While it may have been one of the most challenging Western Hockey League seasons in Kootenay Ice franchise history, there was still plenty to celebrate in 2015-16 as the team hosted its 18th annual awards ceremony Friday night prior to puck drop at Western Financial Place.
Goaltender Wyatt Hoflin was the recipient of the most prestigious award of the evening — the Rod Hunter Ltd. Players Award. The Players Award is voted upon by the players for the teammate showing the most dedication, perseverance and commitment to the game of hockey.
“It’s a huge honour, it’s something you take a lot of pride in,” Hoflin said Friday night. “It’s the people around you that you’re trying to inspire and trying to get better for that vote you in for that award.
“When I first came into this league, I was just an immature kid trying to play hockey. But it led to the development of the person I am today. It’s a huge honour for me and my family.”
Hoflin’s family and billet family were both on hand Friday night as he was honoured alongside teammates.
In addition to receiving the Players Award, the 21-year-old native of Spruce Grove, Alta., was recognized as the Haddad Financial Services First Star of the Year and Steeples Construction Player of the Month for March.
“Things weren’t always sunshine and rainbows, [Hoflin] had a lot of work to do to get to a point where he could be an elite starting goaltender in the league,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice. “He found a way to get there. That’s not an easy thing to do.
“Dealing with some tough losses… finding a way this year to fight through some things, there’s no question there were times where he wasn’t at his best and it got to him, too, with the struggles. But he never let it last a long time and persevered through that.
“His commitment and dedication to the game are hopefully things that will be lasting impressions on this group.”
Hoflin’s efforts in re-writing the Kootenay Ice record book have been well-documented over the past two seasons. In 2015-16 he established a new franchise mark for saves (4,505), surpassing Nathan Lieuwen (4,188).
Not to be diminished by the haul claimed by his goaltender, 19-year-old Zak Zborosky was named the Apollo Ristorante’s Most Valuable Player after leading the Kootenay Ice in scoring with 32 goals, 36 assists and 68 points in 58 games.
“At times, he’s quietly gone about putting together a pretty impressive season,” Pierce said. “Those types of numbers on a team that has struggled at times to provide offense and score goals… We’re the lowest-scoring team in the Western Hockey League and he put up 30. Proportionately, that’s pretty impressive.
“In this league, you need elite players that can break things open…Those people are extremely valuable.”
Zborosky, a native of Regina, was also named the Haddad Financial Services Second Star of the Year.
“I wasn’t really expecting [to be named MVP] because I was going against Hoff,” Zborosky said.
“His work ethic and his determination to get better every day is awesome. His attitude towards everything is fantastic.”
While Hoflin and Zborosky headlined the Ice achievements in 2015-16, defenceman Cale Fleury had himself a breakout year and was recognized for that as the Kootenay Ice Fan Club Player of the Year.
Fleury, a 17-year-old native of Calgary, had a breakout year in his WHL sophomore campaign, stacking up eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 61 games.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound rearguard also showed his prowess off the ice, as he was named Rocky Mountain Diesel Scholastic Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Captain Tanner Lishchynsky was honoured as the Dixon Service Centre’s Top Defenseman after posting career highs in all major statistical categories.
Coming to the Ice for a five-game affiliate appearance from the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League back in December 2014, Lishchynsky never looked back.
He quickly became one of the most reliable presences on the Ice blue line last season and his efforts were rewarded in 2015-16 as he was named the 20th captain in franchise history.
Donning the captaincy, the 21-year-old native of Saskatoon helped carry the young club and produced career highs in goals (eight), assists (15), points (23), games played (60) and penalty minutes (70).
Carrying on the successful family namesake first established by older brother Luke, 17-year-old Noah Philp was named Alpine Toyota Rookie of the Year after recording six goals and 22 points to lead all first-year players in team scoring.
Sophomore forward Austin Wellsby was named the Skyway Distributors Most Improved Player. In his second year with the Ice, the 18-year-old native of Chilliwack produced eight goals and 16 points, besting his one-goal rookie season.
Alternate captain Matt Alfaro was named the BDO Canada LLP Most Underrated Player after finishing second in team scoring with 22 goals and 48 points through 65 games. The 19-year-old native of Calgary was also recognized as the Haddad Financial Services Third Star of the Year.
Last, but certainly not least, rookie Jared Legien led the community charge throughout Cranbrook, reading in school libraries, helping with minor hockey practices and playing street hockey with youngsters, amongst other efforts. The 17-year-old native of Pilot Butte, Sask., was recognized with the EKC Community Relations Award.
Outside of formal awards, the Ice also recognized the efforts of their overage players, presenting Lishchynsky and Hoflin with their own personal Kootenay Ice sweater as a keepsake.
As the team’s only 19-year-old players, Alfaro and Zborosky were also recognized for their leadership and presented with watches.
The young Ice squad, which featured 10 first-year players, finished 12-53-6-1, missing the post-season for the first time since 1997-98, when it was still located in Edmonton.
For complete photo gallery, see Tuesday’s edition of the Townsman.
Rod Hunter Ltd. Players AwardWyatt Hoflin(9-38-3-1, 4.12 GAA, .893 SP, 3 SO)
Apollo Ristorante Most Valuable PlayerZak Zborosky(58 games played, 32G-36A-68 points)
Haddad Financial Services 3 Stars of the Year1) Wyatt Hoflin2) Zak Zborosky3) Matt Alfaro
Skyway Distributors Most Improved PlayerAustin Wellsby(64GP, 8-8-16)
BDO Canada LLP Most Underrated PlayerMatt Alfaro(65GP, 22-26-48)
Dixon’s Service Centre Top DefensemanTanner Lishchynsky(60GP, 8-15-23)
Alpine Toyota Rookie of the YearNoah Philp(67GP, 6-16-22)
EKC Community Relations AwardJared Legien(69GP, 4-4-8)
Rocky Mountain Diesel Scholastic Player of the YearCale Fleury(61GP, 8-17-25)
Fan Club Player of the YearCale Fleury(61GP, 8-17-25)