OTTAWA — Everyone connected with the Senators was brimming with pride and admiration on Monday when the news came down that goalie Craig Anderson had been nominated for the Masterton Trophy. The award goes every year to the National Hockey League player who best represents heart, perseverance and dedication.
As far as his teammates are concerned, Anderson deserves that and another trophy, for representing heart, perseverance and dedication to his family, too. The Senators were inspired by the way Anderson stepped away from his job for two months to care for his wife, Nicholle, who is being treated for a rare form of throat cancer. And they were all lifted by the way he returned, at Nicholle’s urging, to help Ottawa into the postseason, past the Bruins and into the Rangers series.
“He has been incredible with that whole thing this year,’’ teammate Clarke MacArthur said before the series. “You can’t be 50 percent here and 50 percent not here. When he’s here, he’s here. When he goes home, he’s with his family. What can you say? He’s had a real struggle. He’s a huge part of this team. It’s a great story.”
And that comes from someone who knows a great story when he sees one. In any other year, MacArthur himself would be a shoo-in for the Masterton. The 32-year-old forward was on the brink of both despair and retirement during the nearly two full seasons that he had to sit out with post-concussion symptoms. He kept on trying because playing hockey is as much who he is as what he does. He was cleared to return for the last week of the regular season, and in overtime of Game 6 in Boston, he scored the winning goal.
But MacArthur left Game 2 against the Rangers on Saturday after taking an open-ice hit from Ryan McDonagh.
Coach Guy Boucher said it is an upper-body injury, implying that it is not concussion-related because he was allowed to play. “He had something last game, he aggravated it today,” he said. “He’s already feeling better.”
So it was a story within a story within a story for a team that has weathered a great deal this season. Its resilience was represented by one Ottawa fan in the stands last Sunday afternoon. Nicholle Anderson, having flown north from Florida, where the family lives to accommodate her treatment, was there with a No. 41 Senators jersey (Craig’s number) on her back and tears in her eyes.
“There are other things we never talked about, that some players had to live with, individually. A lot of stuff happened this year,” Boucher said earlier in the week. “I think every one of those instances or circumstances really compiled into giving us a team soul.”
MacArthur’s situation Saturday was another reminder that this is a season to try the Sens’ soul. They do not claim to be a Team of Destiny. It is enough for them to speak about themselves as a team, period. “We’ve come together as a group, we all care about each other in the room. I think that goes a long way,” Anderson said Friday, when the only talk was about how good Henrik Lundqvist is and how speedy Michael Grabner and other Rangers forwards are.
“You focus on what’s going on inside the glass. You pretty much block out everything that’s going on outside,” the goalie said.
MacArthur used that same philosophy when he finally was allowed to return. “You either trust that you’re healed or you don’t. I trusted that I was fully healed,” he said before the series.
The greatest emotional healing came in Game 2 against the Bruins series, when he scored a goal for the first time since April 9, 2015. The crowd gave him the sort of ovation he had never heard before. “That,” he said, “was probably the best moment I’ve had in hockey. It was like everyone was so happy that I was back playing.”
People struggling to come back from concussions have been going on Instagram, asking him for advice. He enthusiastically told them about his breakthrough cervical chiropractic sessions and gave them hope.
Hope has become a regular in the Ottawa locker room and will remain there, no matter MacArthur’s prognosis and no matter the series result. “The soul of this team right now is all about caring,” Boucher said. “That’s why this team has grown.”