NASHVILLE, Tenn — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was honored by the hockey community Monday at the NHL Awards in Nashville. After returning to play just a couple of weeks after a stroke and pushing through the sudden loss of his father at mid-season, Letang still posted a stellar season.
Letang, 35, was awarded the Masteron Trophy as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The trophy, first awarded in 1968, goes to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
Letang suffered a stroke in late November, as announced on Nov. 30. He missed only 10 before returning to practice, but that was only the start of Letang’s tribulations.
“It’s special for my family, to be honest. It’s like I said on stage, it’s an award that you’re not able to get if you don’t have the people around you, you know,” said Letang. “Starting with my wife, family, friends, obviously a great group of teammates I’ve had in Pittsburgh for so many years. Coaches. Strength coaches.”
Letang’s season didn’t get easy late in December when he suffered a lower-body injury, said to be a broken foot. Then, Letang missed the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Jan. 2 after his father, Claude Fouquet, died unexpectedly in Montreal. The loss hit Letang hard, and he missed three more weeks being with family during the difficult time.
His teammates detoured a flight home from Arizona after a long road trip to be with Letang during his father’s funeral on Jan. 8.
“You don’t really control everything. You have to live through it,” said Letang in January. “Sometimes you can go through times like this, and you have to rely on your family and your close ones to be there for you and support you.”
However, on the ice, Letang again led the Penguins’ defensemen, even if his statistics dipped. Letang had 41 points (12-29-41) in 64 games. On stage, Letang acknowledged the bitter-sweet nature of the award.
“I always dreamt of being up here receiving an award, but this wasn’t the one,” Letang joked. “It means something bad happened.”
Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller was a finalist after breaking his femur in the 2021-22 season but returning to post a career year last season. Chicago Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock was the third finalist. He overcame myocarditis caused by a particularly difficult battle with COVID. He played just one game in 2021-22 before returning for a full schedule this season.
Each of the finalists had someone speak about their qualities. Penguins defenseman P.O Joseph spoke on Letang’s behalf. Joseph also spoke to the media after the event.