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The 2012-13 TIIL Awards for Excellent Excellence

March 13, 2013

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, which had almost no consensus whatsoever.

MVP: Connor Hellebuyck

What more needs to be said about this than the fact that when he started getting into games, Lowell started winning? And in fact, it started winning a crazy amount. Hellebuyck’s first two consecutive starts came mid-December, and not so coincidentally Lowell’s winning streak got really and truly under way. We wonder just how much distance the River Hawks could have put between itself and the rest of the league if Hellebuyck hadn’t gotten hurt for that month, or if he’d started getting time earlier in the year, but we also can’t argue too much with any of the results. This was an exemplary freshman season.

Best Defensive Player: Chad Ruhwedel

One thing people seem to forget, though, about the time Lowell was really bad was that it often didn’t struggle defensively so much as it couldn’t begin to put the puck in the net. There was many a night when the Lowell offense just couldn’t get anything going and wasted an otherwise strong defensive effort, and Ruhwedel was often at the center of those. We started to give him less recognition as the season went on and the offense got really and truly going (and shame on us for that) but the kid was Lowell’s best defenseman just about every night the last two seasons, and he deserves all the credit anyone can give him.

Unsung Hero: Josh Holmstrom

Holmstrom put up 11 goals this season with seemingly no fanfare at all, and it would appear as though that’s what this award is all about in general. He’s so good fronting the net and in the defensive end every night, and cracking double-digit goal totals while nearly doubling his career offensive output is obviously very special. Most people probably didn’t notice him until he went off in that all-important game at Merrimack a few weeks back, but if they didn’t, they just weren’t paying attention.

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

The captain is everything we think you’d ever want a Lowell player to be. He’s eminently skilled with 108 career points, and super-durable with 145 games played. He’s great at the dot. He’s excellent defensively. He scores big-time goals. He’s a top-notch leader. Give us the ability to clone human beings and an army of Riley Wetmores, and we’ll give you a national title every year.

Most Improved: Christian Folin

Lowell’s defense was a little shaky to start the year. There was Chad Ruhwedel, there was Jake Suter, there was Zack Kamrass, there was a big question mark after that. Christian Folin was the first defenseman of the rest of the group to emerge from the pack and establish himself, and he did it quickly. By the end of the season, he had become Lowell’s second-best blue liner, and finished with the same number of points as Ruhwedel. We now cannot picture the Lowell defense without Folin, and he does so many things well it’s hard to remember he’s a freshman. A true danger in every part of the ice.

Top Rookie: Connor Hellebuyck

If he’s the team MVP and he’s a rookie, this is actually a pretty easy call.

TIIL Player of the Year (our favorite River Hawk): Joe Pendenza

With all due respect to all our other beloved River Hawks, Joe Pendenza is the most fun to watch. He, like Wetmore and Holmstrom and Scott Wilson, is excellent in all three zones but he’s the only one that has the rocket-skates speed to blow the doors off a defense and the skill to tuck it past a goalie with ease. Just a true pleasure to watch every game.

TIIL Three Stars Award (three points for a No. 1 star, two for No. 2 and one for No. 3): Connor Hellebuyck, 26 points

This is a little surprising given how many games he didn’t play in, but the numbers kind of speak for themselves as to why he earned so many votes in so little a time. Further, we should also note that many of Lowell’s best players (Pendenza, Wetmore, Wilson, etc.) got out to pretty slow starts, and this actually ended up being pretty tight. Here are the full results, which included 18 different River Hawks earning at least one vote over the course of the season, up from 16 last year:

  1. Connor Hellebuyck, 26
  2. Scott Wilson, 25
  3. Joe Pendenza, 22
  4. Riley Wetmore, 21
  5. Doug Carr, 17
  6. Ryan McGrath, 17
  7. Derek Arnold, 16
  8. Josh Holmstrom, 15
  9. Chad Ruhwedel, 13
  10. Christian Folin, 9
  11. Steve Buco, 5
  12. Michael Colantone, 5
  13. Zack Kamrass, 4
  14. Jake Suter, 3
  15. Terrence Wallin, 3
  16. AJ White, 2
  17. Joe Houk, 2
  18. Shayne Thompson, 1

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:
Johnny Gaudreau (BC)*-Mike Collins (Merrimack)*-Steven Whitney (BC)*
Trevor van Riemsdyk (UNH)*-Chad Ruhwedel (Lowell)
Jon Gillies (Providence)*

All the unanimous picks are, pretty much by definition, straightforward. Ruhwedel was obviously the only player who didn’t get voted in by all three of us. Both Michael Matheson and Jordan Heywood also received first-team votes, but Ruhwedel also had two votes on the second team, compared to one for Matheson and none for Heywood, so that’s the decision-making process.

