Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty enjoys a light moment with linemate Erik Cole before the team’s Feb. 28 game in Tampa Bay.
Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images
Because Max Pacioretty isn’t a big fan of comic books, the Wolverine association is a bit of a stretch.
Which is too bad, really, because the virtually bulletproof, absurdly durable Canadiens forward, announced Tuesday night as his team’s nominee for the 2012 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, seems to have the same metal-alloy adamantium core and mutant healing factor as the iconic Marvel Comics hero.
Yes, Pacioretty did play collegiate hockey for the Michigan Wolverines. And his hometown is New Canaan, Conn., just 35 kilometres from the Westchester County, N.Y., fantasy mansion of Professor Charles Xavier, training base of the X-Men and site of the prof’s school for mutant teenagers.
But Pacioretty’s indestructibility is quite real, given there have been no reports of his tripping airport metal detectors because of an adamantium skeleton.
And besides, Marvel’s Wolverine, born in northern Alberta in the late 1800s, is a Calgary Flames fan, according to the comics storyline.
Pacioretty was voted the Canadiens’ Masterton nominee by the Montreal chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, their announcement made at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The Masterton annually goes to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” The award was created in 1968 to honour the memory of Minnesota North Stars forward Bill Masterton, who died that Jan. 15 from injuries suffered upon striking his head on the ice.
The criteria are broad, but the award has in recent years become a bit of a comeback prize. There’s little question that Pacioretty’s dramatic return from last season’s career-threatening injuries has been one for the books – if not an engraved brass shield on the Masterton.
“It’s a huge honour any time you’re recognized individually,” Pacioretty said Tuesday night upon being informed of his selection. “It’s a great honour, but any time I’m asked questions about personal success, it makes me think how much more rewarding the feeling would be if we were in the playoff picture right now.
“You almost feel a little bit selfish getting too excited about a personal goal or nomination like this, but you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. So obviously, I am very excited about it.”
David Desharnais had strong support for the Masterton nod among media voters. Little Davey, the undrafted revelation who’s been playing hugely between Pacioretty and Erik Cole on the Canadiens’ No. 1 line, is delighted for the nominee.
“Everybody knew from the get-go that this guy was special,” Desharnais said of Pacioretty. “He has a good shot, he’s a good skater who has good ability. He’s just proved this season that he’s one of the best.
“To overcome a broken neck the way he has is unbelievable.”
Comparatively speaking, then, the vicious shot that Pacioretty took off his right ankle Monday in Buffalo was merely a graze.
It was hardly a surprise that Pacioretty returned to Monday’s game less than a period after having literally crawled off the ice and been helped to the dressing room, having skated into the shooting lane to block a shot.
This is the same player who has fashioned a magnificent comeback this season from his famously fractured vertebra and severe concussion.
The same player who 14 months ago was stretchered to hospital from Buffalo’s First Niagara Centre after having taken a point blast in the ribs from teammate James Wisniewski.
Precautions were taken to ensure that Pacioretty had not suffered heart damage from Wisnieski’s heavy shot, but he strolled onto the Canadiens charter back to Montreal that night then scored and assisted two nights later in Ottawa.
Pacioretty’s wife, Katia, said that while her husband doesn’t easily bruise, he was left black and blue by that shot.
“Both shots in Buffalo were very painful,” he said. “But nothing in my life compares to that shot I took from Wisniewski. Same situation: no padding but it was right in the ribs. It was more painful.”
The rib cartilage injury lingered, Pacioretty recalled.
“They taped me up for Ottawa and the trainers had to make a pad that went under my shoulder pads. It looked really goofy, but they did a good job of wrapping me up real well.”
Pacioretty would be the fifth Canadiens recipient of the Masterton should he named its winner at the NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20. PHWA members will choose the winner from 30 nominees brought forward from each club.
Claude Provost was the inaugural Masterton winner in 1968, followed by Henri Richard in 1974, Serge Savard in 1979 and Saku Koivu in 2002.
You could argue that a little bit of Wolverine lived in those four, as well.
Provost, who died in 1984, won the Stanley Cup nine times in his 1,005-game career with the Canadiens from 1955-70, scoring 254 goals but proving his greatest value to his team as a ferocious checker, a forward who played like a battleship and skated with the grace of one.
The silkier Richard won an unprecedented 11 Cups from 1955-75, a short-fused dynamite keg who succeeded Jean Béliveau as Habs captain from 1971 until his retirement four seasons later.
Savard, a Canadien from 1966-81 and winner of seven Stanley Cups in 10 playoff appearances from 1968-79, captained the team his final two years, twice returning from broken legs to anchor the defence while becoming the first defenceman to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (1969) as playoff MVP.
Koivu, captain from 1999 until his departure in 2009, was awarded the Masterton for his inspiring comeback from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his remarkable leadership by example, both on and off the ice.
Pacioretty considers the warriors who have gone before him and says the Wolverine reference, though flattering, is perhaps a little premature.
“Hockey is a tough sport and maybe my injuries and my close calls have been magnified a little more,” he said. “But I can tell you, there are a lot of people who play game in and game out with injuries far worse than mine.”
And then he laughed.
“So maybe hold back on the nicknames for now.”