At the SHL’s fifth annual awards banquet, Commissioner Perry Mitchell continued his annual tradition of handing 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. As was the case last year, many of this year’s award winners were first-timers.
During his opening remarks, Commissioner Mitchell cited the recently-completed Finals between the Hamilton Pistols and the Anchorage Igloos as an example of the best the league has to offer. “It was a series that featured some of the league’s best veterans – players like Steven Alexander, Jake Frost, Raymond Smyth, and Ty Worthington – right alongside emerging stars like Lasse Koskinen and Tom Hoffman. The present and the future, playing together on the same ice. It showed me once again that our league is in good hands, now and for years to come.”
The 2020 award winners are as follows:
Most Valuable Player: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols
Last season, Frye’s teammate Steven Alexander has a monster second half, led the Pistols to their first-ever SHL title, and was the overwhelming choice as the league’s MVP. This year, it was Frye who took over the role as the team’s premier offensive option. It was Frye who led the team to its second straight title and earned Finals MVP honors in the process. And it is Frye who is the runaway winner of the league MVP award. Frye finished ahead of Alexander (as well as the rest of the Pistols) in goals (42) and points (77).
“There’s no way that we would have won these titles without Alex; he’s our heart and soul, and his drive sets the tone for the whole team” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “But there’s also no way we would have gotten over the hump without Cal, and without him flourishing and blossoming into the superstar he is now. He’s the puzzle piece that clicked everything into place.”
Others receiving MVP votes included Hershey’s Justin Valentine, Portland’s Eddie Costello, and Anchorage’s Tom Hoffman
Rookie of the Year: RW Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City Smoke
This award comes as little surprise; when Frederiksson was chosen with the first overall pick in the draft, he was considered one of the league’s best-ever scoring prospects. The Swedish-born winger didn’t disappoint, finishing in the top 10 in the league in points with 71 (two points shy of the SHL rookie record set last year by Boston’s Alain Beauchesne). In a down year for scoring around the league, Frederiksson still finished with 28 goals, and displayed a surprisingly deft passing touch with 43 assists. It’s the second year in a row that a Smoke player claimed the Rookie of the Year honors; last season, the award went to D Bastien Chouinard. Thanks in no small part to Frederiksson’s offensive spark, Kansas City jumped 21 points and moved from last place to fourth in the standings.
“Bengt gave our top line a whole new spark,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner. “Just look at his speed, his incredible shot, and his creativity. He just transformed our offense. He’s still figuring some things out, but watching him gives me hope. We’re starting to resemble a real, functioning hockey team, and that’s pretty cool.”
Frederiksson received a stiff challenge for the award from Dakota D Brady Prussian, who raised eyebrows by recording 11 goals and 25 points in just half a season. Other vote-getters included Hamilton’s Elvis Bodett, Boston’s Levi Rudyard, and Hershey’s Nash Gould.
Coach of the Year: Kyle Barrow, Boston Badgers
2020 was Barrow’s first season as a head coach, after many years as an assistant in Anchorage. he made an auspicious debut in a number of ways. The Badgers saw a dramatic improvement in their on-ice fortunes, jumping from 45 points to 64 and finishing with a .500 record for the first time in franchise history. Barrow also turned around what had been a toxic and hard-partying clubhouse, getting the team to focus on playing hard and winning games. On a personal level, the coach was a trailblazer; he is the first openly gay figure in the league.
Barrow dedicated his win to his husband, Jim, and to the LGBTQ community. “Even though the world is changing, there’s still a lot of prejudice out there and a lot of barriers for us, especially in sports,” said Barrow. “But I’m here to say that there are no limits to what you can achieve. And I hope that if there are young queer kids out there who dream of being a player or a coach someday, they can see me and know that it can happen.”
Other finalists included Hamilton’s Keith Shields, Portland’s Harold Engellund, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor.
Sharp Shooter Award: C Calvin Frye, 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. This year’s winner was Frye, whose 42 goals in the 2020 season allowed him to finish three goals ahead of his nearest competitors, Alexander and New York’s Brock Manning.
