OTTAWA — Craig Anderson's quiet perseverance has spoken volumes for the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators' No. 1 goaltender has missed parts of the season to be with his wife Nicholle as she battles a rare form of throat cancer. Yet through 34 games Anderson is 22-10-0-2, and his ability to remain focused has been an inspiration to his teammates and management.
"The fact he's been able to juggle all that together and keep his cool and keep his performances up to the level is absolutely outstanding and you have to be inspired by that," coach Guy Boucher said Monday after Anderson was voted Ottawa's nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.
Nicholle was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer in October. Anderson, with the support of management and teammates, took an extended leave from the Senators in early December to be by his wife's side while she underwent treatment in New York.
He returned to the team Jan. 31 and played his first game in over two months on Feb. 11, posting a 3-0 shutout over the New York Islanders.
Being with the team and playing has been a respite for Anderson from the worry and stress the family has gone through this season.
"It's always on the mind, but I feel the three hours we get at the rink is definitely a time to put things aside and exert your energy and frustration out that you might have and just go out there and give everything you can and then when you take off the equipment then you can address real world problems after that," he said.
And the experience has put the game back in perspective for the 35-year-old.
"It makes the game feel like it's just a game again. When you're growing up as a kid the game of hockey is supposed to be fun and enjoyable and I think sometimes that gets lost as you get older and becomes more of a job.
"But at the same time …if you love your job you're going to enjoy it more and you're going to have more success at it so it doesn't change here. Sometimes you lose sight of that, but when you go through difficult times away from the rink it makes you realize that it is a game and you are supposed to have fun while you play it and that's kind of how I approached it."
The Senators (41-25-8) will spend the next eight days on the road as they embark on a four-game road trip where they will look to clinch a playoff spot. Ottawa sits three points back of Montreal for first in the Division and has a five-point lead on the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs, but know they need to maintain a consistent level of play through the final weeks of the season.
"We're going to go and play the way we're capable of playing," said Anderson. "We'll take it one game at a time and if we play the right way the results will take care of themselves, but if we start worrying about the results and not about how you play that's when things don't go the way you want them to go and that's when frustration sets in."
Anderson will get the start Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"His perseverance to help our team this year shows us the true colours of Craig's character," said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion. "The level of play he's able to achieve this season is able to have us in the position that we're in right now."
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press