“The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and is given “to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
That’s the legal jargon, the award definition, what gets published on the website.
When it comes to the Masterton Trophy, though, you just know what a worthy nominee should look like when you see one. The Kings had multiple candidates who were deserving this season, but it’s hard to find a better story than that of goaltender Pheonix Copley.
“I think it’s a great choice,” Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “The perseverance that he had to believe in himself and also to take advantage of the opportunity that was presented to him and not hand it back was pretty impressive.”
The PHWA – Professional Hockey Writers Association – votes on each team’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy, with members in each market selecting each team’s candidate. That group then votes for the award overall. Here’s what those selecting had to say about honoring Copley.
When Pheonix Copley was signed on July 13, 2022 by Los Angeles as a free agent, the move was thought to be a minor league goaltending depth add as Pheonix had only played two NHL games since the 2019-‘20 season. But with established starters Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen underachieving, the 31-year-old Copley was summoned to the big club and made his biggest save, that of the Kings season. He set a franchise record by becoming the fastest goaltender to reach the 20-win mark needing only 29 appearances and earned a one-year contract extension.
“It’s a very big honor to have that nomination,” Copley said. “There are a lot of great guys on the team, so for me to have that honor, I’m just super honored and super humbled.”
October and November came and went and Copley simply went about his business in the AHL. Then came December and one of the NHL’s best stories this season had begun. Since December 6, Copley’s LA Kings debut, he ranks tied for fifth in the league with 24 victories. That’s more than eight teams have had in total in that span. From December 6 through the NHL’s trade deadline in early-March, no one had more victories than Copley did.
The 6-4 netminder always believed that he was an NHL goaltender. He always believed that he could play consistently at this level. Even with that in mind, it was hard to believe that things could have gone THIS well over the last four months.
“It was hard to picture that,” he admitted. “I think that’s always the goal is to get in the NHL and have success, so that was always the dream. How it played out, I don’t think I could have pictured that, how it exactly played out, but it was definitely nice to get a fresh start in a new organization. As things evolved, I just tried to keep bringing what I can to the team and doing what I can to help the team win.”
Help the team win he has, as the Kings surged to their second consecutive playoff berth, with Copley playing a large part in that success.
Despite his run this season in LA, however, it hasn’t been a storybook route to this point. In between Copley’s 2018-19 season with Washington and his Kings debut back in December, the Alaska native played 92 games in the AHL with Hershey and Ontario and just two at the highest level.
Copley had an extended run four seasons prior, as he appeared in 27 games with Washington in the 2018-19 season, which gave him a belief that he could be an NHL regular. Belief is belief though and belief is nothing without opportunity, which Copley never quite received for one reason or another. He pointed to the group around him, in his inner circle, to help push him through those trying times.
“I mean, there have been frustrations throughout my career, as probably with everybody,” Copley said. “I’ve had a really good group around me and it’s helped to guide me and that’s kind of who I’ve leaned on throughout my career. Fortunately, they’ve helped to push me in the right direction.”
He pointed first and foremost to his family for their support in the process.
Copley highlighted his parents, his fiancée and his brothers as being there for him over the years. Copley turned 31 in January. Not particularly old by human standards, but he’s no spring chicken by NHL evaluation standards. He’s relied on that support through the challenging times and it’s brought him out the other end stronger than how he entered. The beauty of Copley’s season is that while he’s already had a season worth rewarding, things are far from over. Copley has played a massive role for the Kings down the stretch and is in the mix for playoff minutes as well, with belief that Copley will be one of many playing a role in the postseason.
“His story is quite a story,” McLellan added. “He’s written a lot of the chapters already by coming into training camp, coming in and taking the net and providing the wins, but we also don’t want his book to be over yet.”
The story, hopefully, still has at least another couple chapters here in 2022-23, but we know that the story for Copley here in Los Angeles won’t end when the season ends, either. Copley signed a one-year extension back in February that ties him to the Kings organization through 2024, which means he’ll be in the fold with the Kings next season as well.
Copley, though honored, admitted that he hasn’t really taken the time for a 10,000-foot view of his nomination or even his season as a whole. That will come later on.
The hope, however, is that later on is in fact much later on. The Kings have goals in the interim and that begins with Game 1 of the postseason, coming early next week. Individual recognition or not, team success is always the goal for Copley.
“I think there’s a time and a place for reflection, but right now, we still have goals to achieve, so it’s not really time for me to sit back and look at that,” he said. “Later on, down the road, for I’ll look back at it, but for now, we as a group have goals to achieve and that’s what I’m focused on.”