL action as well. In total McLean played four games with the Devils before a September 1987 trade to Vancouver with Greg Adams and a draft pick for Patrik Sundstrom and two draft picks.

In his true rookie season of 1987-88 he appeared in 41 games, posting a 11-27-3 record. The following season he would win 20 games and record four shutouts, earning a Vezina Trophy finalist nomination. For 1989-90 McLean established himself as a workhorse starter, leading the league in games played, loses (30), ties (10), shots against (1797), saves (1581) and minutes (3739).

Following a one-season up, one-season down pattern, McLean would win only 10 games in 1990-91, but in 1991-92 would lead the league in wins (38) and shutouts (5), be named a second team all-star and finish second in Vezina and fifth in Hart voting.

In 1993-94 McLean would backstop the Canucks to their second Cup Finals appearance in team history, recording a 15-9 record, and leading the playoffs in shutouts with four. In 1995-96 his playing time would decrease, as he would share the crease with prospect Corey Hirsch. In 11 seasons in Vancouver, McLean would win 20+ games six times.

Early in 1998 he would be traded to Carolina in a five-player swap that saw the Canucks land Sean Burke. McLean would appear in eight games as a Hurricane before a second trade saw him go to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Ray Sheppard. After 1.5 seasons as a Panther McLean would sign as a free agent with the New York Rangers, serving as Mike Richter’s backup from 1999-2001, before retiring.

In 16 NHL seasons, McLean played in 612 games (516 for Vancouver), amassing a 245-262-72 record, 3.26 goals against average and .887 save percentage. He played in two all-star games (1990 & 1992) and leads the franchise in games played and loses by a goalie, having surrendered his wins and shutouts record to Roberto Luongo.

In retirement he has dabbled in coaching, both with Kamloops (2002-03) and Colorado (2010-13), as well as broadcasting with the Canucks, where he is currently a team ambassador.

YouTube clip: highlights of his 52 save performance in Game 1 of the 1994 Cup Finals, a 3-2 Canucks win.

192- Kevin Haller

Haller, a defenceman, was drafted 14th overall by Buffalo in 1989. After one final season with Regina in the WHL, he would make his NHL debut in the 1989-90 season, playing in two games with the Sabres. The 1990-91 season would be split between Buffalo and the AHL, with Haller scoring one goal and nine points in 21 NHL games.

Despite making the Sabres full time in 1991-92, Haller would be traded in March of that season to Montreal for veteran Petr Svoboda. In his first full season with the Habs, Haller would score a career-high 11 goals and 25 points, and win the Stanley Cup.

After one additional season in Montreal, Haller would be traded in June 1994 to Philadelphia for Yves Racine. Notably, during the 1994-95 playoffs Haller would score four goals as the Flyers would lose to New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Finals. After 2.5 seasons as a Flyer, Haller would be sent to Hartford as part of the package that landed Philly legend Paul Coffey.

One season in Hartford and one in Carolina would lapse before Haller would be on the move again, this time being traded to Anaheim with Stu Grimson in exchange for Dave Karpa. From 1998 to 2000 Haller would serve as an assistant captain with the Mighty Ducks before signing as a free agent with the New York Islanders for the 2000-01 season. After 31 games over two seasons with the Isles Haller would retire following the 2001-02 season.

Over 13 NHL seasons Haller would appear in 642 games, scoring 41 goals and 138 points. He is currently a real estate agent in Calgary, his home province, having been born and raised in Trochu in central Alberta.

YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner in Game 2 of 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Rangers. The goal was scored 25 seconds into overtime, which surprisingly is only the 16th fastest overtime goal in playoff history.

193 - Pat Verbeek

A right winger, Verbeek was drafted 43rd overall by New Jersey in 1982. He would play one final season in the OHL with Sudbury, making a late NHL debut in 1982-93, appearing in six games, scoring three goals. Verbeek’s true rookie season saw him score 20 goals and 47 points.

In seven seasons in New Jersey Verbeek would score 20+ goals five times, including a career-high 46 in 1987-88. He would also record five seasons of 100+ penalty minutes, earning the nickname the Little Ball of Hate (he only stood 5’9”). Just as the Mickey Mouse franchise came of age in the late 1980s, Verbeek would be sent to Hartford in exchange for Sylvain Turgeon.

In his first two seasons in Hartford, he would score 44 and 43 goals, along with 89 and 82 points, breaking the 200 penalty minute barrier both seasons. Verbeek would also finish third in all-star voting in 1990-91.

After a down 1991-92 season in terms of goal production, Verbeek would rebound in 1992-93 (39) and 1993-94 (37). After captaining the team from 1991 to 1995 he would be traded to the New York Rangers during the 1994-95 season for two draft picks and two minor league players. In his only season on Broadway (1995-96), he would score 41 goals and 82 points, marking the fourth and final time he would eclipse the 40 goal barrier.

In the summer of 1996 Verbeek would sign with Dallas, chasing playoff success. After a Western Conference Finals loss to Detroit in 1998, Verbeek would win his first Cup as the Stars defeated Buffalo in the Finals in 1999, with Verbeek scoring three goals and seven points in 18 playoff games.

1999-00 would see Verbeek sign with Detroit, scoring 22 goals. He would play one more season with the Wings and one final season with Dallas in 2001-02 before retiring. In a 20 season NHL career, Verbeek would play in 1424 games (33rd all-time), scoring 522 goals (37th all-time) and 1062 points. He would also record 2905 penalty minutes (11th all-time) and play in two all-star games (1991 and 1996).

From 2006-2010 Verbeek was a scout with Detroit and from 2010 to 2019 he was director of player personnel and assistant general manager with Tampa Bay. When GM Steve Yzerman moved to Detroit in 2019, Verbeek went with him, assuming the role of assistant GM. He was also part of the management team for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup.

YouTube clip: scoring a goal in Game 5 of 1999 Stanley Cup Finals versus Buffalo.

194 - Dave Snuggerud

An undrafted right winger, Snuggerud signed with Buffalo after three seasons with his home state University of Minnesota. In his debut season of 1989-90 he would score 14 goals and 30 points, both career highs.

Late in the 1991-92 season he would be traded to San Jose for Wayne Presley. He would play 36 games total as a Shark (scoring 10 points) before being traded to Philadelphia in December 1992 for Mark Pederson. He would play 14 games with the Flyers in the 1992-93 season, and then abruptly retire in order to complete his business administration degree at Minnesota.

In 1994-95 he would come out of retirement to play for Minnesota in the IHL, scoring 25 goals and 57 points. in what would ultimately be his final season of pro hockey.

Over four NHL seasons, Snuggerud played 265 games scoring 30 goals and 84 points. From 1998 to 2019 he was the head coach of Chaska High School in Minnesota. His career may have been short, but he will be remember for an awesome hockey name and an awesome pose on this card!

YouTube clip: scoring against the Bruins during 1989-90 season, benefitting from some unorthodox defence by Dave Christian.

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