Blackhawks’ Alex Stalock checks all boxes as extremely deserving Masterton Trophy candidate

Stalock’s remarkable story of determination — overcoming myocarditis caused by COVID-19 to return to the NHL two years later — combined with his excellent goaltending this season and infectiously funny personality warrants strong consideration for the award.

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Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock looks on.

Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock was nominated Monday for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

This Blackhawks season won’t win any awards.

But goalie Alex Stalock might — and arguably should.

Stalock’s nomination for the 2023 Masterton Trophy was announced Monday by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and he should be a strong candidate for the award given annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.”

The 35-year-old veteran not only overcame tremendous health-related adversity to even play this season, but he also quickly emerged as an exemplary player and teammate on a club in which it would have been easy to give only half-effort.

“The last couple of years have been tough with what I’ve gone through,” Stalock said. “But the ultimate goal was to get back and to prove to myself I could do it. This year was a way to do that.

“It’s never an easy league. The older you get, the harder it is to stay and compete at this level. Honestly, going through it, were there points where I had doubts in my mind that I would ever play again? Yeah. But at the same time, it’s the way I’m wired that I wouldn’t let that be the end of it. To make it back, every day I come to the rink, I’m grateful for it.”

Stalock entered the fall having played in only one NHL game — and 17 AHL games — over the last two seasons because of myocarditis, a heart condition he developed in 2020 after recovering from COVID-19.

For a long time, he couldn’t even exercise without risking cardiac arrest because of his inflamed heart muscle, even though he felt no tangible effects. He met with five cardiologists, each of whom gave him slightly different advice. Eventually, he decided to attempt a comeback.

His determination to return to this level was fueled by having done it once before. A freak injury in the AHL in 2011 severed his left peroneal nerve, leaving him unable to control his lower leg or foot for months and stalling his career for almost a year.

Just like he eventually returned better than ever in 2012, Stalock did the same in 2022. It was evident immediately in his first start — he saved 36 of 37 shots in a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights — that he was going to vastly exceed expectations.

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Alex Stalock’s on-ice goaltending has also been fantastic for the Blackhawks this season.

AP Photos

Despite battling a concussion and resulting eyesight issues during the season, Stalock had a 9-14-1 record (entering Monday) with a .912 save percentage and a plus-8.7 GSAA (goals saved above average), a remarkable achievement in this loss-laden Hawks season.

“Going through what I did — the unknowns of it, the newness of what people were finding — there were no answers, and that’s the frustrating part,” he said. “To stick with it [when] you’re in the American League in different cities and just trying to play to see how you feel and your family’s elsewhere, it was tough.

“It has been a rewarding year to be in a great spot like Chicago and be around a great group of guys that have been supportive.”

That group of guys has found Stalock equally supportive of them. His fun-loving personality has helped create and maintain high morale since training camp.

“It’s been a frustrating, hard year — mentally and emotionally — and when you have a guy who can be really upbeat and positive and have the work ethic he brings, it’s contagious to the team,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “It doesn’t seem like anything will really keep him down.”

Stalock epitomizes the type of person the Masterton was created to recognize.

“It hasn’t been an easy career, but it’s been rewarding when you get to see the other side of it,” Stalock said. “It’s been a joy to be back in an NHL locker room.”

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