Bill Masterson died 45 years ago today, and this is a tribute that I posted on Facebook....
45 years ago, 29-year-old Bill Masterson was finally living out his dream of playing in the NHL. A standout at the University of Denver, he was signed to a contract by the Montreal Canadiens after graduation in 1961, but left hockey after bouncing around the minors for a few years. He went back to Denver and got his master's degree in finance and went to work for the Honeywell Corporation. In 1967, when the NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams, his rights were traded to the expansion Minnesota North Stars (now known as the Dallas Stars), even though he hadn't played professional hockey for several years. He was one of the first two players to sign a contract with the Stars and scored the first goal in Stars' history on October 11, 1967.
On January 13, 1968, in just his 38th NHL game (against the Oakland Seals), Masterson had just completed a pass when he was checked by two Seals' players. He fell backwards and slammed his head into the ice. In those days, NHL players did not wear helmets, and Masterson's injury was so devastating that doctors were unable to surgically repair it. He died two days later, on January 15th, the 2nd player in NHL history to die due to an injury suffered during a game (the first was Canadiens' legend Howie Morenz in 1937, and fortunately there has not been another since Masterson). His death lead to intensive lobbying for helmets to be adopted in the NHL, which did not happen until the 1979-1980 season.
In 1987, Masterson's #19 became the first number to be retired by the Stars (one of only three numbers so far retired by the team, not counting Wayne Gretzky's #99, which was retired league-wide). The Bill Masterson Trophy has been awarded annually by the NHL since his death, going to the "player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey" - usually a player who wins this award has overcome major adversity to continue his hockey career (such as playing after being diagnosed with cancer, as was the case with several winners, such as Mario Lemieux). The most recent winner was the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, who suffered a concussion and fractured vertebrae in his neck during a game in March 2011, then came back the next season to have the best year of his career.