All good things must come to an end.
And with that, I present to you my final column.
No, I’m not going anywhere, and will continue to provide sports coverage for the Express, but I will no longer be getting up on my perch once a week and railing against all that is wrong (or right) with sport.
I’d like to use my final column to highlight the honours that were bestowed upon our hometown Red Deer Rebels last week.
The Western Hockey League held its annual “Playoff Kickoff” media conference at the Enmax Centrium, and also used the event to announce the Eastern Conference nominees for year end awards as well as the Eastern conference first and second all-star teams.
Rebels’ defenseman Mathew Dumba, who finished the regular season with 15 goals, 26 points and a remarkable +24, was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year, following in the footsteps of teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was named the best rookie in the East and the WHL last season.
Dumba will go up against Portland’s Sven Bartschi, who is the Western Conference nominee for the award.
Darcy Kuemper, meantime, was given the nod as the Eastern Conference’s best net-minder, and this one should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has followed the Rebels this season.
The Saskatoon native leads the league with 45 wins, a goal against average of 1.86, a save percentage of 0.933 and 13 shutouts (which tied a WHL record for most shutouts in a single season).
He also set five franchise records, including shutouts in a single season (13), shutouts in a career (19), games played, and single season goals against average.
“It’s a great feeling and something I never would have expected at the start of the year,” Kuemper told reporters after the presser.
“But to have it now is a great feeling and I can’t thank my team-mates and coaches enough for all the work they’ve done for me.”
James Reid, from the Spokane Chiefs, is the Western conference nominee.
Rebels bench boss Jesse Wallin, who has watched his club improve in every single season he’s been the head coach, is the Eastern Conference nominee for Coach of the Year.
“It’s been a tremendous team to coach, and we’ve had a lot of fun. It’s a real quality group of individuals who are very committed. And I can’t say enough about our assistant coaches either, Chris Neiszner and Bryce Thoma. They have just done a tremendous job,” said Wallin after finding out that he was in the running for coach of the year.
In my humble opinion, Wallin should win the award, if for no other reason than he’s the guy who pulled off the Byron Froese for Landon Ferraro trade, and we all know how well that has worked out.
Spokane Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur is the Western nominee for the Dunc McCallum trophy.
As for the All-Star teams, Kuemper picked up another honour, being named to the first squad along as was Nugent-Hopkins, who finished the year tied for third in WHL scoring and leads the Rebels with 104 points in 69 games.
Edmonton native and Florida Panthers draft pick Alex Petrovic, who finished the year tied for sixth in scoring amongst WHL defenseman, with seven goals and 57 points, was named to the Eastern Conference second all-star team.
I should also point out that Red Deer native and Chilliwack Bruins defenseman Jeff Einhorn was nominated as the Western Conference nominee for the Humanitarian of the Year award, making it two straight years with a Central Albertan in the running for the trophy as Matt Fraser, who also hails from Red Deer and plays for Kootenay, won the Humanitarian award last season.
All in all, it was a great regular season for the Red Deer Rebels, and here’s hoping they clean up when the final winners are announced May 4th during the WHL’s bantam draft.