Defenseman Michal Kempny was announced as the Washington Capitals’ Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee Tuesday morning, as voted by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The trophy is named after Bill Masterton, the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result of injuries suffered during a game.
The winner of the trophy is selected by the PHWA after one player from each NHL team is nominated. The winners are often players who have come back from debilitating or career-threatening injuries.
The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association proudly announces chapters’ nominees for the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy: pic.twitter.com/EpBQDoMhe5
— PHWA (@ThePHWA) June 9, 2020
Kempny earned the nod after working his way back from a torn left hamstring he suffered on March 20, 2019. Kempny was injured in an awkward tangle-up with Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette along the boards. The Czech defenseman needed help getting off the ice.
“I just felt pop in my leg,” Kempny said of the moment when the injury occurred. “I felt really big pain.”
Kempny underwent surgery on April 2 with a predicted recovery time of four to six months. Kempny told reporters during the team’s breakdown day in late April that “for sure” he “should be good for training camp.”
“I’ll start put my weight on it,” Kempny said of the rehabilitation plan. “I’ll start walk by myself. Everything takes time. I have to be careful. Maybe next week, maybe after that, I’ll do some strength. But I have to take it slow.”
Kempny, who attended the Capitals’ Stanley Cup celebration at the White House on crutches, was aggressive about speeding up his recovery as quickly as possible during the offseason, even turning to cryotherapy to rehab.
Less than four months after going under the knife, Kempny ran the steps of DRFG Arena – the home of his former Czech league team, HC Kometa Brno.
When Kempny returned to Washington for training camp in September, the defenseman was unable to fully participate. After missing the first eight games of the regular season, Kempny got his first game action on October 18 against the New York Rangers – a full six months after suffering his injury.
“It’s been long time. I’m very excited. Ready to go,” Kempny said, adding there have been a lot of “hard days” mentally waiting to get back. “I would like to say big thank you for all the people who helped me and support me all the way here.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 18, 2019
That night, Kempny scored in the first period of his first game back.
The goal came just minutes after absorbing a headshot from the Rangers’ Brendan Lemieux.
Lemieux targets Kempny, Gudas takes exception 🥊 pic.twitter.com/rTivgP4kc0
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) October 18, 2019
“I felt pretty good, actually. My legs felt good,” Kempny said after the game. “Obviously not an easy situation for me. But I got to say just thank you to all of the staff, whole organization, my teammates, my family, my friends who were supporting me all the way through here and help me. It means a lot to me.”
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden added, “Six months of investment of their time to get him back. I thought Michal looked really good.”
Kempny would go on to play 58 of the team’s next 61 games before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12. He scored three goals and tallied 18 assists, playing a majority of the season with John Carlson, a likely Norris Trophy finalist.
While he is one of the quieter players on the team, Kemnpy is popular among Capitals fans for his transformative role in the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run in 2018. He also tries to give back to fans when he can, such as when he gave his hockey stick as a Christmas gift to a young boy after learning he was his mom’s favorite player.
The only Capitals’ nominee to win the Masterton Trophy was Jose Theodore in 2010. The French goaltender had one of the best seasons of his career following his son Chase’s death in 2009 from complications stemming from a premature birth.
Headline photo courtesy of @michalkempny
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