It's been awhile, folks. A little vacation, a little different offseason sports duties at the Freep, some thinking about how to spice things up on the blog for the summer and going forward to next season ...
Minnesota State announced its team award winners for this season on Friday. No big surprises in the group. Here's a list of them, along with a Puckato comment or two:
Don Brose Leadership Award: Johnny McInnis
Comment: This was a no-brainer at the end of the season, but there were some questions about how he'd handle having the "C" before the year began. It was a delight watching McInnis grow into this role as the year went on. It seemed as though he got better on the ice as he grew off the rink, and he ended up signing a pro contract when all was said and done. First-class kid.
Hustle Award (Hardest Worker): Bryce Gervais
Comment: Another lock. After watching the NFL draft and listening to the talking heads ramble about players' motors, here's a guy with a motor that doesn't quit. Great penalty killer who set a high bar for the rest of his college career with a phenomenal second half. Best non-goaltender in this year's Final Five. Chase Grant also Could have received consideration for this award.
Most Improved Player: Sean Flanagan
Comment: As I often talk about, is this award for best improvement over the course of a season or from season to season. Lately, it's been the former for the Mavericks, and Flanagan, a freshman defenseman, really started to figure things out over the second half of the season. From the North Star Cup on, he was a consistent performer who had earned a permanent spot in the lineup. Going season to season, Gervais might have been most deserving.
Unsung Hero: Zach Lehrke
Comment: Hard to disagree here. The season could have been divided into B.L. and A.L. (Before Lehrke and After Lehrke). The Mavericks seemed to be lost during his 10-game retirement, but his return sparked a run that took the team to the Broadmoor Trophy championship and a second-straight NCAA tournament. Other consideration could have gone to Brett Stern.
Most Valuable Player: Cole Huggins
Comment: What a year Huggins had, especially at the end (another candidate for Most Improved Player, perhaps). Was named WCHA Final Five Most Outstanding Player. Hard to ignore a 21-8-1 record, .926 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average. Future should be bright, too. At different times in the season, this award could have gone to Jean-Paul LaFontaine, Matt Leitner and Johnny McInnis. I'd have little issue with any of those four winning the honor.
Star of the Year: Johnny McInnis
Comment: This is based on the Three Stars of the Game awarded after every home game. Points are tallied based on being first, second or third star. McInnis was No. 1 three times and No. 2 three times, compiling 15 points. Next was LaFontaine (11), Gervais (10), Leitner (9), Huggins (8), Zach Stepan (8), Lehrke (7), Teddy Blueger (5), Sean Flanagan (5), Dylan Margonari (4), Casey Nelson (3), Michael Huntebrinker (3), Jordan Nelson (2), Zach Palmquist (2) and Chase Grant (1).