Bill Masterton’s and the North Star’s Legacy

It was a sad day, that day in January 1968.  The Minnesota North Stars and the Oakland Seals were playing each other in the North Stars’ first season in the NHL.  The Seals weren’t that good, but the North Stars were fighting for a playoff berth.  The team’s first goal-scorer, Bill Masterton, just made a pass to a teammate when he was checked by two players for the Oakland Seals.  He lost his footing, fell backward and hit the back of his head on the ice.  Blood gushed everywhere as Masterton suffered a brain hemorrhage.  As teammates filed in around him, it was clear that it was a serious injury.  Unfortunately, he died two days later.  Unbelievably, it took another 13 years for the NHL to smarten up and require players to wear helmets.

Masterton was remembered as a hard working player who rose through the ranks of the College and minor league hockey to make the NHL in that star-crossed season in 1967-68.  His hard work, perseverence and dedication to hockey was the exact reason why he was so beloved in Minnesota.

One thing they got right though was to name the Award for Perseverence and Sportsmanship after Masterton following the 1967-68 season.  Many stalwarts of the NHL have won the award, including the following players who came back from illness or serious injury

1972  Bobby Clarke

1993  Mario Lemieux

1994  Cam Neely

1995  Pat LaFontaine

1999  John Cullen

What’s interesting is that according to a recent story in a British tabloid (of all places), it was that same perseverence and dedication that caused his death as earlier that season Masterton suffered a severe concussion.  But because he was a struggling player trying to make a name for himself, he shook off the serious injury and continued to play.  It is contended that that concussion led to the severity of the January 1968 hit being that much more severe.

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