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AJHL Awards Finalists Revealed

By Neil Hilts on February 26, 2017

Nominated for the Most Dedicated Player award for the second consecutive year, Calgary Canucks captain Ben Assad has become a clutch player and has his team poised to have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. (Courtesy of the AJHL)

The Alberta Junior Hockey League recently announced its full list of finalists for the coveted AJHL Awards. Last week, we took a closer look at the nominees for MVP, Rookie of the Year and Top Goaltender. Here, we look at the rest of the finalists, for Outstanding Defenceman, Most Dedicated Player, and Coach of the Year. 

The AJHL Award winners will be announced on February 28th.

Outstanding Defenceman - W.G. (Bill) Scott Memorial Trophy:
2016 winner: Brinson Pasichnuk (Bonnyville)

Cale Makar - Brooks Bandits
It’s not often a d-man wins the MVP – Trey Phillips of Canmore won in 2013-14 and Connor Hardowa was a co-winner in 2008-09 – but Makar of the Bandits may be the most accomplished. Last year he won the rookie of the year and this year, along with the MVP nomination, he’s looking to add more hardware. His stats rank him first among defencemen, despite missing time for the World Junior A Challenge where he was captain for Team Canada West.

Allan MacPherson - Calgary Canucks
After bouncing around three teams in his junior time, MacPherson settled with the Canucks and has been a huge reason why the team is having a successful year. He didn’t quite reach the 200-game mark, but 190+ contests is a solid career. MacPherson may be the longest shot to win, but getting acknowledged as a nominee will help him garner interest from post-secondary programs if he hopes to keep playing next year.

Ian Mitchell - Spruce Grove Saints
Along with Makar as the other MVP and top defenceman nominee, Mitchell should also be drafted into the NHL this year after a strong season with Spruce Grove. He’s the top blueliner in scoring on his team and 16th in the AJHL for defenceman scoring. Drafted into both the WHL and USHL, Mitchell stayed close to home and will have one more year before joining the University of Denver in 2018.

Curtis Roach – Fort McMurray Oil Barons
Roach is new to the AJHL, coming over from Flin Flon in the Saskatchewan Junior A League, and he has been the best defenceman on the North Division-leading Oil Barons. His 44 points are third on the team while posting double digits in goals, including four on the powerplay. He kicked off his major junior career with the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) for seven games, but then moved to Jr. A. Roach will be a player to watch if the Oil Barons go on a long playoff run in the North.

Most Dedicated Player - Don McNabb Memorial Trophy
2016 winner: Tyler Busch (Spruce Grove)

Ben Assad (LW) - Calgary Canucks
Closing in on the 200-game mark, Ben Assad first started in the AJHL in 2012-13, playing two games with Brooks. He’s having a career year with the Canucks, leading the team in points and goals will go down as one of the longer-tenured players in the league. Assad ranks second in the league for game winners, adding a clutch element to his game as the team captain. He was one of four finalists last year for this award, so he’ll be hoping to claim it this time around.

Logan Ferguson (RW) - Canmore Eagles
Sitting second in league scoring behind teammate (and co-captain) Matt Forchuk after tying for fourth last year, Ferguson is a hard-working player who will go down as one of the top players in the Eagles’ history. Speaking to him in the fall, Ferguson discussed how important it was to find a school that met his hockey and academic needs, and that’s why he committed to the College of the Holy Cross last winter at just 18. He could end up in the 80s for all-time scorers in the league’s history, plus sits third in franchise history, just behind Forchuk. 

Ryan Symington (F) - Bonnyville Pontiacs
Last year, Symington had a down season as he only had 15 points in 45 games. However, with the Pontiacs having many key departures, Symington had to step up and he did just that, recording nearly 40 points. He’s sixth in team scoring and second in penalty minutes while leading the team as captain.

Morgan Messenger (F) - Whitecourt Wolverines
Messenger has always been a reliable scorer, putting up at least 30 points in his three years in the league, plus at least 20 goals in his last two years. He’s fifth in team scoring and third in goals, and the only non-captain nominated. Messenger played his first year with Whitecourt, before being traded to Lloydminster in 2015-16. Messenger returned back with the Wolverines for this season with head coach Thibodeau.

Coach of the Year
2016 winner: Rick Swan (Bonnyville)

James Poole - Calgary Canucks
Poole left Okotoks this summer after six years there and was keen to start a new, powerful program in Calgary with the Canucks. He flipped the goal differential from -62 last year to more than +60 this season, leading the team to more than 10 wins from the previous campaign, and a potential No. 2 seed, just ahead of the Okotoks Oilers. The Canucks have the fifth-best penalty kill, up from 14th last year, a huge upgrade.

Andrew Milne - Canmore Eagles
With the league’s top two scorers and second best offence, Milne has been able to take his Eagles to new heights as they’re close to locking down home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs once again, potentially even the third seed. The biggest change was upping the penalty kill from 13 to fourth this year. He made a bold move in January, sending Colby Livingstone, linemate of top scorers Forchuk and Ferguson, to Okotoks for former Kamloops Blazer Travis Verveda, shoring up the defence.

Tom Keca – Fort McMurray Oil Barons
Last year, the Oil Barons finished the year with 10 wins and a nine-game losing streak before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs. Keca likely knew it would be difficult, but not to that degree. Add in the Fort McMurray fire disaster last summer, and you wouldn’t blame Keca if his team once again bottomed out. However, the team became a positive light in the community and the Oil Barons could win the North - something they haven’t achieved since 2007-08. If they can claim the division, they’ll supplant Spruce Grove’s run of eight straight titles.

Gord Thibodeau - Whitecourt Wolverines
Besides becoming the winningest coach in AJHL history, Thibodeau has had an incredibly successful year, his first with the Wolverines. He’s looking for his third Coach of the Year after claiming the award in 1995-96 with Fort Saskatchewan and 1998-99 with Lloydminster. With Whitecourt, Thibodeau has the team operating with the league’s best power play and second best goal differential, plus has gotten the most out of several key players. The Wolverines might not hit the point totals of last year, but they’re still in the running for the division title.

Possibly due to the constant success of the Bandits, head coach Ryan Papaioannou was left out as a finalist despite having his team on track for the best season since his Bandits went 53-4-3 in 2012-13.

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By Neil Hilts| February 26, 2017
Categories:  Junior

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