Andrew Hammond has been announced as a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, for the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
An undrafted free agent signed to his first professional contract by the Senators at age 25, Hammond's journey has been well-documented in the past few months. He was cut from his Junior-A team in the BCHL after one game back in 2006-07. He considered giving up hockey then, but instead was convinced to join the Grandview Steelers Junior-B team. He got another shot in the BCHL the following year, but was traded mid-season and was ready to give up again. He stuck with it, and played well enough in his year-and-a-half with the Vernon Vipers to get a full scholarship to Bowling Green University in Ohio, whose hockey team was then part of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. (The CCHA no longer exists; Bowling Green is now part of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.)
Hammond's numbers at Bowling Green were good but not spectacular. Not being one of the top colleges for hockey, he hardly garnered NHL interest. He received an invite to the Blackhawks' training camp in 2012. That was it for NHL offers until the Sens signed him after the 2013 college season was over. Most viewed the signing as a stop-gap until draftees Chris Driedger or Marcus Hogberg were ready for full-time AHL duty. His AHL numbers last year were OK, posting a .910 SV% in 48 games, but nothing that suggested he was destined for more. He was called up due to injury to Craig Anderson once, and got to play 35 minutes in relief of Robin Lehner, stopping all 11 shots he faced.
His AHL season this year had been a disaster. He was best known for giving up three goals in 21 seconds against the Philadelphia Phantoms. Not confident in him and Scott Greenham to carry the load, the BSens signed Peter Mannino in December to help shoulder the load. When Anderson went down with injury around the All-Star break, Hammond was called up to serve as backup. He likely never would have got a start until Robin Lehner got injured in a game against the Hurricanes. Suddenly on February 18, 2015, a week after turning 27, Andrew Hammond got his first NHL start. The rest from there, as they say, is history. He went on a historic run, allowing two goals or fewer in his first 12 starts, tying a 77-year-old record by Frank "Mr. Zero" Brimsek. He became the first goalie to shut out the Ducks and Kings on the road on consecutive nights ever. He became a cult hero in Ottawa, and The Hamburlgar became a league-wide sensation. He also helped to lead the Sens back from a 14-point deficit into the playoffs, the largest in league history. Still playing hockey at age 27 demonstrates perseverance to the sport, no question. The Masterton is often given to the biggest comeback story. Hammond gets the nod not for coming back, but for showing up in the first place when nobody believed he had a shot at the NHL.
The other nominees are Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild, and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dubnyk gets the nod for having been part of five different teams' systems (Oilers, Predators, Canadiens, Coyotes, Wild) in one calendar year due to perceived weaknesses. He got the chance to be the starter in Minnesota, and ran with it, leading the team to the playoffs and earning a Vezina nod. He started 38 consecutive games for the club, getting the second-last game of the season off after the Wild were guaranteed their playoff spot. Letang is nominated for overcoming a stroke in January 2014 to play at a high level this year until injuries cut his season short. Interestingly, this is Letang's second nomination in two years.
The award winners will be announced at the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas on June 25.