At a banquet celebrating the league’s second season, SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell formally announced the creation of a new series of awards recognizing the league’s top players and coaches. “We see this as an opportunity to recognize the many great individual performances that make the league so much fun to watch,” said Commissioner Mitchell. These awards will be voted on by the league’s players, coaches, and beat reporters.
The commissioner announced the inaugural group of award winners, which are as follows:
Most Valuable Player: RW Jefferson McNeely, Washington Galaxy
McNeely had a strong sophomore season for the Galaxy, scoring 39 goals and notching 70 points while leading his team to its second consecutive SHL Finals appearance.
“Jefferson’s got more fakeouts than a three-card monte dealer,” said Washington coach Rodney Reagle. “I mean, he gets a headman and starts heading up the ice, then all of a sudden he makes a move and he sheds his defenders and he’s breaking free. If he ever gets tired of hockey, he should try being a magician. He’s got that sleight-of-hand thing down cold.”
Other finalists for the MVP honor included Michigan G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Hershey C Justin Valentine, Anchorage RW Nicklas Ericsson, and New York C Brock Manning.
Rookie of the Year: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols
The SHL had a very impressive freshman crop this season, and the voting for the Rookie of the Year trophy was very close indeed. But Frye made enough of an impression to receive the accolade. The 22-year-old led all rookies with 59 points, a number that included 30 goals and 29 assists. He made enough of a splash that the Pistols traded away star C Rod Remington to make room on the team’s top line.
“Calvin is just an exceptional young man,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “He has enormous God-given talent, and there’s no doubt about that. But he also has a tremendous work ethic. He’s driven to make the absolute most out of the gifts that he’s been given. And even though he’s one of the youngest guys on the team, there’s no question that the whole team looks up to him as a leader. As a coach, he’s my dream come true.”
Other top vote-getters in the crowded field included Saskatchewan LW Troy Chamberlain, Quebec G Riki Tiktuunen, Michigan D Fritz Kronstein, and Seattle RW Vince Mango.
Coach of the Year: Ron Wright, Michigan Gray Wolves
The selection of Wright as Coach of the Year comes as little surprise after he led the Wolves to a 43-14-3 record and their first SHL title. It’s a happy ending to the game of coaching musical chairs that led Wright to Michigan in the offseason. After incumbent Wolves coach Martin Delorme led the team to a close second-place finish last season, he left to become the first coach of the Quebec Tigres, his hometown team. Meanwhile, Wright had had a falling out with players and management in Hamilton, and was already contemplating resignation. When the Michigan job opened up, Wright jumped at the chance. Suffice to say, it’s been a win-win for both parties.
“Coach Wright is the big reason we won this year,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes. “He’s very smart strategically, and he’s also really dedicated to practice and the kind of lunch-pail work most players don’t want to do. He’s told us again and again that championships aren’t won with highlight-reel plays; they’re won through strong fundamentals, wall work, controlling the puck. Now we’ve seen that approach pay off firsthand.”
Other coaches receiving votes included Washington’s Reagle, Dakota’s Harold Engellund, and Hershey’s “Chocolate Chip” Barber.
Sharp Shooter Award: C Brock Manning, New York Night
This award was not determined through voting; rather, it was awarded to the player who finished with the highest goal total. This season, that was Manning. He finished the year with 55 goals, 10 ahead of second-place Steven Alexander of Hamilton.
“This isn’t the trophy I really wanted to win,” admitted Manning. “I mean, I’m glad to be recognized, and I’m definitely proud of the season that I had. But this sport is all about championships, and we didn’t come close to that. I’d totally trade this award for a shot at the Vandy. Maybe we’ll get there next year.”
Commissioner’s Trophy: LW Chase Winchester, New York Night
Like the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy isn’t awarded based on voting; instead, it’s given to the player who finishes with the highest season point total. Winchester earned this year’s award with an incredible offensive season, shattering the SHL record with 104 points, six ahead of his teammate Manning. Winchester’s point total was largely driven by assists; he recorded an incredible 88 this season, 25 more than his nearest competitor.
Despite having the league’s two best offensive producers in Manning and Winchester, along with other quality scorers including RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson and Ds Dominic Sanchez and Tuomas Nurmi, New York finished with a sub-.500 record thanks to so-so goaltending, abysmal defense, and volatile team chemistry. Coach Preston Rivers was fired at the end of the season.
“I feel optimistic about where we’re headed,” said Winchester. “We’ve got the best offense in the league, bar none. If we can strengthen the blue line a little bit and smooth out some of the problems in the clubhouse, I think we can make some real noise next season.”
Goalie of the Year: Dirk Lundquist, Michigan Gray Wolves
This award came as no surprise. In fact, Lundquist was the only unanimous award winner this season. There wasn’t any serious room for debate, either; the Michigan netminder posted a 39-10-2 record with a 1.57 GAA and a .941 save percentage. He led the league in wins, GAA, and save percentage by a comfortable margin.
“There’s no one better than The Bear,” said Wright. “He’s got incredible reflexes and top-notch instincts. But best of all, he just doesn’t get rattled out there. Nothing fazes him. Forget about ice water in his veins; he’s got solid ice in there. He’s got that kind of calm under pressure. He’d make a hell of a soldier; the heat of battle doesn’t get to him at all. They should just name the award after him now and save time.”
Defenseman of the Year: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton Pistols
Despite finishing fourth in the East, the Pistols can take solace in capturing a pair of awards: the Rookie of the Year nod for Frye, and an award for their blue-chip defender, Smyth. The 26-year-old Manitoba native was brilliant on both ends of the ice this season; he produced 49 assists, the highest total in the league among defensemen, and provided lock-down brilliance in his own end. Smyth was anmong the league leaders in blocked shots, and played fierce defense while racking up only 51 total penalty minutes.
“There’s a reason why Raymond is our team captain,” said Shields. “He’s a tremendous leader for us. He always plays heads-up hockey, doesn’t take shifts off, plays through pain, and he plays at a really high level. He doesn’t neglect any aspect of his game. He just radiates strength in everything he does.”
Smyth got the nod over Hershey’s Reese Milton, New York’s Nurmi, Washington’s Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom, and his Pistols teammate Dmitri Kalashnikov.