LAS VEGAS — Taylor Hall was a nervous wreck as the NHL Awards approached its climax.
When 10 surviving Humboldt Broncos, including two in wheelchairs, took their place on stage ahead of an emotional video tribute to the 16 team members that didn’t survive April’s horrific bus crash, the feeling quickly melted away.
Hall, a winger with the New Jersey Devils, won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player Wednesday as the NHL honoured this season’s individual achievements and recognized three tragedies that touched the hockey world.
"When you’re on a stage and the whole night is culminating at that very moment, it’s easy to get wrapped up in it," Hall said afterwards. "But when you see that (Humboltd) video, the tribute (and) talking to some of the kids yesterday and the parents … it puts everything into perspective and it’s not all about you. It’s not all about winning awards. It’s about enjoying life and doing what you love.
"To see those kids, their dreams ripped apart, and their families have to heal from that, it just puts everything in perspective."
Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, one of those killed when Humboldt’s team bus collided with a truck while en route to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game on April 6, was posthumously awarded the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. Ten of his players died in the accident, while 13 survived.
Haugan’s widow, Christina, accepted the honour on her late husband’s behalf.
"His legacy is far more than what is recorded on the stat sheets," she told the crowd of NHL stars during her speech at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. "It is measured by the lives and communities that are better off for having Darcy in them. It is now up to those individuals to pay forward his legacy on to others.
"For that reason, what’s happening here tonight in Vegas must not stay in Vegas. The torch has been passed."
There were also tributes to two other tragedies — the Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1 and the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
Victims and first responders from the Las Vegas attack that killed 58 people just over a week before the expansion Golden Knights played their first-ever regular-season home game were in attendance, as were members of Stoneman Douglas hockey team, which won the Florida state title shortly after a gunman killed 17 people at the school.
Stoneman Douglas is located in Parkland, some 20 kilometres from the Panthers’ arena.
"After those tragedies, I think the hockey community shows that everyone is together," said Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman, who won his first Norris Trophy as the league’s top blue liner. "That’s something I wanted to try to hit home in my speech.
"This is more than just a game."
Hall, who beat out Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon and Los Angeles Kings centre Anze Kopitar, had 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points for New Jersey — 41 more than his next closest teammate for the widest margin in the NHL since 2007-08.
The No. 1 pick in 2010, Hall took it personally when the Edmonton Oilers traded him to the Devils two summers ago, but the 26-year-old found a home in New Jersey and thoroughly enjoyed his first playoff experience.
"At the start of this season people wrote us off … people have wrote me off," said Hall, the first Devil to win the Hart. "It feels pretty good standing up here."
The Hart is selected by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Oilers captain Connor McDavid won the Ted Lindsay Award for a second straight year as the league’s most outstanding player as voted on by members of the NHLPA.
"It’s so special to know that they have that respect," McDavid, who also won the Hart last season, said of being recognized by his peers. "It definitely means a lot."
It was a big evening for the Knights as Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, George McPhee was named the NHL’s top general manager, and centre William Karlsson grabbed the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player.
Vegas defenceman Deryk Engelland also took home the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, in part because of his emotional speech to a healing city before the Knights’ home opener.
The team went on to finish the regular season with a stunning 109 points to top the Pacific Division before making it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
As for the other awards, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie after being nominated three other times, New York Islanders centre Mathew Barzal claimed the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, and Kopitar won his second Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward.
Vancouver forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who retired in the spring, capped their careers by accepting the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarianism, and New Jersey centre Brian Boyle received the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer at the start of training camp, but worked his way back into the lineup by late November.
But while the hardware was being handed out to worthy recipients, this night was really more about the tributes to Humboldt, Vegas and Stoneman Douglas.
"Three terrible tragedies," said Hall. "Three things that should never happen.
"As a community, as a hockey community, you try and rally and just be a kind person to one another."
That was certainly on display Wednesday.