It was fitting that a goalie took home the WHL’s top honour in Red Deer on Wednesday.
Everett Silvertips netminder Carter Hart earned the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the league’s top player at the WHL Awards, and the goalie of the year for the third straight season.
The last goalie to be named the WHL MVP was Rebels’ goalie Darcy Kuemper after a stellar 2010-2011 campaign with 45 wins in 62 starts and a 1.86 goals against average along with a .933 save percentage.
Hart went through a tumultuous season en route to winning the award, battling mononucleosis and missing most of October, before returning and backstopping Canada to a World Junior Championship gold medal in Buffalo, New York.
He also led the Silvertips into the WHL Championship, which gets underway Friday in Swift Current against the Broncos.
“It’s a huge honour. Goes to show what we’ve been doing down in Everett this season (with) the team we have . We’re in the league finals now and it’s been a great run. Hoping to keep it going,” said Hart, who played just 41 games in the regular season, his lowest since 2014-2015.
“You never want to go out with mono like that, but at the same time, it was nice to get some rest. Made me more hungry to come back and I was excited. As soon as I came back, we started playing really good hockey and started winning.”
The Sherwood Park, Alta., native led the WHL with a minuscule 1.66 GAA and .947 SV % and posted a 31-6-1-3 record on the year. His GAA was almost a full point better than the next lowest goalie. He also led the league in shutouts with seven.
“It’s a huge honour. I work hard on my craft and I try and be the best that I can every day,” Hart said about receiving the goalie of the year nod.
The second-round 2016 draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers was selected as the MVP over 70-goal scorer Jayden Halbgewachs, who earned the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s top scorer. Halbgewachs, the first WHL player since Pavel Brendl in 1999 to notch 70 goals, also added 59 assists for the Moose Jaw Warriors this season and signed an entry-level deal with the San Jose Sharks.
The WHL were hosted in Red Deer on Wednesday and the Bantam Draft on Thursday, in the first of a three-year agreement with the league.
WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said the league was looking for any reason to return to the city after Red Deer played such a great host during the 2016 Memorial Cup,
“It’s a great community and they’re really supportive of the Rebels,” said Robison. “They embrace anything that we bring in from a league standpoint. We’re very, very excited about the future of these events over the next three-year period in particular.”
Kale Clague, who started the season with the Brandon Wheat Kings before being traded to the Warriors at the WHL trade deadline, won defenceman of the year. The Los Angeles Kings pick had 11 goals and 60 assists to tie for third among WHL defenceman and also won gold for Canada at the World Juniors
Lethbridge Hurricanes rookie centre Dylan Cozens earned the league honour as rookie of the year with 22 goals and 31 assists in 51 games.
Finnish forward Aleksi Heponiemi of the Swift Current Broncos picked up the league’s most sportsmanlike player trophy after recording 28 goals and 90 assists and just 28 penalty minutes in 57 games.
Broncos coach Manny Viveiros was named coach of the year and Silvertips GM Garry Davidson earned the executive of the year.
Spokane Chiefs defenceman Ty Smith was the scholastic award winner and Vancouver Giants forward earned Ty Ronning the humanitarian award. The Saskatoon Blades won the scholastic team award.
Richmond, B.C. native Brett Iverson was Referee of the Year for the second straight season and represented Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics and is also officiating in Copenhagen, Denmark for the 2018 World Hockey Championships.