At the SHL’s sixth annual awards banquet, Commissioner Perry Mitchell handed out trophies honoring the league’s best players and coaches. As usual, the awards were chosen based on votes from SHL players, coaches, and media.
The commissioner noted that this will be his last banquet, as he will be stepping down from his position during the offseason. But he is pleased with the way the league has grown under his watch. “In seven years, we’ve gone from 8 teams to 14, we’ve added a minor league circuit, and we’ve shared enough wild stories and epic showdowns to last a lifetime. Keep it weird, my friends.”
The 2021 award winners are as follows:
Most Valuable Player: C Alain Beauchesne, Boston Badgers
The biggest award of the night was a significant upset. C Calvin Frye of the Hamilton Pistols won this award last season, and he was widely expected to repeat this time around, since he led the league in points and led the Pistols on an emotional come-from-behind ride to capture the division and make the SHL Finals for the third straight season.
However, in a narrow vote, the voters snubbed Frye and picked the 23-year-old Beauchesne instead. It was a turnaround of sorts for the Terrebonne native; two years ago, he was the heavy favorite for Rookie of the Year, but lost out to Kansas City’s Bastien Chouinard. This time, the voters chose to honor Beauchesne’s starring role in leading the Badgers to their first-ever playoff berth. He led the team in goals with 29 and tied for the team lead in points with 62. Both figures placed him within the SHL’s top ten, and he finished with the same number of goals as Frye.
“Even with all the old guys on our team, Alain stands out as a leader,” said Badgers coach Kyle Barrow. “He’s a tremendously capable shooter, he can hold his own on D, and he just gives us a tremendous dynamic spark. I’m really looking forward to building our future around him.”
Besides Frye, other MVP finalists included his Pistols teammate Steven Alexander, Anchorage’s Jerry Koons, and Hershey’s Justin Valentine.
Rookie of the Year: D Laszlo Cierny, Anchorage Igloos
Cierny’s selection as the year’s top rookie represents a first of sorts. In past years, this award has always gone to a player chosen at or near the top of that year’s entry draft. Cierny’s story, however, is a bit different.
The blueliner was taken by Anchorage in the 2019 draft, and has spent the last couple of seasons with their affiliate in Minnesota. This season, the Igloos had significant turnover in their defensive corps, having lost three veterans to free agency, and Cierny got his first shot at the SHL level. He proved more than equal to the challenge, and voters gave him the nod in a divided field.
The 22-year-old Czech-born defenseman led all rookie blueliners with 27 points (5 goals, 22 assists). He was no slouch on the defensive end, either, recording 116 blocks, a +23 rating, and a 51.0 Corsi-for percentage.
“With three rookies on D, you never know what you’re going to get,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “But all of them did a heck of a job, and Laz in particular. He definitely didn’t look like a rookie out there; he was disciplined, smart, and played with controlled aggression. We lost some really strong guys to free agency, but thanks to Laz, we didn’t miss a beat.”
Others receiving votes included Cierny’s teammate Brian Coldivar, Saskatchewan C Trent Harlow, Milwaukee RW Quincy Mondile, Washington LW Heath Forbert, and Kansas City D Trevor Lockwood.
Coach of the Year: Rodney Reagle, Milwaukee Growlers
For much of the year, it looked like this award would belong to Ron Wright, the ex-Michigan coach who took over a floundering Hershey team in midseason and spurred them to the top of the division in a matter of weeks. But after the Bliss just missed out on a postseason berth at the end of the season, the voters bypassed Wright and tapped Reagle instead.
The Growlers relocated from Dakota this season, and with Reagle as their new bench boss, they surged 18 points in the standings, going from a last-place tie in 2020 to making the first playoff appearance in franchise history this year.
“Honestly, I have to credit the voters for being so open-minded,” said Reagle. “I would have figured they’d take one look at a goofball who likes to play dress-up behind the bench and say, ‘No way are we giving an award to him.’ But you like me! You really like me! I also have to thank my wife for forbidding me from wearing my gold lame suit to this banquet.”
In addition to Reagle and Wright, others receiving votes were Boston’s Kyle Barrow (who won the award last year) and Hamilton’s Keith Shields.
Sharp Shooter Award: LW Steven Alexander, Hamilton Pistols
The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two awards that is not given out base on the outcome of a vote. Instead, the honor is awarded to the player who finishes the season with the highest goal total. Alexander ran away with this award, finishing the 2021 season with 43 goals, six ahead of Hershey’s Valentine.