Frye is the first player to win the MVP and the Sharp Shooter Award in the same season. (Last year, Alexander won the MVP and the Commissioner’s Trophy.) With the Pistols taking home the Vandy as well, it’s a highly decorated year for the 25-year-old center.
“This year has been an amazing ride for me and for the whole team,” said Frye. “I can’t wait to see what we get done together next year! Maybe we can make it three in a row.”
Alexander paid tribute to his younger teammate, saying, “It can be hard sometimes when you have two alphas on a team, but it’s not like that with us. We complement each other’s game, and we’re both focused on creating the best opportunities for the team.”
Commissioner’s Trophy: LW Lance Sweet, Hershey Bliss and LW Chase Winchester, New York Night
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 second season in a row, this award was split between two players.
Sweet is a first-time award winner. Skating on Hershey’s high-powered “Love Line”, Sweet racked up plenty of assists facilitating for Justin Valentine and Christopher Hart, in addition to scoring plenty of goals in his own right. He finished the season with 84 points, including 57 assists (the third-highest total in the league) and 27 goals (second on the Bliss, behind Valentine).
“It’s great that Lance won this award, because he doesn’t get enough recognition,” said Valentine. “He’s the ultimate team player. When we need someone to create and set us up, he’s there with a perfect pass right on the tape. When we need someone to generate offense, he can create his own shot and drive it home with the best of them. If we need somebody to get along the wall and dig pucks out, he’s there for that too. He’s a super-utility player.”
Winchester claims the award for the second year in a row and the third time overall. He has long been one the SHL’s top assist men, regularly feeding high-scoring linemates Manning and Rick Nelson. He once again led the league in assists with 68, seven ahead of the second-place finisher, Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette. Thanks to his league league-leading assist haul, the 33-year-old Winchester was able to tie Sweet atop the points leaderboard.
“I’m getting to the backside of my career,” said Winchester. “And what I want more than anything is to win a Vandy. But until that happens, I’m glad that I can at least get some props for my passing prowess.”
Goalie of the Year: Ty Worthington, Anchorage Igloos
Historically, this award has belonged to Dirk Lundquist. The Michigan goaltender had won this award three of the previous four seasons. However, Lundquist (and the Wolves) had a down year in 2020, opening the field to other contenders. This time around, the award went to Worthington, Lundquist’s close friend and netminder for the Wolves’ longtime rival in Anchorage. Worthington had a typically terrific season, going 27-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Those marks are good enough to rank him first in the SHL in save percentage, second in GAA, and third in wins.
“Ty has always been one of the league’s top goalies,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “But he’s always had to stand in The Bear’s shadow. Finally, this season, Ty is able to get some of the recognition that he deserves.”
Other finalists for the award included Portland’s Jesse Clarkson, Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen, and Lundquist.
Defenseman of the Year: Reese Milton, Hershey Bliss
This honor has been a long time in coming. Milton has long been recognized as one of the SHL’s elite blueliners, but year after year, he would come up frustratingly short in the voting for the award. He has been a finalist for the award every year in which it has been awarded, and he has come in second in the voting three times. But this year is the first time Milton has actually won the award, getting the nod over Saskatchewan’s Wyatt Barnes in a close vote. Milton’s two-way brilliance was just too much for the voters to ignore this time around: his 48 assists and 64 points were tops among blueliners, and his 16 goals tied him for second at the position, while his 150 blocks were second-most in the league.
“Wait, I actually won?!” said Milton, upon learning of his award. “I didn’t think that was allowed! I thought maybe the voters were biased against squirrels. I thought I was always going to be the bridesmaid, never the bride. Not literally, because I’ve never been an actual bridesmaid. But you know what I mean.”
In addition to Barnes, other award finalists included Boston’s Matt Cherner, Portland’s Benny Lambert, and Milton’s teammate Jean-Luc Aubin.