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Past the ‘doubts and questions,' Couturier now Flyers' Masterton nominee

The Flyers' center was out of game action for almost 22 months because of two back surgeries

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Just a handful of days before 2022 training camp, Sean Couturier was taken off the ice again by his problematic back injury.

He'd feel OK but then the pain would return. He tried everything. Eventually, a second back surgery in the span of eight and a half months was required.

For almost 22 months, Couturier didn't play a regular-season game. He rehabbed, rehabbed and rehabbed.

On Friday, 70 games into his comeback season, he was nominated for the 2023-24 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Couturier was voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association's Philadelphia chapter as the Flyers' nominee for the NHL award, which is given annually to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey."

"It was definitely tough when it happened the second time," the Flyers' captain said Friday in a Zoom press conference. "The first time, I wasn't too worried, I was just like, 'OK, done for the year, I'll be back next year, it's time to get ready for next season.' But then when that kind of got taken away from me right before camp, that was kind of tough to accept. I started having doubts and questions about, 'Is this going to just keep coming back every time?'"

In 2021-22, Couturier played only 29 games. He was knocked out of the lineup in December that year. The pain was so bad that he struggled to sleep at night and underwent season-ending surgery in February.

The first-line center was poised for a full return to start the 2022-23 season but the pain never completely went away.

"It was a tough period in my career and my life, the last year and a half," Couturier said.

After plenty of time to reflect and even stomaching a difficult decision by the team to delay his return, Couturier was back in the Flyers' lineup for the 2023-24 season opener. The 31-year-old has 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) and was named the team's captain in February.

"I'm glad that the second surgery and everything went well, I recovered well," Couturier said. "I'm just happy that it's behind me now and I can just focus on playing hockey and enjoying playing the game that I've been playing since I was a kid. Just really happy to be back playing hockey at a high level."

This season hasn't been an easy one for Couturier. He was benched for two games last month and has seen his role and production dip after a strong start to the season. But what he endured prior to this season has helped him keep it all in perspective.

"The last couple of weeks, month or so, month and a half, it has been personally tough for me on the ice," Couturier said. "But I'm just trying to stay focused and enjoying the game through the grind and the downs."

More: Couturier to miss Flyers' back-to-back set with upper-body injury

Oskar Lindblom won the Masterton Trophy in 2020-21, becoming the fourth Flyer to ever take home the award. He joined Bob Clarke (1971-72), Tim Kerr (1988-89) and Ian Laperriere (2010-11) as the Flyers' recipients. Kevin Hayes was a finalist in 2021-22 and Nick Seeler was the Flyers' nominee last season.

Following a vote by the PHWA, the winner of the honor will be announced among the NHL awards.

Here are the voted Masterton nominees for each club:

• Anaheim Ducks — Urho Vaakanainen
• Arizona Coyotes — Connor Ingram
• Boston Bruins — Danton Heinen
• Buffalo Sabres — Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
• Calgary Flames — Oliver Kylington
• Carolina Hurricanes — Frederik Andersen
• Chicago Blackhawks — Colin Blackwell
• Colorado Avalanche — Jonathan Drouin
• Columbus Blue Jackets — Zach Werenski
• Dallas Stars — Matt Duchene
• Detroit Red Wings — Alex Lyon
• Edmonton Oilers — Vincent Desharnais
• Florida Panthers — Oliver Ekman-Larsson
• Los Angeles Kings — Viktor Arvidsson
• Minnesota Wild — Marco Rossi
• Montreal Canadiens — Joel Armia
• Nashville Predators — Michael McCarron
• New Jersey Devils — Curtis Lazar
• New York Islanders — Cal Clutterbuck
• New York Rangers — Jonathan Quick
​• Ottawa Senators — Claude Giroux
• Philadelphia Flyers — Sean Couturier
• Pittsburgh Penguins — Sidney Crosby
• San Jose Sharks — Justin Bailey
• Seattle Kraken — Joey Daccord
• St. Louis Blues — Nathan Walker
• Tampa Bay Lightning — Michael Eyssimont
• Toronto Maple Leafs — Ilya Samsonov
• Vancouver Canucks — Noah Juulsen
• Vegas Golden Knights — Alex Pietrangelo
• Washington Capitals — T.J. Oshie
• Winnipeg Jets — Laurent Brossoit

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