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|Kulikov overcomes adversity: Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov earns Masterton nomination
28 ìàðòà 2019 ãîäà. Winnipeg Sun. By Ken Wiebe.
Dmitry Kulikov isn’t about to pretend this road has been an easy one to travel down.
The Winnipeg Jets defenceman has dealt with several significant back injuries — including one that required off-season surgery last summer – dating back to October of 2016, when he was still a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
A seemingly innocent bodycheck into an open door by Toronto Maple Leafs forward Colin Greening during a pre-season game started this series of events, but Kulikov has persevered and worked his way back into being a steady contributor on the Jets’ blue line.
That’s why Kulikov was named the Jets nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is presented annually by the NHL to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
Kulikov, 28, was chosen in a vote by the Winnipeg chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA).
“It’s made me think that you have to work that much harder to get yourself ready and to stay in it. It made me realize that it doesn’t really come easy,” said Kulikov, who has 610 NHL games on his resume. “You know, certain things can happen, injuries can throw you off your game. It’s not like only your talent can keep you in the league. You have to realize, or I had to realize, that I might have to change some things in my game, I might not be moving the same or working the same way in the gym, or things that I could do before I can’t do now. Just certain things that you have to be able to just to, it just made me realize it wasn’t going to be the same from now on.”
Kulikov tried to play through the pain in Buffalo, but he never felt quite right and was limited to 47 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17 before signing a three-year deal with the Jets in the summer of 2017.
Kulikov suited up in 62 games last season, but dealt with another back issue in March.
Instead of opting for surgery that would have shut him down for the season, Kulikov worked diligently on his rehab so he could return to post-season action — which he did for Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“The decision not to get the surgery before the playoffs was all for that reason. Because I wanted to come back and help the team and play as many games as I can in the playoffs,” said Kulikov. “Ended up playing just one, but that was all what I was working for. I never had a doubt in my mind that I was going to come back after the surgery and play again.
“I’ve always had high pain tolerance. I just remember from when I was younger, never wanted to miss a game, never wanted to miss practice, no matter what, whether hurt or sick or anything like that. It’s always been like that, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, it probably hurt me more times.”
By pushing back the surgery, Kulikov shortened his window for recovery but he put in the hard work and made sure he was ready when he reported to training camp in September.
“He’s a gamer, he truly is. He was willing to suffer through that pain just to play and he knew it shortened his rehab window. And that’s what he wanted to do. He is a competitive guy,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “For sure, it takes a certain character to come back from injuries these guys have come back from… He worked really hard. I thought that training camp for him was we were going to start working him back in and then we start to wonder when we can fit him in in the early part of the season. He came through healthy and strong and that was all hard work.
“He’s back to being quick with the puck, he’s physical now. That’s the guy he was before his injury.”
Kulikov started the season on the sidelines as he continued to get up to speed after recovering from the injury, but quickly worked himself and has been leaned on to play some important minutes this season alongside Tyler Myers as the Jets dealt with several significant injuries on the back end.
Originally a first round pick, 14th overall, of the Florida Panthers in 2009, Kulikov has six assists, 66 blocked shots and 82 hits in 51 games this season while averaging 15:35 of ice time.
After coming into the NHL as more of an offensive guy, Kulikov has seen his role shift to the defensive side of the game – which is something he embraced with open arms.
“It’s also fun to shut down the other team’s top lines, it’s fun to play in that role,” said Kulikov. “You feel like you’re helping the team even though you’re not getting points. You may get a third assist, which doesn’t count, but you start the play and it develops after that, you might not get an assist, but you feel you’re still helping.”
Winnipeg Jets nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
2018-19: Dmitry Kulikov
2017-18: Tyler Myers
2016-17: Bryan Little
2015-16: Dustin Byfuglien
2014-15: Ondrej Pavelec
2013-14: Olli Joikinen
2012-13: Ron Hainsey
2011-12: Jim Slater