Friday night may have ended in a 6-1 loss for the Kootenay Ice, but it was nonetheless a very special night for goalie Payton Lee.
Prior to the opening puck drop for the team’s final home game of the season, the Cranbrook native was honoured by the team he grew up cheering for, by being named the winner of three prestigious awards: the Rod Hunter Ltd. Players Award, the Apollo Ristorante Most Valuable Player and the Haddad Financial Services 3 Stars Golden Star.
It was the Players Award that was the most special for Lee. That trophy is given to the team’s most valuable player as selected by his peers.
“It’s nice [when] the hard work you put in gets recognized,” Lee said after Friday’s game. “At the same time, if I could switch those for a playoff run or something like that, I would. But, it’s [still] nice to get recognized.”
The 20-year old goalie was the Ice’s undisputed leader this season, playing 53 games and facing 1,909 shots againsts, with a 4.16 goals against average and a 0.894 save percentage.
In total, through 5 seasons in the WHL — split between the Vancouver Giants, Edmonton Oil Kings, and Kootenay Ice — Lee played over 12,000 minutes and earned 72 wins.
Beyond the awards, however, just getting to play for the Ice was a fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“Going into the trade deadline this year, I made it clear that I wanted to stay here at home and finish it out,” Lee said. “So for the Ice to give me that opportunity, it’s been awesome and I can’t thank them enough.”
The effect Lee had on his teammates and the coaching staff this season was tremendous.
“After the last game, [head coach] Luke [Pierce] was talking about how much he has meant to our team,” Fleury said. “Most of the guys probably don’t realize it yet, but when he’s gone [they’ll] recognize what he meant to the team.
“He’s just a great overall guy, a really strong character and great leader on and off the ice.”
As the team’s captain, and two years Lee’s junior, Fleury learned a lot from the goalie.
“His work ethic off the ice was beat by no one,” he said. “He [was the] top guy in that category, so I’ll be trying to do that next year.”
Fleury was the other big winner on awards night, being named the Dixon’s Service Centre Top Defenceman and the Kootenay Ice fan club’s player of the year.
It was the second straight year the fans have voted him as their favourite, and it’s an honour that he definitely appreciates.
“It’s awesome, just knowing that they actually like me,” Fleury laughed. “I don’t usually get too much time to talk to them, [so it feels] good.”
Fleury led all Ice defencemen with 38 points in 70 games this season. He was also named the team’s captain, participated in the CHL’s top prospect game, and is expected to be drafted in this summer’s NHL entry draft.
“I set a lot of goals for myself at the start of the year and I think I got most of them, so I was pretty proud of that,” he said. “[Now] I have to work [preparing for the draft] into my routine this summer. I’m going to be thinking about it every day now.”
Vince Loschiavo was the recipient of the Skyway Distributors Most Improved Player, after he led the team in goal scoring with 29 in 68 games and put up 57 points.
In his rookie season, Loschiavo had 9 points in 58 games and as a sophomore had 10 points in 61 games. This season, the Winnipeg sniper finally felt like he lived up to his potential.
“Last year was a year where I didn’t do too much and last summer I had to really figure it out to have a way better year this year,” Loschiavo said. “I’m happy with my year. I got the opportunity to play with a lot of great players [which] was good.”
Loschiavo started the year playing primarily on the team’s top line with 20-year-olds Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro. After they were traded in January, he played with their replacements, Colton Kroeker and Brett Davis.
“I was given a good opportunity. I think I deserved that, and took advantage of it. Those players I played with really helped me a lot,” he said. “It was good to put up some points this year.”
After the team’s blockbuster trade, Loschiavo was named an alternate captain, which he believes gave him the necessary boost to continue being the team’s top scorer.
“It gives you confidence when you get a letter put on your jersey,” he said. “I didn’t want to change my game at all and when Alfaro and Zborosky got traded, I wanted to continue playing the same way and I was able to do that.”
While he was named the most improved player on the team, Loschiavo doesn’t think he’s finished improving.
“I’d like to play more as a leader and do things that I didn’t do as much this year, like blocking shots and being more physical,” he said on his hopes for next year.
The team awards were rounded out with sophomore defenceman Ryan Pouliot winning the BDO Canada LLP Most Underrated Player, veteran forward Austin Wellsby taking home the EKC Community Relations Award, Keenan Taphorn earning the Alpine Toyota Rookie of the Year award, and twin brother Kaeden being named the Rocky Mountain Diesel Scholastic Player of the Year.
For their three star honours accumulated throughout the season, Payton Lee was the team’s golden star, Colton Kroeker was the silver star, and Vince Loschiavo has the bronze star.
As a team, the Ice finished in last place in the WHL with a 14-46-10-2 record.
Full list of awards:
Rod Hunter Ltd. Players Award: Payton Lee
Apollo Ristorante Most Valuable Player: Payton Lee
Dixon’s Service Centre Top Defenceman: Cale Fleury
Alpine Toyota Rookie of the Year: Keenan Taphorn
Skyway Distributors Most Improved Player: Vince Loschiavo
BDO Canada LLP Most Underrated Player: Ryan Pouliot
EKC Community Relations Award: Austin Wellsby
Rocky Mountain Diesel Scholastic Player of the Year: Kaeden Taphorn
Fan Club Player of the Year: Cale Fleury
Haddad Financial Services 3 Stars: Payton Lee, Colton Kroeker, Vince Loschiavo
Steeples Construction Player of the Month for March: Troy Murray