Well folks, tonight is the last night of the Amerks regular season.
In addition to “Fan Appreciation Night”, where the team will give away prizes to fans throughout the night, the Amerks will also present their annual Booster Club awards.
Here are my predictions for the winners.
Team MVP – Personally, my vote goes to Mark Pysyk. He has very quietly been the steadying force on the blueline this season, and the team is significantly better with him in the lineup than without him. But this award traditionally goes to the goaltender or leading scorer. Goaltending has been a true “team effort” this season, so the award likely falls back to Phil Varone. Varone has come up huge when needed this season, and will be a worthy candidate. Luke Adam, who has scored 16 of his 28 goals on the power play this season, could be a dark horse candidate.
Most Improved Player – Without a doubt, this has to go to Nathan Lieuwen. Lieuwen started the season as the backup goalie in Rochester, but by the end of the season, secured himself the #1 job with the Amerks, and played 7 games in Buffalo. His game has improved dramatically over last season.
Rob Zabelny / Unsung Hero Award – This is a REALLY tough award this season. Freddie Roy would be a personal favorite to win this one, but I’m not sure the award can be given to a player who has been a healthy scratch as much as he has been this season. I waffle between Brayden Irwin, Colton Gillies, and Tim Schaller for this award. I think Irwin’s production has been well above expectation, especially during the Amerks late-season run. Gillies has been a hard worker all season long, and provides that “spark” when the team needs it. Schaller’s role as a defensive forward often goes overlooked, but he’s been excellent when the team is shorthanded. I’ll lean towards Gillies as the popular choice, but all three are worthy.
McCulluch Trophy for Humanitarian Service – Matt McKenzie’s name always seems to be the one that gets brought up first when you talk about Amerks in the community, so he is likely the favorite.
Sportsmanship Award – This is another one hard to judge, as its awarded by the Amerks off-ice officials. Kevin Porter seems to be the level-headed, “Do as I do” player on the ice, so lets go with him.
Rookie of the Year – This award likely has to go to Rasmus Ristolainen. There are other rookies who played well in their role on the team, but Ristolainen has excelled at every opportunity given him, and has gone up to Buffalo and played well there too.
What are YOUR thoughts? Any strong disagreements?