Calgary, Alta. – The Western Hockey League will host its annual WHL Awards ceremony today at the Deerfoot Inn in Calgary, Alta., to honor the top performances from the WHL’s 2016-17 season.
Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal is the Western Conference nominee for the WHL Player of the Year. T-Birds defenseman Ethan Bear is the Western Conference nominee for the WHL Defenseman of the Year.
The 2017 WHL Awards ceremony will be streamed live at WHL.ca beginning at 12 p.m. MT.
In addition to those listed below, the WHL Scholastic Team of the Year and WHL Official of the Year will be recognized Wednesday.
2016-17 WHL Awards Nominees
WHL Rookie of the Year – Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Aleksi Heponiemi – Swift Current Broncos
Shortly after being selected 10th overall by the Broncos in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, Heponiemi opened eyes by recording 15 points (5g-10a) in six WHL preseason games. The Tampere, Finland native went on to finish atop all rookies in regular season scoring with 86 points (28g-58a) while playing in all 72 games. Heponiemi finished second in team scoring and led the Broncos with 58 assists, 30 of which came on the man advantage. The skilled, 1999-born forward is eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
Western Conference: Rudolfs Balcers – Kamloops Blazers
Balcers made an immediate offensive impact for the Kamloops Blazers after the Liepaja, Latvia native was selected 43rd overall in the 2016 CHL Import Draft. In 66 regular season games, Balcers racked up 40 goals and 37 assists for 77 points which was one point off the team lead. Balcers’ seven game-winning goals were tops amongst rookies this season while he also recorded a plus-26 rating. Balcers, who recently celebrated his 20th birthday, was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks.
WHL Goaltender of the Year – Del Wilson Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Zachary Sawchenko – Moose Jaw Warriors
A product of Calgary, AB, Sawchenko is the WHL’s Eastern Conference goaltender of the year for the second consecutive season. In his fourth year with the Warriors, Sawchenko enjoyed another solid campaign with a 30-14-6-1 record to go along with a 2.79 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and three shutouts. Sawchenko’s first 30-win season in the WHL saw him named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week on three occasions. The Warriors’ second-round pick, 33rd overall, in the 2012 Bantam Draft, Sawchenko is eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.
Western Conference: Carter Hart – Everett Silvertips
Hart enjoyed another terrific season with a record of 32-11-6-2 to help lead the Silvertips to the WHL’s Western Conference title. The reigning WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year led the league in goals-against average (1.99), save percentage (.927) and shutouts (9) in 2016-17. Selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft, Hart was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week this year. The Sherwood Park, AB product also earned a spot on Team Canada for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
WHL Defenceman of the Year – Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Connor Hobbs – Regina Pats
In his third full WHL season, Pats’ defenceman Connor Hobbs broke out in a big way. After being drafted by the Washington Capitals in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Hobbs posted 41 points (19g-22a) in 2015-16, a total he more than doubled this season with an 85-point (31g-54a) campaign. Hobbs led all WHL blueliners in both goals and points during the regular season. With his 31 goals, the Saskatoon, SK product also set a Pats’ franchise record amongst defenceman during his career year. Hobbs was originally drafted 67th overall by the Prince Albert Raiders during the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft.
Western Conference: Ethan Bear – Seattle Thunderbirds
Ochapowace, SK product Ethan Bear helped lead a potent Thunderbirds attack this season, finishing the year third in team scoring with a career-high 70 points (28g-42a) over 67 games played. Bear finished second in the WHL with 14 power-play goals and led all rearguards with nine game-winning markers. Originally selected 25th overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Bear has racked up 192 points (66g-126a) through 264 career WHL regular season games. Bear was chosen by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round, 124th overall, of the 2015 NHL Draft.
WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year – Brad Hornung Trophy
Eastern Conference: Tyler Steenbergen – Swift Current Broncos
After a successful rookie season in 2015-16, which saw him record 46 points, Steenbergen took a leap forward this year with a 90-point campaign. The Sylvan Lake, AB product was one of five players to reach the 50-goal plateau in 2016-17, adding 39 assists to his 51 goals to lead the Broncos to a 39-win season. Steenbergen played all 72 games for Swift Current while recording just 22 minutes in penalties. Steenbergen is eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
Western Conference: Kevin Davis – Everett Silvertips
Davis recently completed his fourth season with Everett and set a career high with 59 points (9g-50a) while logging big minutes on the blueline in all 72 games this year. The Kamloops, BC native was key to the Silvertips’ power-play unit with eight of his nine markers coming on the man advantage. The breakout campaign saw Davis finish third in team scoring and ninth amongst all WHL defencemen. Davis racked up just 14 minutes in penalties during the regular season, tied for fewest amongst all defencemen with at least 20 points. A former 11th overall pick by Everett (2012), Davis is eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
WHL Scholastic Player of the Year – Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Adam Kadlec – Prince Albert Raiders
In his first full WHL season, Kadlec registered 14 points (5g-9a) in 60 games played. After making the transition from Prince George to Prince Albert earlier this year, the Edina, MN product has excelled in the classroom. Kadlec posted a 96% average while taking six core classes in his first semester of Grade 12 this year – Chemistry B, Statistics A, English A, Art History A, Spanish IIA and Introduction to Communication. Currently, Kadlec is enrolled in Art History B, Earth Science B, English B, Spanish IIB, Statistics B and Sports Management and is carrying a 96% average once again including 100% in Earth Science. Kadlec was selected by the Prince George Cougars in the 10th round of the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft.
Western Conference: Brian King – Everett Silvertips
A product of Golden, Colorado, 2016-17 marked King’s second full season with the Silvertips. In 62 regular season games this year, King notched 17 points (4g-13a) for Everett. King excelled at balancing his academic goals with the WHL schedule this year, posting a 4.0 GPA while taking difficult core AP courses such as English, Calculus and Physics. King also enrolled in College in the High School courses and multiple other honours classes while maintaining his GPA. Ranked first in his class at Everett High School, King qualified for membership in National Honor Society this year and posted a score of 1490/1600 on the new SAT. King is poised to become the valedictorian of Everett High School and also spends time providing tutoring to his teammates.
WHL Coach of the Year – Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: John Paddock – Regina Pats
In his third season behind the bench for Regina, Paddock guided the Pats to an impressive 52-12-7-1 record and the franchise’s first Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular season champions since 1974. The Pats’ 52 wins and 112 points were each franchise records, breaking the previous marks that had stood since 1980-81. Regina began the season with an impressive 18-game unbeaten streak and proceeded to sit atop the CHL’s top-10 rankings for the vast majority of the season.
Western Conference: Mike Johnston – Portland Winterhawks
After a two-year absence coaching in the NHL, Johnston returned to Portland in 2016-17 to take back a team some thought was in the midst of a rebuild. Johnston steered the Winterhawks to an impressive 40-win season in the competitive U.S. Division and an 8-2-0-0 tear to finish the regular season was good enough to earn the first wild card slot in the Western Conference. Portland finished the regular season fifth in the WHL with 278 goals scored and also held the league’s fifth-best power play unit (24.8%).
WHL Executive of the Year – Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: John Paddock – Regina Pats
Also nominated for WHL Coach of the Year, Paddock had an equally impressive year from a management perspective. After snagging Ottawa Senators prospect Filip Ahl during the 2016 CHL Import Draft, Paddock and the Pats set their sights on signing top 2017 NHL Draft prospect Nick Henry. Paddock proceeded to bring in players such as Jonathan Smart, Dawson Davidson, Wyatt Sloboshan, Josh Mahura and Jeff de Wit via trade all while continuing to win with an eye towards hosting the 2018 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Western Conference: Bruce Hamilton – Kelowna Rockets
The model for consistency in junior hockey, Hamilton’s Rockets always seem to be in the hunt and posted yet another impressive regular season with a 45-22-5-0 record, which was nearly enough for the B.C. Division title. Boasting the typical abundance of talent on the blueline anchored by 2017 NHL Draft top prospect Cal Foote, Hamilton further bolstered the back end by adding veteran James Hilsendager via trade. Up front, the emergence of rookie forwards such as Nolan Foote and Jack Cowell complemented an already skilled group. Hamilton made a splash just prior to the trade deadline, acquiring Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carsen Twarynski as well as 20-year-old sniper Reid Gardiner, who had been playing in the AHL.
