Team awards ceremonies don’t get more bittersweet than the one hosted by the Victoria Royals at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
The Western Hockey League club awarded its MVP and leading scorer trophies to a player, Alex Gogolev, who will never again appear in a Victoria jersey.
“Good luck, guys, in the playoffs,” Gogolev said from the stage, as he accepted his awards during Sunday afternoon’s ceremonies.
The graduating 20-year-old’s final act in skates as a Royal was to be helped off the ice on Feb. 6, leaving a trail of blood with a deep leg cut that required surgery and ended his season.
“Take our MVP and leading scorer out of the mix, and our mindset changes,” admitted head coach Dave Lowry, whose Western Conference sixth-seeded club will go into a first-round playoff series against the third-seed Kamloops Blazers beginning Friday and Saturday in Kamloops.
“We don’t have our game-breaking player. The other players will have to step up and take responsibility.”
Lowry confirmed the 2012-13 MVP decision wasn’t close, despite the fact that last year’s Royals MVP Jamie Crooks came through with 33 goals this season.
“[Alex] missed 23 games and was still our leading scorer [20 goals, 65 points]. But what made him really special was that he made the players around him better.”
Jordan Fransoo, the 19-year-old veteran forced to lead a young Victoria blueline corps through the several absences of 20-year-old captain Tyler Stahl to injury and suspension and the mid-season trade of veteran Jesse Zgraggen to Calgary, was named the Royals’ top defenceman.
“Whether paired with a young player or veteran, I was usually out there matched up against the other teams’ best line and I enjoyed the challenge and think I did well,” said Fransoo.
The leading light of that Victoria defensive youth movement, 16-year-old Joe Hicketts, was named the Royals rookie of the year. Everybody knew this undersized but highly mobile blueliner was going to make an impact eventually, but the rate of his progress has taken aback even the Royals staff.
“Did we think he would contribute the way he has? Probably not,” admitted Lowry. “[Hicketts] has exceeded all expectations. When he makes a mistake, we sometimes forget he’s only 16.”
Hicketts indeed exhibits a maturity beyond his years, which he attributes to being thrown right into the fire.
“I got a lot of opportunity to get ice time in my rookie year because of all the older guys who were out of the lineup for various reasons,” noted Hicketts, also named co-winner of the team scholastic award with forward Logan Fisher.
Stahl won the Royals’ team award for community service for the second consecutive year. Fisher was named the Royals’ hardest worker, goaltender Patrik Polivka the unsung hero and forward Tim Traber the most dedicated player. Pinball-like energy forward Brandon Magee was named the most popular player, as voted by the fans.
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