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Cherry Hill’s Bobby Ryan wins vote as NHL’s most inspirational player

Oskar Lindblom was a finalist in voting conducted in June, three months before he played in Game 6. He is eligible to win the award next season, and likely will be favored.

Bobby Ryan, a Cherry Hill native who attended Queen of Heaven grade school, was named the winner of the Bill Masterton Award for his dedication and perseverance.
Bobby Ryan, a Cherry Hill native who attended Queen of Heaven grade school, was named the winner of the Bill Masterton Award for his dedication and perseverance.Read morePaul Sancya / AP

Bobby Ryan has five career hat tricks. None was more special than his three-goal night on Feb. 27.

That was Ryan’s first home game back with Ottawa after his alcohol abuse caused him to miss three months while in the NHL and NHLPA’s assistance program. After his third goal that evening, an empty-netter in a win over Vancouver, the Cherry Hill native sat on the Senators bench and cried as the crowd chanted his name.

» YouTube video: Bobby Ryan’s unforgettable return

Ryan on Monday night was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” It is the most inspirational of all the postseason awards.

Voting was done in early June, when Oskar Lindblom was still receiving treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma, and his return to the ice this season was considered a long shot at best. Lindblom kept progressing, however, and eventually played in the final two games of the Flyers’ conference semifinal loss to the Islanders.

He played more than 17 minutes in the Flyers’ Game 6 victory, which included a ceremonial tapping of sticks initiated by Islanders players. If voting was held today, he’d win in a landslide.

“I followed [Lindblom’s story] extensively along with the rest of the hockey world,” Ryan said. “I was impressed with all of the video montages of what he went through. He was probably equally deserving, if not more so deserving of this than me.”

Dallas defenseman Stephen Johns, who missed 22 months with post-traumatic headaches, was the other finalist.

Lindblom will enter the 2020-21 season as a heavy favorite to become the fourth Flyer to win the award, named for late Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton, who died in 1968, two days after a violent check against Oakland sent him backward and resulted in a head injury when he hit the ice without a helmet. Bobby Clarke (1971-72), Tim Kerr (1988-89), and Ian Laperriere (2010-11) are the previous Flyers winners.

The NHL’s coach of the year — Alain Vigneault is a finalist — will be announced Wednesday. The Selke Trophy for best defensive forward is Thursday. Sean Couturier is considered a favorite.

Ryan, 33, could have won the Masterton at any point during his 13-year career, after he overcame a childhood often spent on the run after his father nearly murdered his mother in a drunken rage when Ryan was 10.

The second overall pick in 2005 behind Sidney Crosby, Ryan drove 40 minutes to a brewpub to speak to the media after the award was announced because there was a power outage in his Idaho neighborhood.

He called it “a family award.”

“The fact [is] that my relationships have drastically changed, that I’m in a better place to be a better husband and father,” he said. “I’ve had up days. I’ve had down days. My wife [Danielle] has been there every single step of the way to either encourage me or kick me in the [butt] if I need it. I appreciated it every step of the way.”