SAN JOSE – James Sheppard’s NHL career nearly came to an end before his 23rd birthday.
The former first round pick of the Minnesota Wild suffered a devastating left knee injury while training in Colorado in September, 2010. He required multiple surgeries, was traded to San Jose in the summer of 2011, and appeared in his first NHL game in nearly three years in the Sharks’ second game of the season in Edmonton on Jan. 22.
Sheppard was chosen on Tuesday by the San Jose chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the nominee for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”
Sheppard, who has a goal and three assists in 30 games with the Sharks, credits his return to a strong support staff.
“I had a lot of people in my corner,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to my family and friends, and all the trainers, physiotherapists, and teammates that put up with me at that time. It was one hell of a speed bump, but I’m happy to be over it with everyone behind my back.”
Did he ever think that his return wouldn’t happen?
“I’m here, so I never gave up. It wasn’t easy. That’s why you need all those people to help you, in case you get stuck in mud on the hill. They’re there to lift you out of it.”
Todd McLellan said: “The path that he’s traveled has not been an easy one, but his perseverance and his resiliency has allowed him to get back to the NHL-level. There’s so many reasons for him to say, ‘You know what? I’m throwing my hands in the air. All the cards are stacked against me.’ But, he didn’t do that.”