Pekka Rinne did not exactly make it to the NHL through the backdoor.
He was a backup, though, when Nashville Predators scouts discovered him, and never were the doors to stardom thrown open for him. He got there only through persistence and patience.
Now one of the NHL’s best and a franchise cornerstone, the 30-year-old goaltender was named the Predators’ 2013 Masterton Trophy nominee Monday by a vote of local members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The Masteron Trophy recognizes “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” One player from each team is nominated and the winner is chosen by a vote of the full PHWA membership.
Steve Sullivan won the Masteron Trophy in 2009 after his return from a back injury that sidelined him for nearly two years. Jordin Tootoo was Nashville’s nominee last season.
The award allows for a broad range of qualities to be honored, many of which Rinne exemplifies.
His perseverance is evidenced by the fact that he never was a starter in the top division in his native Finland, yet his pregame and practice habits were enough to convince Nashville to use an eighth-round draft pick on him in 2004. He came to North America a year later and spent three full seasons in the American Hockey League.
He missed roughly the first half of his second season at Milwaukee due to a shoulder injury, which was the result of an unprovoked altercation outside of a restaurant back home. He was a backup when he started his first NHL season but the starter by the time the playoffs arrived.
No matter the obstacles, he always has succeeded to a great degree. He’s a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist who also received serious consideration for the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) two years ago. Earlier this month he was named the greatest player in Milwaukee Admirals history.
He is the Predators’ all-time leader in shutouts (30), goals-against average (2.36) and save percentage (.920), not to mention playoff wins (13).
Just as important, he is an example to his teammates of unrelenting competitiveness yet unfailing perspective, regardless of the situation. He is a thoughtful and willing spokesman in victory and defeat and a fan favorite because of his personality.
Nashville plays its final home game of the season Tuesday against Calgary, and he enters that one tied for the league led in appearances with 42. That is all but three thus far in this lockout-shortened season.
He also tied for the league lead in games played by a goalie last season with 73.
Rinne’s 43 wins in 2011-12 topped the NHL. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Montreal’s Carey Price, both former first-round picks, shared the league lead in wins the previous season, and in 2009-10 another first-rounder, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, was first in that regard.
Those other three were identified as stars long before they made it to the NHL. Rinne had to prove it every step of the way.