Colton Kroeker, Brett Davis named 2017-18 Kootenay Ice co-MVPs

Centremen share top prize at annual team awards, coach says choice was between four players

At last season’s trade deadline, the Kootenay Ice made an enormous move when they sent their two leading scorers Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a bid to improve their future.

While the Ice finished in last place in the WHL in 2016-17, it was evident immediately that they had received a pair of gems in exchange for their 20-year-old duo. Colton Kroeker and Brett Davis ended last year on the team’s top line, playing the best hockey of their careers.

This season, they expanded their roles even further and were named the Ice’s co-MVPs for 2017-18. Presented with the ‘Apollo Ristorante Most Valuable Player Award’ prior to the team’s last game on Saturday night, Kroeker said that it was a special honour.

“Davis and I were good friends coming from Lethbridge [and] we played on the same team for awhile [so] it was pretty cool getting MVP with him,” said Kroeker, who played his final WHL season this year. “Obviously, there were a couple other guys that also deserved it, but I feel fortunate to have gotten it with him.”

Kroeker finished tied with fellow overager Alec Baer for the Kootenay scoring lead, putting up 61 points in 68 games, while Davis was third with 58 points in 72 games. While Kroeker had the better first half of the season and was rewarded by being named team captain in November, Davis came alive in the second half.

According to Ice head coach James Patrick, the decision for the MVP award was actually a tough call between four players: Kroeker, Davis, Baer and defenceman Martin Bodak.

“Baer scored more big goals for us [than anyone] and Bodak [was] a really good all-around player,” Patrick said. “He was the one defenceman on our team who could go toe to toe with any player in the league, [including] the elite players.

“But when it came down to Kroeker and Davis [there was so little separation]. They were guys who were on the top two lines [and] they played against the other teams’ best lines. They were our best offensive guys and our best defensive guys.”

Operating for the majority of the year with interchangeable top two forward lines — one centred by Kroeker and the other by Davis — both players also had key roles on the power play and were elite penalty killers.

Kroeker was a frequent source of praise from Patrick throughout the season, who said that the 20-year-old Surrey, B.C. native showed his leadership early and often.

“When I came here in training camp, we had very few centers… basically [just] Peyton Krebs and Brett Davis,” the coach said. “[Since] Peyton was 16 years old, we were adamant about not throwing him to the wolves and overplaying him.

“Someone else had to play center for us. I asked Colton [if he played centre] and he said, ‘no, but I’ll give it a try.’ After the first exhibition game, I was shocked. I said, ‘You can play center. You’re a smart player.’ Within two weeks, he was right up to speed… the first two months, he played against every best line and a lot of nights outplayed a lot of guys who are going to be in the NHL next year.”

The coach explained that this willingness to do whatever he could to help the team earned him the captaincy after defenceman Cale Fleury was traded, and also made him an MVP.

While Davis struggled early in the year, after having been drafted into the NHL by the Dallas Stars over the summer (sixth round, 163rd overall), his coach had high praise for how he ended their campaign.

“Brett’s second half was one of the best in the whole league,” Patrick said. “I think his play put him up with the top players.”

While Baer and Bodak did not received MVP honours, both were rewarded with major trophies. Baer was given the ‘Rod Hunter Ltd. Players Award’, the best player of the season as voted on by his fellow players, while Bodak was named the ‘Dixon Service Centre Top Defenceman’.

As the team’s second round selection in the 2017 WHL Import Draft, Bodak played 59 games this season and registered 31 points. He also captained Slovakia at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo, New York where he led his country to an upset round robin win over the United States and had three goals in five games.

Other Ice award winners included Peyton Krebs, who was named the ‘Denham Ford Rookie of the Year’ after putting up a WHL freshman best 54 points in 67 games and Cam Hausinger, who won the ‘Skyway Distributors Most Improved Player’ award.

Hausinger had 43 points in 70 games this season, a year after only having 15 split between the Saskatoon Blades and Red Deer Rebels. Developing great chemistry with Davis, Hausinger went from being an expendable player to a key part of Kootenay’s future.

“At the start of the year, we thought [Hausinger] would be a fourth liner and he was a guy that Red Deer felt was expendable because they had a lot of right wingers,” Patrick said. “I sat him out a game [early in the year] because I didn’t know what type of player he was [but] within about two months of the season, he became a top-six forward.

“Whether it spurred him on or whether it was a mistake on my part, I use him as an example of a guy who I’m looking to have a big year next year for us and be a much better player.”

Colton Veloso, meanwhile, was named the ‘BDO Canada LLP Most Underrated Player’ in his 20-year-old season, in which he had 47 points in 71 games. A former member of the Portland Winterhawks, his goal, assist and point totals were all single-season career highs.

Finally, 19-year-old defenceman Dallas Hines was honoured with the ‘EKCC Community Relations Award’ for his dedication, time and effort toward the community.

According to the team, Hines always showed tremendous enthusiasm when afforded the opportunity to take part in community initiatives and took part in ‘Reading with the Ice’, the CHCA Fashion Show and Silent Auction, minor hockey practices and other community programs.

At the penultimate home game, Krebs was also named the ‘Kootenay Ice Fan Club Player of the Year’, while rookie Sebastian Streu was named the team’s ‘Scholastic Player of the Year’.

The Ice finished the 2017-18 season in 19th place in the WHL, four spots above last place. After finishing at the bottom of the league in their previous two seasons, Kootenay had 21 more points than in 2016-17.

Their final game of the season against the Red Deer Rebels was a 5-0 shutout victory in front of their home crowd.

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