MONTREAL – Andrei Markov has made up for lost time in a big way during the 2012-13 campaign, and on Monday the 34-year-old rearguard was recognized for turning the tables on a pair of career-threatening injuries.
Nominated as the club’s candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, the 12-year NHL veteran took the honor in stride ahead of the Habs’ departure for a three-game roadtrip.
“It's a good feeling. [I’m] just happy to be back and playing the game,” said Markov, who missed the better part of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons with a pair of torn ACLs. “Every time I step back on the ice, it’s a great feeling. I’ve got a big list of people who helped me over the past two years. Thanks to them, [I’m here].”
Now fully healthy, Markov has played in all 45 of the Canadiens’ tilts so far this season, registering nine goals and 27 points, while averaging over 24 minutes of ice time per game. Leading the league with eight power-play goals, the Russian All-Star also ranks second among NHL defensemen with 22 points with the man advantage.
Returning to form, however, was a long and often difficult process for the 34-year-old, who relied on expert advice and an optimistic outlook to overcome successive ACL reconstructions over the course of two consecutive seasons.
“It's not easy,” admitted Markov, who roared out of the gates in January with four goals and eight points in the first six games of the year. “Honestly, there were bad days and there were good days, but every day I tried to stay positive, tried to look forward and concentrate on my rehab. Thanks to many people who helped me over those years, I'm here.”
While fit for duty, Markov, like the rest of the Habs’ defense corps, has faced additional challenges throughout the regular season. Losing defense partner Alexei Emelin, coupled with an extended stint without mainstay Raphael Diaz brought countless changes on the back end, forcing Markov and others to adapt and survive.
“It's never easy to lose your teammates, but we're professionals, explained Markov. “It doesn't matter who your partner is. We're both working under the same system, and we have to find a way to play to win the game.”
Ranked fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with three games to go, the Canadiens, thanks in no small part to Markov, have done just that.
“He’s a great example of perseverance,” praised head coach Michel Therrien, citing the importance of Markov’s presence both on and off the ice. “He couldn’t play for practically two years. He’s a player we’ve used a lot. He’s an important part of the nucleus of this team and he’s played in all of our games.”
Monday’s nomination is a resounding affirmation that all of Markov’s hard work in recent years has paid off. On top of his game, the two-time All-Star is making the most of his latest lease on life in the NHL.
“I try to enjoy every game, whether years ago or now. It's a great feeling,” noted Markov, who recorded a career-high 64 points in 2008-09. “Like when you play at home, every time you step on the ice, you feel the crowd behind you. It's an unbelievable feeling. You have to enjoy that and try to have fun. I'm happy. I'm healthy right now. I still have room to improve, and I'm going to work on that in the future.”