On the eve of the final but biggest game in the CHL, the CHL announced the winners of their annual awards and truly this year's selections were more than deserving for which they were awarded. This was a season full of ups and a few sad downs but overall the member teams, their staffs and the players made this the best season out of the 5 years we have been covering the CHL.
We start with Justin Azevedo of the Kitchener Rangers who was named not only the CCM Player of the Year but also earned the Boston Pizza Top Scorer as well. Azevedo had an outstanding season leading not only the OHL but the entire CHL in scoring off a 43-81-124 season as the 20 year old from West Lorne Ontario broke out with a monster season this year.
Azevedo is a major reason why the Kitchener Rangers are in the finals of the Memorial Cup as he has not stopped scoring going 10-26-36 in 20 playoff games. Azevedo is a free agent who someone is going to sign once his season is over.
The player who is expected to be the first selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft Steve Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting earned the NAPA Auto Parts Top Draft Prospect award.
Stamkos a 6'1 center was just in his second season with Sarnia and he showed why he deserves to be the first pick in the NHL draft whether it was going 58-47-105 during the regular season or being one of the bigger reasons why Canada won another gold medal during the World Junior Championships.
Stamkos is a rarity as just about every single draft site has him listed as the top ranked prospect for this season's draft. Stamkos is going to lead a huge list of OHL first rounders this season as the talent pool clearly has shifted to Ontario and rightfully so.
If you think Steve Stamkos is good, if you think that John Tavares is good then we want you to remember this name; Taylor Hall as you will be hearing his name spoken a lot over the next 2 years.
Hall of the Windsor Spitfires makes it 4 awards in a row for the OHL as Hall was named the Mosaik Mastercard Rookie of the Year for the 2007-08 season.
The 6'1 Center Hall scored 45 goals and added 39 assists for 84 points in his rookie season with the Spitfires but here is the scary part; Hall is just 16 years old and still growing. We believe that Hall is going to make it 4 straight years with the OHL having the top pick in the NHL Entry Draft when his turn comes in 2010.
One of the things that we enjoy the most about covering prospect hockey is we get to share stories like this one about Chris Morehouse of the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL.
Morehouse is the winner of the Home Hardware Humanitarian of the Year and let us tell us just how deserving this young man is of this award. Morehouse was the captain of the Wildcats and he has set a standard for his teammates to live up to.
Morehouse partnered with the Progress Club of Greater Moncton to organize a program for under privileged youth to attend hockey games. Morehouse also organized an auction for an 11 year old fan with Cerebral Palsy and his single mother. The $15, 000 proceeds went towards a new wheelchair and retrofit their home to better accommodate a wheelchair.
What most fans do not realize is that those playing in the various CHL leagues have to balance school, hockey practices and the games leaving them hardly any free time. Morehouse is the kind of example we hope that all young players would follow after.
Karl Alzner is a player we know quite well as the 6'2 defenseman of the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL is going to greatly improve the Washington Capital's blueline for several seasons to come.
Now he can add the Molson Canadian Defenseman of the Year to his already large resume. Alzner who was the captain of the Team Canada's gold medal winning World Junior team is a scary good defender who just might make the jump to the Capitals next training camp.
Alzner is a good 2 way defender who is not afraid to use his body, to pinch when needed and is solid fundamentally. Alzner was the 5th overall selection in last season's draft.
We also sometimes forget about the sportsmanship side of the game but Cedic Lalonde-McNicoll of the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL earned the Prospects Hockey Sportsman of the Year. In addition to leading the Cataractes in scoring with a 43-40-83 season, Lalonde-McNicoll only was calling for 20 minutes in penalties in 69 games an impressive stat for a leading scorer.
It is not that Lalonde-McNicoll did not play hard, he did but more importantly he played within the rules. Just 20 minutes in an entire season is next to impossible in today's hockey world.
Robert Slaney of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL was the winner of the Subway Scholastic Player of the Year. We talked about how these young men have to balance school work while living a full time hockey career and Slaney is a great example of it.
Without mentioning sports or names, CHL players are required to maintain good grades and progress in school something that Slaney did quite well managing an 86 average despite carrying a heavy class load and playing for the Screaming Eagles.
That face is of the player who we expect to be the first goalie selected in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. His name is Chet Pickard and he is the ADT Goaltender of the Year.
Pickard plays for the Tri-City Americans and was the number one reason why the Americans had the best regular season record in the WHL. Pickard was 46-12-2-2 , 2.32 .918 with 2 shutouts in 62 games.
This is a very mature 18 year old who nothing ever seems to get to him. Also projects a level of calm on the ice and it is next to impossible to get him out of position. Very fluid with his motions and extremely quick with the glove.
We were very glad to see him earn this award as Pickard more than earned it.
The Final award is the Go RVing Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year and we think that Bob Boughner of the Windsor Spitfires earned this award not for guiding the Spitfires to a 41-15-7 record which was 3rd best in the OHL but for how he showed how to be a human being and role model to his players.
See there is nothing in any coaching manual that ever prepares you for how to handle the death of one of your players as Boughner and his Spitfires had to go though after the passing of Mickey Renaud in March.
Now one can say there is a textbook way to handle something like this because Boughner held his players together and put them first when they needed it the most. Shielding them, consoling them, and teaching them helped the Spitfires get though what was a devastating experience.
We were left completely impressed by how the Spitfires handled everything and it starts with the coach, his staff and the entire Spitfire franchise.
Sunday is the last game of the CHL season, the last game for prospects period and we are looking forward to what should be an interesting matchup. The surprising top seeded Spokane Chiefs have not played since Tuesday and will be taking on not only a very dangerous Kitchener Rangers team but also their home crowd.
The biggest question we want to see answered is did the Rangers play their best game one game too soon? Or did the K-Rangers finally realize how important the games were after playing for the most part under their CHL leading performance?
While the K-Rangers spent most of the season as the top ranked team in the entire CHL, the Chiefs have been the giant slayers as they have not back down from any challenge whether it be their own WHL challenges or any of the 3 teams in this Memorial Cup.
We believe the key for this game is who controls the first period as if the Chiefs can dictate play as they have in the Cup round robin then they will frustrate the K-Rangers out of their game. The K-Rangers are going to want to come out and take the game to the Chiefs but unlike Belleville the Chiefs are one of the best defensive teams in the entire CHL.
(picture credits:OHL TEAMS: Azevedo-Kitchener, Stamkos-Sarnia, Hall and Boughner-Windsor, QMJHL TEAMS: Morehouse-Moncton, Slaney-Cape Breton, Lalonde-McNicoll-Shawinigan, WHL TEAMS: Alzner-Calgary, Pickard-Tri-City)
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