Had expansion not taken place in 1967, it is unlikely Bill Masterton would ever have played in the National Hockey League. After playing junior hockey in St. Boniface Manitoba, a neighbouring community to his Winnipeg hometown, Bill attended the University of Denver, earning his master's degree in finance while playing hockey. A true star in the college ranks, Bill Masterton was an All-American, and most valuable player in the NCAA tournament of 1961. Masterton played in the Montreal Canadiens system, but retired in 1964 in order to work for the Honeywell Corporation in Minneapolis and play as an amateur for the United States National team. But the Minnesota North Stars bought Masterton in June 1967, and he joined the fledgling Stars in training camp that fall. On January 13, 1968, Bill Masterton was bodychecked by two Oakland Seals' players after passing the puck, and fell backwards, hitting his head on the ice. He was carried off the ice unconscious, and never awoke from his coma. Two days later, on January 15, Bill Masterton died, the first on-ice casualty in NHL history.
To commemorate the perseverance and dedication to hockey embodied by the 29-year old NHL rookie, the NHL designed the Bill Masterton Trophy for presentation to the NHL player who exhibits the same qualities as Bill Masterton.
The first winner of the Masterton Trophy was Claude Provost, following the 1967-68 season. No player has won this trophy more than once.