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The 2011-12 TIIL Awards for Excellent Excellence

March 19, 2012

Now that Lowell’s in-league season is over and all that remains is a breezy run to a national title in the NCAA tournament, we figure it’s just about time to issue our annual The Ice is Life Awards for Excellent Excellence.

As always, we not only filled out ballots for the annual awards Lowell gives out at its season-ending banquet, but also the league-wide awards, just to prove how brilliantly we monitor all of Hockey East, not just the only team truly worthy of our full attention (and by the way, our votes should count for those).

And so it is without further ado that the most important awards of any kind during this hockey season shall be handed out. Please enjoy.

We’ll lead off with the Lowell-only awards.

MVP: Doug Carr

There was a little debate about this one among us, but in the end, reason won out and Carr was rightfully named MVP for his role as the rock upon which all of Lowell’s success was built this season. Let’s put it this way: With Carr in the lineup, Lowell went 21-9-1. Without him, 2-3-0. It’s really that simple. He was immense this season and was the primary reason Lowell made its first NCAA tournament in 16 years.

Best Defensive Player: Doug Carr

When your best player is in a role where his only job is to be defensive, then he has to win this award almost by definition, right?

Unsung Hero: Josh Holmstrom

This season, Holmstrom was the kind of do-it-all player he was last year, but where he had 11 assists and no goals in that campaign, he turned a lot of things around for himself this year. The tenacious forechecking, defense and penalty killing remained omnipresent, but Holmstrom went from scoring zero goals as a freshman to 11 as a sophomore. Many of those goals, if we recall correctly, were pretty important as well. This was a really great season for a kid who routinely played perhaps the toughest minutes of any forward, at both ends of the ice.

“Gus” Coutu (given to the player that best exemplifies the spirit of Lowell hockey): Joe Pendenza

Say guys, do you like really fast, skilled hockey players who kill penalties and score breakaway goals and work really hard and are very fun to watch? You do? Then you must L-O-V-E love Joe Pendenza, who did all those things from start to finish for the second straight year. Plus, he gave us this picture, which we wish someone would give us a giant, high-quality print of.

Most Improved: Matt Ferreira

Lots of very worthy candidates for this award: Holmstrom, Carr, Derek Arnold, but in our book, no one improved more than Matt Ferreira. He entered the season with a career line of 15-12-27 in just 85 games, and this season put up big-time-huge numbers of 13-18-31 in 35, and he’s not done yet. What a turnaround.

Top Rookie: Scott Wilson

In a season in which Lowell had several positively outstanding rookies (Wallin, Suter, Kamrass, etc.), Wilson was still the unanimous choice because there couldn’t be another one. When you lead the team in scoring as a freshman, with 16 goals and 37 points in just 35 games, you win Top Rookie. Wilson couldn’t have made this any easier on us.

TIIL Player of the Year (our favorite River Hawk): Scott Wilson

This was a bit of a surprise, in our books, given how much we raved about players like Chad Ruhwedel and Jake Suter and Riley Wetmore and Doug Carr pretty much since the season began, but in the end, no ‘Hawk was more fun or surprising on a nightly basis than Wilson, who blended creativity, skill, grit, and even a little bit of meanness with an apparent interest in developing an all-around defensive game. Wilson could absolutely get by on just his offensive prowess and, like an Atlanta Thrasher-era Ilya Kovalchuk, never set foot in his own defensive zone with little complaint from anyone as long as the points continued to pile up. But the kid killed penalties too. What an absolute pleasure to watch.

TIIL Three Stars Award (based only on home games, with three points for a No. 1 star, two for No. 2 and one for No. 3): Doug Carr

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but Carr actually ran away with this vote like a freight train, scooping up more first-place votes than anyone else on the team and sprinkling in seconds and thirds on nearly every ballot. Here are the full results, which included 16 different River Hawks earning at least one vote over the course of the season:

  1. Doug Carr: 22
  2. Scott Wilson: 15
  3. Chad Ruhwedel: 12
  4. Riley Wetmore: 10
  5. Derek Arnold: 10
  6. David Vallorani: 9
  7. Matt Ferreira: 8
  8. Joe Pendenza: 7
  9. Josh Holmstrom: 5
  10. Mike Budd: 5
  11. Malcolm Lyles: 4
  12. Terrence Wallin: 3
  13. Dan Furlong: 3
  14. Zack Kamrass: 3
  15. Jake Suter: 2
  16. Marc Boulanger: 1

Why Carr was so far ahead of everyone else on the list: How about a home stat line of 1.91 GAA/.931 save percentage in 17 games? That clears that up.