Second team:
Joe Pendenza (Lowell)*-Evan Rodrigues (BU)*-Billy Arnold (BC)
Michael Matheson (BC)-Jordan Heywood (Merrimack)
Connor Hellebuyck (Lowell)*

Once again the unanimous picks need no explanation. As to Billy Arnold bafflingly not being selected in the same fashion, Scott Wilson received one vote. The defense situation is a product of van Riemsdyk clearly being the best in the conference over the course of the season, and then having a pack at his heels that included Ruhwedel, Matheson, Heywood, Matt Grzelcyk, and Eric Knodel.

All-Rookie team:
Danny O’Regan (BU)*-Kevin Roy (Northeastern)*-Devin Shore (Maine)*
Michael Matheson (BC)*-Christian Folin (Lowell)
Jon Gillies (Providence)*

This was all easy. Folin got two votes to Grzelcyk’s one, thus the inclusion of the latter and exclusion of the former.

League Rookie of the Year: Jon Gillies (Providence)*
Maybe this is a little bit of a Lowell bump given Gillies was the reason Providence kept it even remotely close in the two games the River Hawks won against the Friars this season, and suffocated all hope of a comeback in the one it lost. Kevin Roy, the only other credible candidate for the position, was fine against Lowell, particularly in the tie at Northeastern, but for our money, Gillies was also the best player in the league (see below), so we didn’t really see this as being debatable.

League Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin (Lowell)*
Who else won the league this year? No one, that’s who. And to do it after starting out with four wins in 12 games shows just how great his ability to marshall the troops really was. Just an amazing story.

League MVP: Jon Gillies (Providence)*
Providence isn’t that good. Gillies is very good. He’s probably even great. He was definitely the best player in the league this season, and the only reason his Friars will be hosting UNH this weekend. As easy a pick for this award as there has ever been, and anyone who tries to tell you it should be Johnny Gaudreau or Steven Whitney needs to have their heads examined.

League Best Defensive Defenseman: Chad Ruhwedel (Lowell)
We noted above that Ruhwedel had a steadying influence even when Lowell wasn’t playing anything resembling good hockey. We can’t imagine anyone else in the whole league had this kind of effect on his team. Maybe Jordan Heywood, and maybe, according to one bizarre vote, Sean Escobedo.

League Best Defensive Forward: Billy Arnold (BC)

There was considerable debate about this award. Arnold seemed the logical choice given his notable defensive prowess and tons of points. But also nominated were Riley Wetmore (fair) and Evan Rodrigues (less so). In the end, Arnold won out, likely because BC doesn’t have any other forwards they can really trust in the defensive zone as much as Lowell or BU do Wetmore and Rodrigues.

TIIL Opponent Schadenfreude Award: Amherst fans

Obviously we like nothing more, besides seeing Lowell succeed, than seeing Amherst fail. It’s the very best thing. And this year has given us ample opportunity to see both in spectacular fashion.

It all started to go really and truly bad for the Minutemen when Don “Toot” Cahoon stepped down as head coach. There was a summer-long hunt for a replacement, and it seems everyone in college hockey, including a few towel boys at BC, got at least a testing-the-water call about the job. Numerous coaches turned the job down publicly. Several more, from what we understand, did so privately. One used it to leverage a better contract out of his current school (where he has gone on to the best season in program history). The whole thing was absolutely mortifying for the school, its hockey team, and most importantly its dimwit fans.

Then things got worse. New hire John Micheletto was about the 14th guy down the list and boy did his team ever play like it this season. The Minutemen missed the playoffs and more importantly were swept by the River Hawks in humiliating fashion, losing 17-7 on aggregate despite playing two games at home. Attendance at the dismal, depressing Mullins Center dipped to just 4,209 on the season, because not even people as dumb as Amherst fans wanted to watch a team as dismal and depressing as all that.

