Portland’s Bjorkstrand named WHL player of the year

Oliver Bjorkstrand missed out on one of the biggest days of his junior career, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to represent his country. Bjorkstrand was awarded the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the Western Hockey League player of the year on Wednesday in addition to winning the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s leading scorer in the regular season.

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CALGARY — Oliver Bjorkstrand missed out on one of the biggest days of his junior career, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to represent his country.

Bjorkstrand was awarded the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the Western Hockey League player of the year on Wednesday in addition to winning the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s leading scorer in the regular season.

But when his name was called out at the WHL awards banquet, Bjorkstrand was in the Czech Republic representing Denmark at the world hoickey championship.

“I’m sorry I can’t be there today to accept these awards,” said Bjorkstrand in a video acceptance speech. “It means a lot to me. When I came into the league the first year, one of my goals was to be one of the top players in my second or third year, so the fact that I achieved the (Four) Broncos award means really a lot to me. It feels good that some of your hard work pays off.

“I’ve got to thank a lot of my teammates, especially Nic Petan and Paul Bittner, who I played a lot with this year. I really couldn’t have done it without them.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect scored 63 goals and had 55 assists in 58 games for Portland in the regular season. He added 13 goals and 12 assists in 17 post-season games before the Winterhawks were eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in the Eastern Conference final.

“You knew every time that Oliver was on the ice that something special was going to happen,” said Portland coach and general manager Jamie Kompon, who accepted both awards on Bjorkstrand’s behalf. “He’s got elite skill. He’s got an uncanny ability to always be around the puck. Only being the third Portland Winterhawk to win the award, it comes with a great honour.”

The other two Portland players to win the award were Perry Turnbull in 1979 and Steve Konowalchuk in 1992. Bjorkstrand also became just the second European player to win the award after Sergei Varlamov accomplished the feat with the Swift Current Broncos in 1998.

Although Bjorkstrand didn’t play on Wednesday during Denmark’s 5-2 loss to Russia, he could still see action for the Danes when they play the United States on Friday, Norway on Saturday and Slovakia on Monday.

“He wants to prove to everyone that he can compete against men and compete against the next level in the NHL,” Kompon said. “He’s such a proud person and so proud of where he comes from. He didn’t want to miss this opportunity to represent his country.”

Brandon Wheat Kings forward Tim McGauley, who recorded 42 goals and 63 assists in 72 games in the regular season, was also up for the award.

While McGauley went home empty handed, his teammate Nolan Patrick won the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL rookie of the year.

Patrick finished with 30 goals and 26 assists in 55 games in his rookie season with the Wheat Kings, who will face the Rockets in the best-of-seven WHL final.

“It’s a huge honour,” Patrick said. “I can’t take all the credit. I played with some of the top players in the league this year. All those top guys, they all meant a lot throughout the year and I just tried to listen to them as much as I could and take as much advice from them and use it to my advantage.”

A pair of Seattle Thunderbirds also won awards as Shea Theodore was chosen as defenceman of the year, while Taran Kozun earned accolades as goaltender of the year.

Other awards were: Kelly McCrimmon, Wheat Kings (executive of the year); John Paddock, Regina Pats (coach of the year); Rourke Chartier, Kelowna Rockets (most sportsmanlike player); Taylor Vickerman, Tri-City Americans (humanitarian of the year); and Nick McBride, Prince Albert Raiders (scholastic player of the year).

The Kamloops Blazers were named the scholastic team of the year, the Rockets won the WHL marketing/business award, while Reagan Vetter was chosen as the top official of the year.

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