Buffalo Sabres’ defenceman Teppo Numminen has played in each of his team’s games in 2008-09 after missing all but one game last season due to open heart surgery. The 40-year-old native of Tampere, Finland is a strong candidate for this year’s Bill Masterton Award for perseverance and dedication to hockey.

Q: Your return from open heart surgery has to be one of the feel-good stories of 2008, did you ever think you’d be back, and healthy enough to be playing in all your team’s games?
A: There’s times when you don’t know what to think. Our hope was just for me to be a normal person and a good husband to my family. But things have been going to well. I had the chance to play again, and I took the chance. It’s nice to be healthy again, and playing the game I always loved.

Q: Were you ever close to hanging up your skates for good?
A: There were times where I thought there was no way I’d be able to play in the NHL again. But, everything went really great. I got good treatment, and things started looking better. So I thought, “why not give it a try?”

Q: You’re one of four alternate captains along with Hecht, Spacek and Pominville. What makes you and your teammates such great leaders?
A: It’s a team thing. I think we try to spread around the leadership. We still have a young team, so we have to have everybody leading by example on the ice and off the ice. I think everybody’s working really hard and showing the way.

Q: You’re one of six active NHL players who has played for the Winnipeg Jets. Would you like to see the NHL return to Winnipeg some day?
A: That would be nice. But I think the city is too small for an NHL franchise. But hopefully they get some exhibition games and some NHL games there.

Q: It was a disappointing result for Finland at the World Junior Championships. What challenges do you see for Finland in terms of developing young players?
A: I think Finland is still a small country as it always has been, and I think the big challenge is the change of weather. I remember when I was young we had the outdoor rinks, but now the weather is so warm. The kids can’t play outside, so they have to get ice times at the arenas. So I think it’s a matter of getting more ice rinks in Finland, and more ice time for the kids to develop.

Q: How much longer do you see yourself playing?
A: I go week-by-week and I don’t plan too much ahead. I just enjoy my time right now and whatever happens, happens.