When it came time to nominate a player from the Florida Panthers for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, there was only one player who it could have been.
On Friday morning, Ed Jovanovski was officially announced as the Panthers' candidate for the annual award by the Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Jovanovski, 37, spent countless hours rehabilitating his surgically-repaired hip to return to the ice. The Panthers' captain, Jovanovski had radical hip resurfacing surgery -- one step away from hip replacement -- last spring. He worked his way back by training camp, although he didn't play in his first game until Jan. 3.
Jovanovski is believed to be the first professional athlete to return from the procedure.
"I take every day as a win,'' Jovanovski said after he scored his lone goal of the season in Buffalo on Jan. 9. "I'm very fortunate.''
On Friday, Jovanovski spoke about his comeback and what it means to continue playing a game he truly loves -- and "this game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life.''
Jovanovski, who has played in 32 games this season, has one year left on the contract he signed when he returned to the Panthers in 2011 and says he plans on honoring it. When asked if it was up to him, he said he would he be at training camp come September.
Here's what he had to say this morning after Florida's morning skate:
On the nomination:
"I appreciate that, it's definitely an honor. For me, anytime you are nominated for something, it's a great honor. This has been a tough road, no question. When I came back and went through the rehab, there was that doubt of the chances of never playing again. Having the passion to come back and get in there and do my work, 35 games or so into it and not missing many practices, it's definitely a treat to be here.''
Were there times during rehab in which you doubted the process?:
"For the most part I tried to remain as upbeat as I could. There were days in which I said 'what am I doing. It's an uphill battle.' There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it's pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I'm doing. It's great being able to play the game I love.''
Were there family members who said 'what are you doing?'
"Not so much by my wife. A lot of that came from my mom and dad. There were 18. 19 years of grinding. When I got back from my surgery and they saw what I went through that first week ... It wasn't fun. It was miserable. As the days move on, your attitude is, well the sun comes up kind of thing. Everything is moving forward. With the rehab regimen these days, you're right back at it and you start feeling better. That's kind of what happened to me. You have to start somewhere.''
Where do you rank coming back on your list of accomplishments?
"It's got to be up there. We all enjoy the great seasons, the teams. But this one really hits home.''
You're not done yet, right?
"I think working out off the ice, then on the ice and getting into game action for me, it's going to be a really important summer to concentrate on an 82 game schedule. Really work at playing and having success. There is no other way to put it. I have to work hard. When you put your mind to it, anything is a possibility.''
Have you talked to Dale about your future?
"No. I have a year on my contract and I plan on fulfilling it.''
So if it's up to you, you'll be here for training camp?
Feel how you've shown the kids how it's done?
"It's not so much showing it. You don't wish anyone to go through what I went to. There are a lot of prevention things today like what [Huberdeau] went through like scoping. This was kind of a last resort kind of thing to first and foremost improve my quality of life, be able to play with my kids, bend over and put my socks on and tie my shoes. I was lost at one point. It was a daily struggle to do a lot of things. But if they can see anything, it's anything is possible. This game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life. The opportunity is through the roof for these guys financially and being able to do what they want to do.''
How much did you miss the game, being around the team?
"It killed me. And it's one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. At the end of the day, do what you love to do. We play a game. It's hard, a lot of the things that go unnoticed. The travel; yes we do fly on charters, but it's a grind getting in at 2, 3 in the morning and have to get ready in the morning. It tests you that much more. But it killed me not being around the guys and that's something that bothers me when it's all going to be over.''
What to stick around the game?
"Yeah, that's something that is definitely a possibility. I love the game that much. I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win. It's something I love to do. I've been in this community so long, I'd love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It's going to be an interesting summer. We'll see where that unfolds.''
"It was a serious injury to come back from as a hockey player and at his age as well, the passion he's shown and character he's shown to come back, it was for the love of the game. That's really impressive.
"Having him in the dressing room is a huge piece. It's noticeable when he's not here. That battle he's shown, the determination, is something we all need to learn from. Hockey isn't forever and to show that passion is an amazing thing to see. His return has been seamless. He basically took a year off and it's a tough thing to do and come back and play. It's quite the invasive surgery. It's a big deal. For him to come back is amazing to see. I don't think a lot of guys could have done what he's overcome. That's a true testament to what he's all about.
"He's here for the love of the game. That's a passionate man right there. That's something we should all learn from and everyone in this locker room should take note of it.''
"The perseverance of that is incredible. Where you are in your career and going through a surgery, as we've talked before, no one has ever returned from. I think it's the same surgery Bo Jackson had.
"Playing later in your career is tough, the day-to-day and the travel and the recovery. To come back and work hard enough and have the doctors clear him, give him credit for that.
"They are big kids at heart. He may be late 30s, but they love the game. That's what they love, they are their happiest on the ice. The young guys see that, see that fight through and injury and spend months and months of recovery time. He went through training camp and had the disappointment of the doctor saying it's not healed. He continued to push until he got back in. It's a great story.