Whether or not he plays another game in the NHL – and I’m fairly certain, sadly, he has played his last – Mike Sillinger deserves the Masterton Trophy for more than 1,000 games of perserverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
At age 37, Sillinger attempted to play a 17th NHL season after rehabilitating from microfracture hip surgery. After playing a few games for the Islanders this season, he missed a week with a groin injury. But when he went on the IR on Tuesday, the club termed it “a hip injury.” You don’t have to be any kind of surgeon to know where this story is headed.
If the game on Monday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden proves to be Sillinger’s 1,049th and last, the record will show he left courageously. Trying to battle his way through the pain his Colorado surgeon told him he’d have to endure for a while, Sillinger scored the game’s opening goal off a feed from his young pal and protege Trent Hunter. For the superb faceoff man and two-way center, it was the 240th goal of his NHL career.
The Masterton Trophy was established 40 years ago to honor careers that exemplified dedication to hockey. But over the last 15 years or so – beginning with former Islanders goalie Mark Fitzpatrick - the sentiment has changed. While all of their comebacks were admirable and uplifting, players such as Bryan Berard, Jason Blake, Phil Kessel and Saku Koivu have received the Masterton by overcoming serious injuries and illnesses to continue their chosen careers. It makes you wonder how the Professional Hockey Writers Association got off-track and re-interpreted the meaning of the Masterton.
The award used to go to stalwarts such as Eddie Westfall and Butch Goring, Lanny McDonald and Dave Taylor, Jean Ratelle and Doug Jarvis. In other words, the Masterton Trophy was created to honor “perserverance, dedication and sportsmanship” with players like Mike Sillinger exactly in mind.
You know all about the league-record times Sillinger was traded. Now consider – look it up – that every time he was dealt his old team never had a bad word to say about him, or he about his team. Now that’s a record.
If his career is over, Sillinger’s 141 games on the Island will be just 14 shy of his most with any of his 12 NHL teams. He played 155 with Columbus. You want dedication? How about Sillinger agreeing to play three games this season on a conditioning stint in Bridgeport, his first trip to the American Hockey League in 15 years?
Quick story: when Sillinger last played in the “A,” in 1992-93, he had 30 points in 15 games. Before he left for Bridgeport, I kidded that he’d never keep up that scoring pace. In his first game with the Sound Tigers the old son-of-a-gun had three assists. “Take that! I exceeded my pace,” he said with the exuberance of a rookie.
His lack of a Stanley Cup ring does not take away from a career that has been remarkable in every sense of the word. Give Mike Sillinger the Masterton. And put his wife Karla’s name on there, too.
ETC: Joey MacDonald and Rick DiPietro are still the only two Islanders goalies in Phoenix…DiPietro practiced with the team Thursday. So did Trent Hunter, who told me after the game on Wednesday that he couldn’t breathe for several seconds after the hit and collision with the open door at the Garden…Mitch Fritz cleared waivers and is now with Bridgeport.
Greg Logan is the only reporter on this four-game Western swing. Between the travel and the time difference, there’s an excellent chance Greg’s going to get some news before I do. While I’ll do my best to stir it up from the home office, you’ll want to regularly check out Greg’s blog throughout the trip. Actually, you’ll always want to regularly check out Greg’s blog.