And now the league-wide awards…

Shocking admission: We tried to be level-headed here. No homerism (well, not as much as we’d have liked) from us for these. Hold onto your butts.

League All-Star teams:
(Asterisk denotes unanimous selection)

First team:
Spencer Abbott (Maine)*-Brian Flynn (Maine)*-Chris Kreider (BC)
Brian Dumoulin (BC)*-Karl Stollery (Merrimack)*
Doug Carr (Lowell)*

Really hard to argue with Abbott or Flynn, but Kreider’s last forward spot was really up for a lot of debate. Of the three ballots turned in, all three had different players, and Kreider made it by virtue of having two second-team votes in his favor, which neither other candidate could say. As for the defense, Dumoulin was just on another planet from every other player at his position in the league, and Karl Stollery is a player we’ve loved since his first season at Merrimack. A great, and shockingly underrated, Hockey East defenseman. And of course, Doug Carr was the best goaltender in the league this season, so that was easy.

Second team:
Scott Wilson (Lowell)*-Matt Nieto (BU)-Barry Almeida (BC)
Chad Ruhwedel (Lowell)*-Adam Clendenning (BU)
Joe Cannata (Merrimack)*

Wilson was very understandably unanimous on the second team, and we weep to think what he could have done to this league with a full season on a line with Wetmore and Arnold. Nieto and Almeida only got one vote each for the second team, compared to Chris Connolly’s two, but each also received votes for the first team, which Connolly did not. At the back, Ruhwedel was also an easy choice because of what he brings in all three zones, and Adam Clendenning edged teammate Garrett Noonan for the final spot. Cannata was an obvious choice for the second team.

All-Rookie team:
Scott Wilson (Lowell)*-Johnny Gaudreau (BC)*-Ludwig Karlsson (Northeastern)
Jake Suter (Lowell)*-Zack Kamrass (Lowell)
Casey DeSmith (UNH)*

No real explanation necessary here. If you’re wondering why Karlsson and Kamrass weren’t unanimous choices, there was one vote each for Ross Mauermann (the Lowell Bump!) and Alexx Privatera, whose name sounds like a pasta dish. DeSmith had the easiest road in because his only competition was Kevin Boyle, who stinks.

League Rookie of the Year: Scott Wilson (Lowell)*
This was a tap-in no-doubter from the second the season started. Accept no substitutes.

League Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin (Lowell)*
See the award description immediately above this one for further clarification.

League MVP: Brian Dumoulin (BC)
It’s pretty hard to think of a Hockey East defenseman who was more dominant in the last decade than Dumoulin was as a junior this year. He’s as good as gone the second BC’s season is over, and deservedly so.

League Best Defensive Defenseman: Brian Dumoulin (BC)
Again, if he’s league MVP (and he is), and he himself has admitted that he’s proud of the way his defensive game developed this year, why is there any question? He ate big minutes, he devoured opposing offenses. Easy choice.

League Best Defensive Forward: Joe Pendenza

Our understanding of these awards is that they have to go to the players who best mix a strong offensive game with a solid defensive one. And by that metric, how do we give it to anyone but Pendenza? He scored 7-15-22 in 27 league games this season and finished second in plus-minus at plus-17 behind only Brian Flynn’s plus-20. BU’s Chris Connolly, who won the league’s award, had more points at 6-26-32 but still finished just plus-13. What a chump that guy is. He’s no Joe Pendenza. Everyone who’s anyone knows that.

TIIL Opponent Schadenfreude Award: The Springfield Republican’s Dick Baker

Dick Baker has been a professional sportswriter since before Ronald Reagan got elected president, and has probably covered more hockey games than you’ve watched in your entire life. And yet, in all that time (not unlike Chaz Scoggins), he seems to have picked up shockingly little understanding of the sport.

There was a time when we almost respected Baker’s coverage of the UMass Amherst Minutemen, but it occurs to us, in hindsight, that this was a product of a homer reporter covering a team he dearly loves favorably because it was winning. Yes, Amherst enjoyed a pretty decent run of success in the middle of the last decade, and Baker was overjoyed with all of it. But since then, Toot Cahoon’s woeful charges have been pulled back down screaming into the sludge, scum, and ooze at the bottom of Hockey East where they belong, and Baker has spent the season casting about in a pitiable effort to lay the blame at anyone’s feet but the Minutemen themselves.

