The Cranbrook Bucks celebrate a win over the Prince George Spruce Kings at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook during a preseason game last fall. Photo courtesy

The Cranbrook Bucks celebrate a win over the Prince George Spruce Kings at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook during a preseason game last fall. Photo courtesy

Bucks hand out team awards following conclusion of Penticton pod season

The Cranbrook Bucks have handed out team awards following the completion of an unorthodox season, playing 20 games against two other teams in Penticton due to pandemic-related restrictions.

The BCHL Penticton Pod featured the Cranbrook Bucks, Penticton Vees and the Trail Smoke Eaters, all of which battled against each other for 20 games apiece over a five-week period.

Over that 20-game stint, the Bucks tallied three wins, 16 losses, and one shootout loss.

The Penticton pod was one of five pod locations across the province that were created as part of a league return to play plan, and subsequently approved by the provincial government.

The season only featured 20 games; no playoff tournament for the Fred Page Cup will be happening for the 2021 post-season.

2021 Cranbrook Bucks Team Awards

Community Service Award – Noah Leibl

The Community Service Award is awarded to the player who had the greatest impact in the Cranbrook community, according to Bucks.

“Noah set the standard for what we expect of our players within our community,” reads a statement from the team. “Over the course of this challenging year, Noah was always willing to lend his time and energy towards valuable causes as best that he could. He was a regular contributor to our afternoon skill sessions and arrived in Cranbrook ahead of training camp in order to help with our inaugural Hockey School.”

Scholastic Player of the Year – Jarrod Smith

The Scholastic Player of the Year is awarded to a player recognizing their achievements in both academics and athletics.

“Jarrod was exceptional in balancing his academic workload in addition to the requirements of being a BCHL player, day in and day out,” according to the Bucks. “Jarrod remained committed to his academics throughout an extremely challenging year both on the ice and in the virtual classroom.”

Most Valuable Player – Drake Burgin

Defenceman Drake Burgin was named the Bucks’ Most Valuable Player, proving his reliability on all sides of the puck and all areas of the game.

“Drake is a worthy recipient of our inaugural MVP award as he quickly established himself as an exceptional player in the BCHL after making the transition to our team from the MJHL,” according to the team. “Drake brought a level of experience and ability to our group that we greatly benefited from over the course of our 20-game regular season.”

Rookie of the Year – Nathan Airey

Goaltender Nathan Airey was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, showing character, class and determination all year long, said the team.

“While it goes without saying that our expansion team would have an abundance of first-year players, Nathan stood out above the rest for his resilience, dedication, and growth over the course of the winter and our Pod Season in Penticton,” according to the Bucks. “Nathan was the backbone of our team in a lot of games, and certainly does not normally receive the recognition that he deserves for the performances that he had during his Rookie Season.”

Defensive Player of the Year – Rhys Bentham

Rhys Bentham was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year award, which recognizes the individual that most contributed to the defensive strength of the team.

“Rhys proved himself to be an outstanding defensive player during the course of our Pod Season in Penticton,” according to the Bucks. “Despite often matching up with our opponents’ top players and playing a significant role in our Penalty Kill, Rhys never wavered in his willingness to do everything required of him and more on both sides of the puck.”

Coaches Award – Cam Kungle

Cam Kungle was the recipient of the Coaches Award, which recognizes a player who embodies the qualities and characteristics emphasized by the club on a daily basis.

“Cam is a terrific example of a player who represented our core values every single day,” according to the team. “Over the course of the winter, Cam never wavered in his commitment to his teammates, his individual development, and our team. Cam was able to do this with humility, excellence, respect, and discipline while earning a significant role both on and off the ice within our program.”

Top Scorer Award – Walker Gelbard/Zeth Kindrachuk/AJ Vasko

With a condensed season, three players in Walker Gelbard, Zeth Kindrachuk and AJ Vasko all collected nine points apiece to share the Top Scorer Award. Vasko tallied the most goals at five, while Gelbard earned seven assists.

“With our condensed Pod Season, we wound up having 3 players tied for the team lead in scoring,” according to the team. “AJ, Zeth, and Walker were regular contributors to our offensive output over the course of the regular season. All three were able to do so in their own way, but each of them started with a base of hard work and an unwavering commitment to their game and development over the course of this winter and into our Pod Season.”