The SHL’s third annual awards banquet had a definite theme. Several of the awards went to members of the Quebec Tigres, who went from finishing in last place in 2017 to coming within a game of winning their first-ever SHL title. “The Tigres went on a remarkable journey this season,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell. “It’s great to see that journey recognized with these very well-deserved honors.” As always, the awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.
The 2018 award winners are as follows:
Most Valuable Player: LW Walt Camernitz, Quebec Tigres
Camernitz signed with Quebec as a free agent this season, landing a five-year, $20 million deal. The Tigres hoped that Camernitz would provide a spark for their stagnant offense, and he provided it in spades. He wound up recording 31 goals and 74 points, both good enough to place him in the league’s top 10. In addition to his stellar performance, he elevated his teammates’ games; linemates Stephane Mirac and Mikhail Ilyushin both had career seasons beside him.
“When you are a big-name free agent, there is a great weight on you to perform,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme. “Walt took that very seriously, and he gave us everything we could have hoped for. I am most grateful for him.”
Other finalists for the MVP honor included Hamilton C Calvin Frye, Anchorage C Jake Frost, and Washington RW Jefferson McNeely.
Coach of the Year: Martin Delorme, Quebec Tigres
This season has been a sweet vindication for Delorme, who walked away from a Michigan team on the cusp of championship contention in order to help his hometown team get off the ground. In only the third season of the Tigres’ existence, Delorme guided the club to the Finals and nearly to the Vandy.
“Coach Delorme has kept us together and focused on playing our best,” said Mirac. “He doesn’t accept excuses. But he’s also a good man to play for, and we know that he is solid behind us all the way.
Delorme beat out Hamilton’s Keith Shields. Michigan’s Ron Wright, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor to win the honor.
Rookie of the Year: LW Lix Darnholm, Boston Badgers
Darnholm was universally regarded as the best pure scorer in the draft, so it came as little surprise when the expansion Badgers chose the 19-year-old Swede as their franchise centerpiece with the top puck. Although Boston had a rough debut season, Darnholm delivered on his considerable promise, scoring nearly a quarter of the Badgers’ total goals. He led all rookies in goals with 29 and in points with 60.
“Lix is a joy to watch on the ice,” said Badgers coach Cam Prince. “He’s a fluid skater and a sharp passer, and he has a remarkably heavy shot for a guy who’s as skinny as he is. And he’s got a sense of the game a lot beyond his years. I’ve guzzled a lot of Maalox coaching this team, but not because of Lix.”
Darnholm withstood a surprisingly strong challenge from Kansas City C Darien Picard to win the votes. Also receiving consideration were Quebec D Laurie Workman, Kansas City RW Zachary Merula, and Washington G Darrell Bondurant.
Sharp Shooter Award and Commissioner’s Trophy: RW Jefferson McNeely, Washington Galaxy
The Sharp Shooter Award and the Commissioner’s Trophy are the two awards that are not given out as the result of a vote. The Sharp Shooter Award is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total, while the Commissioner’s Trophy is bestowed on the player with the most points. This season, for the first time ever, both awards went to the same player: McNeely, who was a shining star in a difficult season for the Galaxy. For the second straight year, Hamilton’s Steven Alexander was the runner-up for the Sharp Shooter award, finishing with one goal fewer than McNeely’s 57.
Meanwhile, the Washington winder finished the year one shy of the century mark in points, adding 42 assists to his league-leading goal total. That gave him a comfortable eight-point margin over Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette.
“Obviously, this is a team sport, and we really want to win things as a team,” said McNeely. “But this was a good season for me personally, and I’m glad that I’ll be able to take some positive memories away from the year. I’d rather have a Vandy on the mantle, sure, but this is a good consolation prize.”
Goalie of the Year: Riki Tiktuunen, Quebec Tigres
This award was a bit of a surprise, as it was the first time that Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist didn’t take home the trophy. In 2018, Lundquist had a bit of a down season by his usual standards, but still remained among the league’s elite, going 38-12-4 with a 1.69 GAA and a .934 save percentage. But some combination of the Tigres’ surprising season and a desire to reward a fresh face led the voters to select Tiktuunen instead, in a close vote.
Tiktuunen had a very strong campaign, and played a key role in Quebec’s success. On the season, Tiktuunen went 31-20-1 with a 2.03 GAA and a .930 save percentage. The Finnish-born netminder gained a reputation around the league for his stoic, cold-blooded demeanor and his ability to avoid getting rattled in difficult situations.
“Riki’s so cool and calm that he helps keep the rest of us calm,” said teammate Richard McKinley. “He’s like a security blanket, because you know he’s going to take care of business no matter what happens.”
Defenseman of the Year: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan Gray Wolves
This is the second straight year that a Wolves player won this honor; Kronstein’s teammate Max Madison captured the award last season. Kronstein is not as pugilistically inclined as Madison, who is infamous for dropping the gloves at the slightest provocation. However, Kronstein is just as capable a defender as his counterpart on Michigan’s top pairing, leading the league in blocked shots and among the top five in takeaways.
In addition to his defensive excellence, Kronstein is a strong contributor in the offensive end. His 59 points were the second-most among SHL blueliners in 2018, and his 18 goals and +34 rating led all defensemen. “Fritz is an amazingly dynamic young player,” said coach Ron Wright. “He’s a strong physical presence, but he’s also surprisingly fast, and he’s an excellent scorer and passer. He’s the total package.”
Kronstein emerged victorious out of a crowded field that included 2016 winner Raymond Smyth of Hamilton, along with Dakota’s Matt Cherner, Hershey’s Reese Milton, and New York rookie Donald Duckworth.