March 13 2008 06:49AM
Fernando Pisani is the Edmonton Oilers 2007-08 nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Pisani, 31, is battling a disease called ulcerative colitis, a condition that threatened his career and forced him to miss the first 26 games this season before he returned Dec. 2. Going into tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche, Pisani has overcome a disease that saw him lose 30 pounds and had him bed-ridden last summer to score 10-6-16 in 44 games. Diagnosed in 2005—ulcerative colitis is inflammation and ulcers of the colon—Pisani played with it during the Oilers' run to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final, leading all playoff scorers with 14 goals. He played the entire 2006-07 campaign while fighting it. The condition worsened last summer. At one point, Pisani was too weak to walk a flight of stairs without stopping to rest. He had to be hospitalized for weeks. He faced career-ending surgery. When the Oilers made Pisani's condition public in September, the hope was he'd recover enough to lead a normal life. Resuming his NHL career was an afterthought. "I had to stay in bed," Pisani said. "I couldn't do anything. It was no way to live. Everybody says, 'Stay positive. You'll get through this,' but there were times when it was just ugly. "Ultimately, your health is the first thing, but nobody ever wants to hear that you might not be able to play again. This is my livelihood. This is what I've done since I was four years old. To think it might be taken away from you is a scary thing." Even when Pisani rallied in late-September and avoided surgery with drug therapy, the prognosis was it would take most of this season for him to recover enough to play again. In a stunning turnaround, Pisani skated on his own during the first week of November and he was near his playing weight of 205 pounds after pushing himself to the limit in the workout room. Pisani made his return Dec. 2 in Anaheim. While he's still not 100 per cent, he's been playing his best hockey of the year in the stretch drive—seven of his 10 goals have come in the last 17 games. SAM'S LEADING CANDIDATES 1. Fernando Pisani, Edmonton. Nice guys can finish first. 2. Jason Blake, Toronto. The ink on Blake's new contract with the Maple Leafs was barely dry when he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare but treatable form of cancer. Despite the debilitating illness, which requires a daily dose of medication, Blake has played every one of Toronto's 72 games. Anybody who has had leukemia or knows somebody battling the disease, knows what a remarkable feat it is that Blake has strapped it on every day and hasn't missed a beat. Blake has scored 13-31-44. 3. Ty Conklin, Pittsburgh. Perseverance and dedication? That would be Conklin, who has gone from the NHL scrap heap after being cut loose by the Oilers to a significant role with the Penguins. While Oilers fans shudder at the thought of the three-headed crease monster that was Conklin, Jussi Markkanen and Mike Morrison before Dwayne Roloson's arrival at the 2006 trade deadline, the soft-spoken stopper from Alaska is a consummate pro. After NHL stops with Buffalo and Columbus and stints in the AHL with Hamilton, Hartford and Syracuse, Conklin got his chance with the Pens when Marc-Andre Fleury was injured in December. Conklin has turned that chance into an 18-6-5 record after beating Buffalo 7-3 last night. He faced the Sabres with a 2.35 GAA and a league-leading .928 saves percentage. Masterton Memorial Trophy candidates are nominated by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. This season, 29 of 30 teams have nominees. The winner will also be decided by a vote of PHWA members. The full list of nominees will be released March 16. —Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5 pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.