Surprisingly, although Alexander has long been one of the league’s top scorers, this is the first time he has ever captured the Sharp Shooter. (He had come in second for the award each of the five times it was awarded previously.) His teammate Frye captured the honor last season.
Alexander dedicated the award to his teammate and longtime friend, RW Claude Lafayette, who spent most of the season recovering from a major car accident. “I really wanted to bring another Vandy home for Claude,” said the winger. “We didn’t quite get there, but we fought as hard as we could.”
Commissioner’s Trophy: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols
Similar to the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy is not awarded based on the result of a vote. Instead, the award goes to the player who finishes with the highest point total. For the first time since 2018, the award wasn’t split between players, as Frye was the single recipient.
Although the Pistols center narrowly missed out on the MVP award this time around, he is certainly not lacking for hardware. Last season, Frye won both the MVP and the Sharp Shooter Award, having led the league in goals that season. In 2016, he won the league’s inaugural Rookie of the Year Award.
In a season where there weren’t a ton of gaudy point totals, Frye’s 74 points in 56 games was enough to gain him the trophy, finishing four points ahead of Kansas City’s Bengt Frederiksson.
Like Alexander, Frye said that he would much preferred winning the Vandy for the third straight year. “I know this award goes to an individual, but it really reflects our performance as a team,” said Frye. “I couldn’t have done this without having great linemates like Alex and Waldo [Miranda]. And I can’t wait to be skating next to Claude again next year!”
Goalie of the Year: Ty Worthington, Anchorage Igloos
There was a time when it seemed like this award would belong to Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist in perpetuity. But Lundquist has declined somewhat in recent seasons, opening the field to other contenders. This season, he posted the worst numbers by far of his career. With Lundquist out of contention, voters gave the award to Worthington for the second straight year in a close vote over Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen.
The choice between Worthington and Koskinen came down to a question of statistical value. Koskinen posted a 30-15-2 record, leading the league in wins. Worthington’s 23-19-4 record was less impressive on the surface, but the underlying stats argued in his favor: he had a lower goals-against average (2.38 vs. 2.75) and a higher save percentage (.922 vs. .915) than his Finnish-born rival. (He also beat Koskinen head-to-head in the Finals, but awards voting closed before the postseason began, so that was not taken into account.)
In his acceptance speech, Worthington dedicated his award to the LGBTQ+ community. The Igloos netminder came out as bisexual last summer, and he is the league’s only openly LGBTQ player. (Boston coach Barrow is openly gay; he was voted Coach of the Year last season.)
“I didn’t know how it would go, being out in professional sports,” said Worthington. “But my teammates, our front office, and our fans have been super supportive. If there’s another player out there, whether in the pros or in college or in junior or wherever, who’s thinking about coming out: Do it. I promise it gets better.”
Other vote-getters included Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen, Hershey’s Nash Gould, and Boston’s Riley Lattimore.
Defenseman of the Year: Gary Hermine, Kansas City Smoke
In a year of unexpected award winners, Hermine may be the most unexpected of all. The 23-year-old has been a solid blueliner for the Smoke for several seasons now, but he is rarely regarded as one of the league’s elite defensemen. And while Kansas City posted the best record in its short history, the Smoke’s success was powered by its high-flying offense, not by its defense. (Kansas City allowed an average of 34.6 shots per game, third-worst in the league.)
And yet, it was Hermine who finished the season with the most blocks in the SHL, an astounding 169 in total. (The Smoke as a team recorded the league’s second-fewest blocked shots; Hermine had more than a sixth of them.) He finished with a +12 rating on a team that posted a collective -15. And in spite for throwing himself in front of so many shots, Hermine played in all 64 games and posted the typically strong offensive numbers (10 goals, 37 assists) for which he is more commonly known.
“When I showed up at the banquet tonight, I kind of expected they wouldn’t let me in,” said Hermine. “Like, ‘Who are you? You’re nobody famous.’ And that’s true, I’m not. But this award shows that even if you’re just a guy and you’re not on a playoff team, if you work hard enough, you can get recognition for that. That means a lot to me.”
Hermine edged out Boston’s Matt Cherner for the honor. Others in contention included Hamilton’s Raymond Smyth and Hercules Mulligan and Anchorage’s Rudolf Kerasov.