Connolly Masterton Nominee
Tuesday, 04.11.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
He missed the duration of 2003-04 because concussion symptoms prevented him from little more than crossword puzzles and walks around the mall. A knee injury ended his lockout season after 16 games in Europe. And when he arrived at training camp seven months ago he was an underdog to stay in the NHL.
Tim Connolly responded with the best season of his career and played a crucial role in the Buffalo Sabres becoming one of the most pleasant surprised of 2005-06. For such a remarkable comeback, the Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has named Connolly its nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities or perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
The 24-year-old playmaking center from Syracuse, N.Y., earned the nomination in one of the most lopsided Masterton votes in Buffalo chapter history. With four games left in the season, he already had attained his best seasonal numbers with 15 goals and 36 assists despite missing 19 games with knee injuries. When he was injured Jan. 24, he was leading the team in assists and points and was among the league leaders in blocked shots by a forward.
Connolly faced adversity from the time he came to Buffalo in the trade that sent fan favorite and Sabres captain Michael Peca to the New York Islanders. Connolly was an immediate target of scorn that lasted through his first two seasons in Buffalo. A 2003 preseason concussion wiped out his fifth pro campaign and cast doubt on his future with the Sabres.
"We really didn't even have him on the radar" before training camp, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told USA Today. Connolly seemed destined for the waiver wire, but then the Sabres saw something special emerge out of the fifth pick of the 1999 draft.
"It wasn't even his offense that opened our eyes," Ruff said. "It was his competitive nature. It was his willingness to compete, be hit, get hit and block shots. Those things are what really got noticed."
Connolly, a player with ratings of minus-25, minus-14 and minus-28 in past seasons, became one of Buffalo's top penalty killers and a key member of the power play. With four regular-season games remaining, and despite missing nearly a quarter of the season, he was second on the team in assists and fifth in points. His 14 multipoint games ranked second.
The Masterton Trophy is awarded each season under the trusteeship of the PHWA to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The winner is selected from a poll of the 30 chapters of the PHWA at the end of the regular season, and a $2500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund in the name of the winner.
The NHL Writers' Association presented the Masterton Trophy in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars, who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, and who died Jan. 15, 1968.