SUNRISE, FL – The South Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey
Writers’ Association (PHWA) announced today that center Serge Payer is
the Panthers’ nominee for the National Hockey League’s Bill Masterton
Trophy, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities
of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Payer, 21, is in his rookie season with the Panthers, having been signed
as a free agent on Oct. 2, 1997. The 6-foot, 203-pound native of
Rockland, Ontario, has played in 40 games this year, scoring four goals
and adding an assist. On Nov. 29 vs. Carolina he became only the second
rookie in team history (Jaroslav Spacek) to score a shorthanded goal.
Payer was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 1998, while playing
junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
The disorder is a rare acute type of nerve inflammation. The
inflammation damages portions of the nerve cell, resulting in muscle
weakness or paralysis. He lost more than 40 pounds while he battled the
illness during a lengthy hospital stay. Upon his release from the
hospital, he hadn’t strength enough to even climb a flight of stairs.
Shortly into his recovery from Guillain-Barre, Payer developed a severe
case of mononucleosis, which prevented him from participating in the
1999 Florida Panthers Rookie Camp. He was unable to skate until November
of 1999, when he rejoined his teammates in Kitchener and finished fifth
in team scoring with 36 points, despite playing in only the last 44
games of the season.
Payer entered the 2000-2001 impressively, earning an extended look
during training camp, before being one of Florida’s final cuts. After
only 17 pro games, Payer was recalled by Florida and made his NHL debut
Nov. 13 vs. Atlanta. He had five points (three goals, two assists) at
the time of his recall, but it was his defensive play, faceoff prowess
and energy that earned him a trip to the NHL.
The winner of the Masterton Trophy is selected by a poll among the 30
chapters of the PHWA at the end of the regular season. Last year, Ken
Daneyko of the New Jersey Devils received the honor. The trophy was
first presented in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a former
Minnesota North Star. Masterton, long known for exhibiting the qualities
now represented by the trophy that bears his name, died on Jan. 15, 1968
after suffering head injuries during a game.