WHL Humanitarian of the Year – Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Tyler Wong – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Wong, the Eastern Conference Humanitarian of the Year for the third consecutive season, recently completed his fifth and final campaign with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. As team captain, the 21-year-old Wong has established himself as an exceptional ambassador for the Western Hockey League, both on and off the ice.
Building upon success from its inaugural season in 2015-16, Wong carried forward with the ‘Canes KidSport program in 2016-17, donating $5 to KidSport Lethbridge & Taber for each goal he scored. The initiative raised over $6,000 in 2015-16 and after setting a goal to raise $10,000 in 2016-17, Wong recruited Ryley Lindgren (now of the Swift Current Broncos), Giorgio Estephan and Jordy Bellerive to accept the challenge in support of KidSport. With the help of the community and alumni, Wong’s initiative surpassed its goal by raising over $13,0000 this season.
In addition to his contributions towards KidSport Lethbridge & Taber, Wong played a vital role in many other ways within the community, including through the “Hurricanes Spread Christmas Cheer” program in support of local foodbanks in southern Alberta. Along with coaches and teammates, he helped deliver food hampers and toy baskets and visited senior homes during the holiday season. Beyond this, Wong volunteered as a teacher’s assistant in a local classroom, served as a volunteer on-ice instructor for a number of minor hockey teams throughout the season and most recently worked with the Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association to help individuals with mental and physical disabilities through horseback riding.
This season, Wong was voted as the Hurricanes “Fan Favourite Player” for fifth time, ensuring a clean sweep of the award across the duration of his WHL and Hurricanes career – a feat achieved by no other player in Lethbridge Hurricanes history.
Western Conference: Sam Ruopp – Prince George Cougars
Ruopp, the Western Conference Humanitarian of the Year, recently completed his fourth and final campaign with the Prince George Cougars. As team captain, the 20-year-old Ruopp has established himself as an exceptional ambassador for the Western Hockey League, both on and off the ice.
At the onset of the 2015-16 season, the product of Zehner, Sask., played a key role in launching the well-received “Literacy and Exercise” Initiative in local Prince George elementary schools, aimed at promoting literacy and healthy living.
Having enjoyed the opportunity to contribute via the “Literacy and Exercise” Initiative, Ruopp stepped to the forefront in 2016-17 and helped with the launch of the “Spirit of Healthy Kids” promotion, implemented in conjunction with Northern Health and the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation. He visited 15 elementary schools in the region, helping educate students on the benefits of healthy living, good choices and active lifestyles.
Outside of his commitment to regular community work, Ruopp was always the first to volunteer his time for other off-ice initiatives, including hospital visits, backyard rink promotions, autograph sessions and photography opportunities, along with the simple but oft-overlooked effort of connecting with fans through genuine conversation.
As the only player in Prince George Cougars history to carry the captaincy for three seasons, Ruopp’s impact both on and off the ice cannot be understated. He helped to establish and instill a new culture based on passion, work ethic and dedication – both at the rink and within the greater community.
WHL Player of the Year – Four Broncos Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Sam Steel – Regina Pats
After being selected in the first round, 30th overall, of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Steel had a monstrous year for the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy-winning Regina Pats. With 50 goals and 81 assists in 66 games, Steel claimed the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL’s top scorer as well as the CHL’s scoring title. Steel’s 131 points were the most in the WHL since 2011-12 and he was twice named the WHL’s Player of the Week. The Sherwood Park, AB native posted 40 multipoint games in 2016-17, including 10 in which he notched at least four points. In three seasons with the Pats, Steel has amassed 255 points (90g-165a) in 204 regular season games.