Unfortunately, he typically targeted the referees with this shameful behavior, the ultimate sign of a sour grapes-eating media pom-pom-waver who’s seen his binkybaby favorite team fall into the inky black void of irrelevance and has taken to clawing, desperately, for any coverall excuse to which he can lay hands.

To wit, this is an actual pair of sentences Baker led a column with on Jan. 28, the night after Lowell pantsed Amherst at Mullins Center and snapped the Minutemens’ 10-game unbeaten streak: “Let me start out saying, I rarely complain in print about officiating, can’t even remember the last time I did. It’s too easy to do, and I hate doing it anyway at the risk of sounding like a homer.” Of course, the rest of that article, more than 800 words of it, in fact, did exactly that. And it ended with the words, “Shame on you,” without the slightest bit of irony.

And obviously, his assertion is quite funny, given that the previous night’s game story said, “Officiating and frustration ends UMass hockey unbeaten string at 10” right in the headline. And in the following week, Baker continued to complain about the officiating in that game, even as Amherst lost in Lowell the next night (“Unlike Friday night, penalties had not been an issue”), in a column about that game (headline: “This time it wasn’t the refs, Minutemen did themselves in”, and several days later in a notebook column (“On Friday night, in the poorly officiated game at the Mullins Center…”).

Now, we know what you’re saying: “Why pick on an obviously confused old man who has no understanding of the sport of hockey and, based on how close together those columns were written, might have just been having a bad week?”

Dateline: Chestnut Hill, Mass., Saturday, March 10, 2012. Dick Baker files a brief post entitled: “I want to see the replay” in which he — shockingly — complains that the officials in the BC/Amherst quarterfinal series got a five-minute major and game misconduct call against Steve Guzzo appallingly wrong. At least, that’s the implication, because if they disallowed an apparent goal for the Minutemen, these guys are certainly on the take. In fact, Baker was so convinced he filed another column on it (“Guzzo tried to cut one off to keep the puck in the zone, and sent Patch Alber into the boards. But was it really a hit from behind, should it have been five minutes, and not two? Could it have been five minutes for boarding, and no game misconduct?”). And then another one the next day entitled, “Let it always be remembered in the history of UMass hockey as the playoff game it really didn’t lose.”

He also communicated to a fellow whiner on the comments under one of those articles saying, “I may sound like a “homer’ of a writer, but that was really disgusting Saturday. A veteran Hockey East media-type warned me before the game about these two refs. He was right on.”

Yes, “may.”

So that’s eight stories of varying length, all the media equivalent of a child screaming at the top of its lungs in the grocery store because its parent wouldn’t buy a it a candy bar. Which strikes as kind of a lot for someone who “rarely complain[s] in print about officiating.”

TIIL Best Blog Award*: The Boston Hockey Blog

Apart from giving readers more information about a team in the league than pretty much all other Hockey East blogs combined (except this one), this blog deserves a world of credit. It was not a good year to be a person who supports the Boston University hockey program, at least, not as far as all the reprehensible off-ice activity of its players is concerned. But the Boston Hockey Blog, which is maintained by the staff writers at BU’s independent student newspaper, covered what could have easily devolved into an hysterical situation in either condemning the program top-to-bottom or making every apology for it, expertly, fairly, and rationally. Well done to them.

*Obviously TIIL is the best blog in Hockey East in the way that Scott Wilson is the league’s best rookie or Norm Bazin its best coach, but we removed ourselves from consideration mainly due to our magnanimity and largesse.

TIIL Fanbase That Doesn’t Get the Bit Award: Northeastern

For some reason, it still surprises a lot of people around the league when we assert (correctly) that Lowell is better than every other team in the league, other teams’ best players aren’t fit to lace the skates of Lowell’s healthy scratches, and all other blogs read like they were written by Dick Baker in comparison with ours. This year, no one embodied that appalling lack of understanding than fans of the terrible Northeastern Huskies, who missed the league playoffs due, again, to their being terrible.

It all began when Northeastern, having started the season an atrocious 1-7-2, ran off five straight wins ahead of a home date with Lowell, which led them to pronounce the following absurd things (in ascending order of absurdity):

  1. Anthony Bitteto is better than Chad Ruhwedel
  2. Ludwig Karlsson is better than Scott Wilson
  3. Chris Rawlings is better than Doug Carr
  4. Northeastern is better than Lowell

Patently ridiculous, all. And yet these cries continued even as Northeastern returned to normalcy (that being: “awfulness”) and wrapped the season 13-16-5, including two losses to Lowell in which the above assertions were proven as laughable as we could have told you they were the second they were made.

Congratulations to all our winners. May you continue to live up to our expectations.

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