Strong Showing for Tigres at SHL Annual Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueThe 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.

 

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SHL Issues Year-End Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueAt the SHL’s second annual awards banquet, SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell handed out the trophies that recognized the league’s best players and coaches.  “The fierce competition for these awards shows just how strong our league is,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  These awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.

The 2017 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Koons had a breakout season, scoring 44 goals and 90 points along with a +56 rating, and played a key role in the Igloos’ charge to the best record in the SHL.  He finished with the third-most goals in the league, behind teammate Jake Frost and Hamilton’s Steven Alexander.

“Jerry’s emergence this season gave us a valuable extra weapon,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “Opposing defenses couldn’t overload on Frosty, because then Jerry would burn them big-time.  He makes us a more balanced and more dangerous team.”

Other finalists for the MVP honor included fellow Igloos G Ty Worthington, Hershey C Justin Valentine, and Hamilton C Calvin Frye.


Rookie of the Year: 
LW Rod “Money” Argent, Seattle Sailors

The freshman class in the SHL wasn’t quite as strong this season as it had been the previous year, but there were a number of strong contenders for the award.  Argent was a surprise choice by the Sailors as the #1 pick in the draft, and he rewarded them with an impressive rookie campaign, leading the league in points among first-year players with 49, and tying Saskatchewan’s Elliott Rafferty for the most goals with 23.

“I understand where he got the nickname Money, because his shot is money in the bank,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “His shot is like a laser, and he can thread it through traffic and find the tiniest cracks to slip the puck into the net.  He’s strong in the defensive end, too, unlike me.  He’s the total package.”

Argent narrowly beat out Hamilton G Lasse Koskinen to claim the honor.  Others who received votes included Rafferty, New York G Sherman Carter, and Anchorage D Tony Citrone.

 

Coach of the Year: Sam Castor, Anchorage Igloos

Castor was recognized for steering the Igloos to a league-best 42-12-6 mark, outlasting Michigan in a brutal Western race and claiming the division.  One testament to Castor’s brilliance was the fact that Anchorage was one of two teams with a better road record than home record.  Their 22-5-3 performance on the road was all the more impressive given that the Igloos’ road trips are much longer than any other team in the league.

“We’ve got a ton of talent on this team, but Coach Castor really knows how to get the most out of us,” said Frost, the Igloos star.  “He knows when to push us, when to lay back and trust us, when to find a way to take the pressure off.  He’s really great at figuring out situations for everybody to shine.  He knows just the right buttons to push to get us all performing at our best.”

Castor received the nod over Hershey’s “Chocolate Chip” Barber and Hamilton’s Keith Shields.

 

Sharp Shooter Award: C Jake Frost, Anchorage Igloos

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two honors that is not awarded as the result of the vote.  Instead, it is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total.  This season, the winner was Frost, who finished with two more goals than runner-up Steven Alexander of Hamilton.  Frost sat out a game in the last week of the season after the Igloos clinched the division, possibly costing him a shot at 50 goals.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling,” said Frost.  “I’m glad I had a strong season, absolutely.  But it feels a little empty because we weren’t able to bring the Vandy home.  We accomplished so much this year, but we couldn’t capture the ultimate prize.  It’s great that our team is winning so many awards, but we didn’t get the one that really counts.  That’s going to fuel us big time next season.”


Commissioner’s Trophy: 
LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Like the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy isn’t awarded based on a vote. Rather, it goes to the player who finishes with the highest season point total.  Koons’ breakout offensive year allowed him to capture the point title.  With 90 points (44 goals, 46 assists), Koons finished a point ahead of teammate Nicklas Ericsson and three ahead of Frye.  He is the first player to win multiple individual awards in the same season, having also captured the MVP.

“I think we’re really set up well for the long run,” said Koons.  “We’ve got me and Frosty and Nicky, some quality young guys coming up like Collie [Les Collins] and Humps [Derek Humplik], plus excellent defense and a great goalie in Ty [Worthington].  We’re a strong team from top to bottom.  Yeah, it stings that we lost in the end this year, but I think we’ll be competing for titles a long time.”


Goalie of the Year: 
Dirk Lundquist, Michigan Gray Wolves

Lundquist becomes the first-ever repeat award winner; as the league’s unquestioned top netminder, it’s a well-deserved honor.  “The Bear” performed up to his usual standards again this year, going 32-13-4 with a 1.39 GAA and a .952 save percentage.

Unlike last season, though, Lundquist didn’t win the award unanimously; Anchorage’s Worthington (31-6-4, 1.78 GAA, .942 sv%) received a number of votes, and Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen (17-14-7, 1.88, .941) received consideration as well.

“I think it’s a good thing for the league that there are other goalies who can challenge for the award,” said Lundquist.  “If I’m just racking up the award automatically every year, that’s not good for me or the SHL.  We’ve got some young pups coming along who are going to be able to push me, and they might even surpass me sometime.  That’s exciting.”

Defenseman of the Year: Max Madison, Michigan Gray Wolves

Although the Wolves missed the playoffs this year, they did managed to nab a pair of awards, one for Lundquist and one for Madison.  The man known as “Mad Max” is a throwback blueliner in a lot of ways.  He’s one of the fiercest and hardest-hitting defensemen in the league; his 101 penalty minutes was second in the league only to Hershey’s Ruslan Gromov.  “Max will drop gloves if you so much as look at him cross-eyed,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright.  “He’s an old-school guy, and I love him for it.”

But Madison isn’t just a one-dimensional thug.  He’s also a capable passer and scorer; this season, he turned in 10 goals and 34 points this season, while recording a +30 rating.  “In today’s game, there’s no room for guys who can’t do anything but fight,” said Wright.  “The game’s become too skilled and fast for that.  But if you have a blueliner who can contribute on offense and makes some noise, but knows how to put a hurting on a guy too, that’s a player who’s worth his weight in gold.  Max is that player.”

To win the award, Madison beat out Hershey’s Reese Milton, Anchorage’s Ted Keefe, Dakota’s Matt Cherner, and fellow Wolf Fritz Kronstein.

 

SHL Issues First Annual Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueAt 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:

jefferson-mcneelyMost 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.


calvin-fryeRookie 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.


Ron WrightCoach 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.

brock manningSharp 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.”


Chase WinchesterCommissioner’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.”


Dirk LundquistGoalie 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.”

raymond-smythDefenseman 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.