But the best thing that happened, for sure, was that the sweep by Lowell caused this sort of existential crisis among Amherst fans, which we highlighted in a particularly unkind This Week in Disrespect a few weeks ago. The handwringing over the ways in which the team continues to embarrass itself, its school, its fans, and its alumni were discussed at length, and the general consensus was that Amherst should always be better than Lowell, a thing it has never been. It’s rarely been better than Providence.

And so we look forward to this bold new era of Amherst hockey in which it aspires to be everything Lowell is now under Norm Bazin — a regular NCAA tournament attendee, a top-two team in Hockey East at worst — despite the fact that they were one more rejection from picking the best NHL12 player on Xbox Live as the coach. Good luck with that.

TIIL Best Blog Award*: The Mack Report

For a team no one cares about, this blog is remarkably well-reported and written. You really can’t say enough good things about it, and the fact that it took us this long to recognize it is borderline criminal, if we’re being honest. This is what every blog that isn’t ours should aspire to be. There is, clearly, no coming close to the quality we churn out, but if anyone’s up there, it’s the Mack Report.

*Obviously TIIL is the best blog in Hockey East in the way that Jon Gillies 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: Vermont

For a group of fans of a miserable team from a miserable state, who really have more important things to worry about than what we think, they sure seem to care a lot about it. Not that we don’t understand — we’re hockey geniuses after all — but seriously, guys, we get it: You think we’re great and want the validation that comes with our praise. Well, you’re never going to get it, because Vermont sucks. Have a look at that sweep Lowell pulled off in your barn earlier this year and you’ll quickly figure out why.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. bill smith permalink
    March 13, 2013 5:38 am

    I’ve just lost respect for your blog/team of voters!
    Hellebuyck should be first team and Rookie of the year or league MVP.
    He did more in less time than Gillies. Had better stats all around. Beat Gillies twice under extreme pressure (on National TV) and in the end to win the Season.

    How you deliver under pressure determines a true champion.
    Gillies did great but in the three games against Lowell (and Hellebuyck) he let in more goals.
    Over the season his GAA was higher.
    His save percentage lower.
    In the end he didn’t backstop his team to victory.
    If winning means nothing than why take stats.

    I cannot in anyway see how he is placed above Hellebuyck.

    Ask yourself, if next year you had two choose between Hellebuyck or Gillies in the net who would you choose?

    As good as Gillies is, I have to look at the stats and results and pick Hellebuyck. He won. Does that not count for anything?!!!

    • RHHB permalink
      March 13, 2013 5:44 am

      Ok.

    • Monty permalink
      March 13, 2013 7:58 am

      In the three games against Lowell, Gillies gave up 5 goals, as did Hellebuyck. Gillies made 101 saves in those games, while Hellebuyck made 86. As much as Connor had a great year, Gillies (over the course of the entire season) was just better. He kept a good (but not great) PC team in contention all year.

      • bill smith permalink
        March 13, 2013 12:32 pm

        Your argument makes no sense. I did add wrong on the goal count but that just means they are equal, yet Hellebuyck won two and Gillies one. Advantage Hellebuyck.

        Second,”Gillies (over the course of the entire season) was just better”. Not according to the stats!

        “He kept a good (but not great) PC team in contention all year.” And how do you know this. They finished 4th and nearly finished 1st. Gillies didn’t put a single puck in the net. So Gillies can ‘t take all the credit for PC finishing as high as they did just like Hellebuyck can’t take all the credit for Lowells success.

        But comparing goalie to goalie is what should be done and based on stats and results, Hellebuyck wins.

      • RHHB permalink
        March 13, 2013 1:31 pm

        It might shock you to learn that the season consisted of more than three games.

  2. Roons permalink
    March 13, 2013 6:22 am

    There should be a taking it for the Team Award which hands down would be awarded to Scott Wilson. I know Coach Bazin was looking for a balanced attack but you might want to consider the lack of point production on Wilson’s line outside of the contributions made by Wilson.

    The year won’t be complete until we win something, finishing first is a nice accomplishment but let’s make sure we make it memorable.

    Go Riverhawks!

    • Kory permalink
      March 13, 2013 3:54 pm

      If there truly was a “Taking it for the Team” award it would go to Jake Suter. The guy is an absolute shot-blocking machine. And he is almost always on the ice when Lowell down a man or even 5-on-3. Sacrifices his body and every ounce of energy when called upon, that’s truly taking it for the team.

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