Western Conference: Mathew Barzal – Seattle Thunderbirds
In an injury-shortened season that saw him begin the year with the NHL’s New York Islanders, Barzal returned to the T-Birds with a vengeance, posting 79 points (10g-69a) and a plus-32 rating in just 41 games played. The Coquitlam, BC native finished third in the WHL with 1.93 points-per-game in the regular season, which was particularly important for an injury-riddled Seattle squad that fought their way to an impressive 98-point season (46-20-4-2). Barzal also missed time while suiting up for Team Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. Drafted first overall by the Thunderbirds in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Barzal was taken 16th overall by the Islanders in the 2015 NHL Draft.
WHL Business Award
Eastern Conference: Regina Pats
The Regina Pats enjoyed a historic season on and off the ice in 2016-17. The team had its best regular season in its 99-year history, and that success reflected increases in every aspect of the business side of the organization. The Pats saw record growth in attendance and sponsorship thanks in part to added efforts in promotion, game-night experience and community initiatives. This season, the Pats’ average attendance increased by more than 900 fans per game, which was highlighted by 14 regular season sellouts. The Pats also used unique partnerships to engage the community such as a monthly Pats-themed pizza promotion with Lancaster Taphouse and a program with Sherwood Co-op, which saw free hockey cards featuring a new player handed out each week. Through unique programs and promotions, the Pats have helped raise funds for a number of organizations this year including the Canadian Cancer Society, Jays Care Foundation, The Lung Association, Regina Food Bank and the Outdoor Hockey League. Regina has also continued to invest in the fan experience after adding a state-of-the-art score clock last year by adding smoke machines, wireless cameras for concourse promotions and implementing the Junior Pats Announcer and Reporter programs to both enhance the fan experience and add value to the organization’s kids club.
Western Conference: Prince George Cougars
The Prince George Cougars continued to make extraordinary strides both on and off the ice this season. Over the past three seasons, the Cougars have raised attendance by a remarkable 214% including another 16% increase this year. The buzz about the Cougars is certainly back in Prince George, thanks in large part to numerous initiatives designed to engage the community such as frequent community appearances and charitable efforts including the comprehensive two-week “Spirit of Healthy Kids” program that has reached over 8,000 elementary school students this year. The Cougars are also continuing to push the envelope with innovative promotions and programs. The team’s Mega Jackpot Nights saw the club work with BC Lotteries and local partners to establish feature nights that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. Other unique feature games that include giveaways of free cars, drinks, roofs and trips are becoming a staple of the Cougars and continuing to draw large crowds. The Cougars’ Paint the Ice promotion even saw fans paint the entire ice surface prior to a home game and was complemented by a thorough social media campaign, an area the organization continues to excel at. Programs like the Home Depot Backyard Rink Contest where an entire community had the opportunity to come together and celebrate the Cougars, hockey and family are further evidence of how the Cougars continue to bring the community together and bring fans back to CN Centre.
The following two awards were predetermined based on regular season performance.
WHL Regular Season Champion – Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy
The storied Pats franchise last earned top regular season honours in the 1973-74 WHL season. That year, the likes of Clark Gillies, Greg Joly, Dennis Sobchuk and Ed Staniowski guided Regina to both WHL and Memorial Cup titles. The Pats locked up the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy this year with 112 points and a record of 52-12-7-1, which saw the club finish the regular season first in the CHL’s top-10 rankings. This edition of the Pats has been led by its own brand of superstars, with Sam Steel leading the entire Canadian Hockey League in scoring and captain Adam Brooks just one point back.
WHL Top Scorer – Bob Clarke Trophy
Sam Steel – Regina Pats
An 18-year-old from Sherwood Park, AB, Steel scored a remarkable 50 goals and 81 assists for 131 points in 66 games played during the 2016-17 WHL regular season. Steel not only led the Western Hockey League, but the Canadian Hockey League as well. Interestingly, Steel narrowly edged out his own teammate for the honour as Pats captain – and reigning Bob Clarke Trophy winner – as Adam Brooks finished the year with 130 points. Steel was selected 30th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2016 NHL Draft.
The 2017 WHL Championship Series presented by Rogers will begin Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m. MT as the Regina Pats play host to the Seattle Thunderbirds.