HOMEBioFilm rights, Screenplays, Representation2021 Commentaries2020 CommentariesOLYMPIC AFFAIR: HITLER'S SIREN AND AMERICA'S HEROTHE WITCH'S SEASONThird Down and a War to GoHORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMING'77: DENVER, THE BRONCOS, AND A COMING OF AGEMarch 1939: Before the MadnessPLAYING PIANO IN A BROTHELSave By RoyThey Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and RecoveryA Selection of Terry Frei's writing about World War II heroesOlympic Affair Excerpt: Chapter 1, Leni's VisitOlympic Affair Excerpt: Chapter 15, Aren't You Thomas Wolfe?The Witch's Season: Screenplay opening pagesThe Witch's Season Excerpt:Air Force Game, Bitter Protest, a Single ShotThird Down and a War to Go: Screenplay opening pagesThird Down and a War to Go Excerpt: Ohio State vs. WisconsinThird Down and a War to Go genesis: Grateful for the Guard, Jerry FreiThird Down and a War to Go: A Marines' game on GuadalcanalDave Schreiner, Badger and MarineBob Baumann, Badger and MarineLt. Col. John Mosley, Aggie and Tuskegee AirmanHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming: Prologue and screenplay opening pagesHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Excerpt: James Street: Wishbone WizardHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Subplot: The day they stopped playing Dixie'77 Excerpt: AFC Title GameMarch 1939 Excerpt: First NCAA Title GameMarch 1939, Excerpt: The StartersPlaying Piano Excerpt: S.F. EarthquakeA Year with Nick Saban before he was Nick SabanTommy Lasorda and the Summer of '70Press CredentialsThe Sporting NewsDenver PostESPN.comThe OregonianGreeley TribuneKids' sports books: The ClassicsJon Hassler, Terry Kay and other favorite novelistsBig Bill Ficke's Big HeartBob Bell's Food For Thought


June 6, 2020

Why a major NHL award

is named after ex-DU

Pioneer Bill Masterton

Masterton.jpg MastertonTrophy.jpg

The Colorado chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- an organization I served for many years as a chapter chair and a vice president -- announced Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves is its nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for "this" season. 


The award is supposed to go to the player who best exemplifies "perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."


Each PHWA chapter nominates one player for an organization-wide vote.


One Colorado player has won the award.


(Final Jeopardy theme.)


Give up?


It was Colorado Rockies goaltender Glenn "Chico" Resch in 1981-82, the team's final season in Denver before its sale and move to New Jersey.      


So who was Bill Masterton? It's usually pointed out that the Winnipeg native had played for the Minnesota North Stars, but only rarely that he also had been a University of Denver Pioneer. In fact. he was the star of the DU teams that won back-to-back NCAA titles in 1960 and '61. 


In the early hours of January 15, 1968, the North Stars center died at a suburban Minneapolis hospital of a severe brain injury after he was checked and fell backwards, and his head hit the ice in a January 13 game against the Oakland Seals.


He was only 29.


After his DU career, he played in the Canadiens' system. He then retired from pro hockey came back to DU to get his master's degree in finance. While living in Minneapolis and working for Honeywell as a contracts administrator, he regained his amateur status to play several seasons of senior hockey and -- as a naturalized U.S. citizen -- also serve as the captain of the U.S. national team. He was the first player the North Stars signed. 


Looking back at the contemporary newspaper accounts of his injury and death, it's striking how respected he was, and how he was one of the prime examples of terrific players who couldn't break through in the six-team era and got a chance after the expansion from six to 12 teams for 1967-68.    


"Billy was fulfilling a life-long dream,"  North Stars general manager Wren Blair said that week. "He did not need the National Hockey League. It was just something he wanted to do."


The death brought renewed calls to make helmets mandatory in the NHL, including from players association head Alan Eagleson.


In conjunction with the NHL All-Star Game in Toronto, the day after Masterton's death, league president Clarence Campbell was asked about it.


"It's an optional thing," Campbell said. "There are some players who just won't wear them."


In fact, Masterton wore a helmet in his collegiate career at DU, because they were mandatory in NCAA hockey, then went without as a pro.   


Shockingly, Masterton's family was in line to get only $50,000 from the NHL's life insurance program, $10,000 from the league's accident insurance, $25,000 from Minnesota Workman's Compensation and roughly $15,000 from the remainder of his contract, which the North Stars said they would honor.


The NHL's benefit of $10,000 in accident insurance was scheduled to be increased to a $100,000 double indemnity payment on February 1 -- two weeks after his death.


"It is sad to think that this wasn't in effect the day before yesterday," Campbell said. "But we've done this as expeditiously as possible."  


Campbell shot down the idea that the league could play a benefit game to raise money for the family.


"I think a benefit game is asking the public to pay for a normal hazard in our business," Campbell, a true dinosaur, said. "It is our own responsibility to pay indemnification whenever it is necessary. You can't compensate for a man's death no matter what you do. This is just a built-in hazard of our business."


Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jack Riley pointed out an irony at the All-Star game festivities.


"The first All-Star game in 1934 in Toronto was held for a man, Ace Bailey, who almost lost his life because of a severe head injury," Riley said


Campbell wasn't swayed by that.


Later, others involved with the North Stars speculated and cited anecdotal evidence he had had brain hemorrhage issues before that fateful game, but had played through them. That's what you did in those days. And not just in hockey. The Toronto Star first laid out those details in 2011. 


After that season, Claude Provost of the Canadiens was named the first Masterton Trophy winner.  


DU's MVP award also is named after Masterton.  




As Pioneers: Defensemen George Konik and Marty

Howe with Bill Masterton and the WCHA championship

trophy, the MacNaughton Cup.