Kessel captures the Masterton
Of all the memories, good and bad, Phil Kessel took away from his maelstrom of a rookie year with the Bruins, what the 19-year-old especially cherished was the cheery company he kept with his older teammates.
"Those are the things you enjoy the most," said Kessel, who grew particularly close to Marc Savard, his roommate on the road, and Shean Donovan, his regular passenger to and from practice in Wilmington. "Hanging out with the guys is a good feeling. They treated me real well this year."
For Kessel, making friendships was perhaps the most regular thing that happened in a most irregular year.
On Dec. 11, 2006, two days after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, Kessel underwent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. Kessel missed 11 games, but returned to the lineup Jan. 9 and completed the season with 11 goals and 18 assists.
Yesterday at the NHL awards show in Toronto, Kessel won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for being the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
"It was a tough year for us," said Kessel, preferring to talk about the team. "But we've got a good team there. Hopefully, we can make it farther."
Kessel is the fourth Bruin to win the award. Previous winners were Cam Neely (1994), Gord Kluzak (1990), and Charlie Simmer (1986). Anaheim sniper Teemu Selanne won in 2006 after overcoming knee injuries.
Kessel, who wasn't guaranteed a position on the 2006-07 Bruins, opened eyes during training camp at center and wing. During the first half of the season, Kessel, playing on the fourth line as well as the first unit, scored 9 points while learning the pace of the NHL game.
Later in the season, Kessel elevated his performance, cementing his position as coach Dave Lewis's No. 3 sniper in the shootout. Kessel, who looked most comfortable at center, scored 20 points in the second half of the season. Kessel was one of only two Bruins (Marco Sturm was the other) to score more in the second half than in the first.
"I thought I played all right all year. I just wasn't up to the points production in the first half of the year," said Kessel, who participated in the YoungStars Game in Dallas during All-Star week. "Things didn't go in. But then I thought I played well and played the game I like to play."
Kessel said he is in fine health and undergoes blood work every month. After the regular season ended April 7, Kessel and teammates Andrew Alberts and Brandon Bochenski competed for Team USA in the World Championship in Russia. The Yanks failed to medal, but Kessel -- used to playing on the bigger Olympic-sized sheet from his days at the University of Minnesota -- scored 7 points in seven games.
"It was a great thing," Kessel said. "I loved playing with them. I thought it went well. I would have loved to get a medal there but, unfortunately, it didn't happen. I thought I played OK there."
Kessel started off-ice workouts last week. Next weekend, he'll be focusing on younger brother Blake, an 18-year-old defenseman who is eligible for the NHL draft.
"You never know," Kessel said of his brother's chances of getting drafted. "Hopefully, it works out."
Although he went through the health scare of his life, everything worked out for Blake's big brother.
The vote wasn't close. The 19-year-old Pittsburgh superstar -- who received his trophy from six-time Hart winner Gordie Howe -- got 91 first-place votes and 1,225 points in a poll of Professional Hockey Writers' Association members.
Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was second with 25 first-place votes and 801 points. New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur was third with 21 first-place votes and 763 points, though he got to take home the Vezina Trophy for top goalie.
Crosby led the NHL with 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists) this season, earning him the Ross Trophy. Earlier in the evening, he won the Pearson Award, an MVP prize voted on by the players' union.
A trophy Crosby missed out on last year, the Calder for top rookie, went to teammate Evgeni Malkin. The 20-year-old Russian beat out fellow Penguin Jordan Staal and Colorado's Paul Stastny.
In other awards, Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit won his fifth Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, becoming the first five-time winner since Ray Bourque.
Rod Brind'Amour of Carolina won a second consecutive Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward. Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship a second year in a row and Montreal's Saku Koivu won the King Clancy for humanitarian contributions.
Vancouver's Alain Vigneault won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com; material from the wire services was used in this report.