Each year the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. Each team nominates one of their players and the winner is selected by the The Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season. The award is usually given to someone who comes back from a career- or life-threatening illness or injury.
This year the Red Wings have nominated Patrick Eaves. Patty suffered a broken jaw and a concussion after being hit in the head by a Roman Josi shot on November 26, 2011. The original diagnosis was a broken jaw and 4-6 weeks of recovery, however we all waited for good news and time drug on without any. News at the time was sparse, but we now know that he was battling post concussion symptoms that included debilitating migraines so severe at times that he couldn't sleep and often had him confined to a dark room, bouts with depression, limited interaction with his one year old daughter and pregnant wife, and much more.
"I couldn’t be a parent, I couldn’t be a father. I couldn’t be a husband," Eaves said. "I was in a dark room for a while."..."Obviously the jaw hurt right away, but I couldn’t sleep," Eaves said. "I think that was worst part of the whole thing, for about six to eight weeks my head hurt so bad that I couldn’t sleep. A bad nightmare, I guess, not sleeping."
Despite a slow recovery that took over 14 months, Eaves never gave up and has shown incredible strength and determination throughout his lengthy recovery. Even while he was preparing to make his return to hockey and getting ready for the abbreviated training camp last September, the migraines returned full force.
"I got really dizzy and then the migraines came back there," Eaves said. "That was frustrating because I thought that I was finally on my way."
Through the toughest times, true inner character is revealed, and Patrick Eaves has plenty.
"Patty is a great human being, No. 1,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He’s an unbelievable person, he does things right. Patty Eaves is one of these guys that when he’s scratched he leads the stretch, he’s in the power play and penalty kill meetings, he dresses for warm-up. "He is an example – I used him this year with my son – if you can be as mentally tough as Patty Eaves and you keep digging in then you will be fine in life. He makes people around him better because of his commitment to the team and his mental toughness."
Hockey fans from around the world came together to show their support for Eaves, and to remind him that we were thinking of him and wishing him a full recovery. Operation Eaves started as an idea to get Patty a few get well cards to let him know he was in our thoughts and prayers, but because hockey fans are amazing, the outpouring of support exploded, and the messages from Eaves fans around the world did indeed touch Patty and let him know how much we love him.
Eaves doesn't remember much from that night, after being hit with the puck, but he's thankful to everyone who helped him.
"I remember the guy in the back with me was getting my IV and everything," he said. "I remember this to this day because I was like, ‘Don’t drop me.’ I just knew that I couldn’t get hit again. But he knew like every bump along the way to the hospital. So when he knew a bump was coming he would hold me and I remember that. I wish I knew who he was. But he was unbelievable. I knew every time he held me that something was coming and I would kind of brace myself. He did a wonderful job."
The last Red Wings to win the Masterton Trophy was Steve Yzerman in 2003. Last year the award went to Max Pacioretty who was knocked out of the '10-'11 season from hit that left him with a concussion and a fractured vertebrae and he returned in 2011-12 to have his most productive season.
I haven't yet examined all the nominees, so I can't say yet if I think Eaves should win, but trophy or no trophy, Eaves sets a great example of determination and inner strength.
"I didn't know how long it would take, I just knew that I would be back at some point,'' Eaves said. "I had a lot of rough days in there, but I knew that I would come back somehow.
I hope Eaves' indomitable spirit and persistence is contagious, because if the whole team could play with the never say die attitude embodied by Patrick Eaves, there would be little to stop us.