The FHL season is already 25 percent done, so that means it’s time to hand out some arbitrary awards that could seem very silly after the teams play their remaining 43 or 44 games, and as players get called up to higher leagues and miss big chunks of the season. But everyone loves awards, even if they don’t count, so let’s hand give away some internet hardware!
MVP: Ryan Marker, Danville Dashers
Honestly, the might have been the toughest pick of the bunch with a pair of Watertown players garnering serious consideration. Marker has seemingly come from out of nowhere after playing in some lower junior leagues, and only playing five games of ACHA hockey, at least according to HockeyDB.
But in 14 games he’s taken the FHL by storm, tying for the league-lead in points with 28, sitting second with 13 goals, third in assists, and topping the league with four game-winning goals. Honestly, the game-winning goals is what puts him over the hump for me, because without those, and after a recent 5-game losing streak, who knows where Danville would be without his heroics.
His play recently earned him a call-up to the SPHL’s Evansville Thunderbolts.
Also in Consideration: Brandon Wahlin, Watertown; Tyler Gjurich, Watertown; Henry Dill, Carolina.
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Marker, Danville Dashers
Also in Consideration: Stephen Gaul, Danville; Henry Dill, Carolina; Karel Drahorad, Carolina.
Defenseman of the Year: Karel Drahorad, Carolina
This was another category that was tough to pick, because in the FHL it is insanely hard to pick out who is a great defenseman. How do you measure how much a player contributes on defense? And in the FHL they have to be able to chip in on the offensive side.
Drahorad is tied for third in the FHL in scoring among defensemen, but leads all defensemen with six goals this year, and tops the entire FHL in plus-minus at +17, which isn’t really the greatest stat out there, but shows that at even strength he’s helping on both ends of the ice. Drahorad headlines the league’s stingiest team when it comes to giving up goals.
Also in Consideration: Christian Whitcomb, Watertown; Dustin Henning, Danville; Cameron Yarwood, Elmira.
Goalie of the Year: Henry Dill, Carolina
So far, Dill is the runaway winner of this category and might have been the easiest pick for any award.
Dill has only started eight games this year for the Thunderbirds, but has shined in those eight starts, posting a 5-2-1 record that has him tied for the league lead in wins, and posting league bests in GAA (1.86) and Sv% (.924). To give you an idea of how low his GAA is so far this season, the next closest guy is 1.34 goals against per game worse. He also has a pair of shutouts, and recently had a brief stint in the SPHL but saw no game action.
Honestly, this could just be the Carolina category, because his back, Christian Pavlas, has even better numbers, but has only played four games so he hasn’t met the league minimums to be counted among the leaders.
Also in Consideration: Matt Kaludis, Danville; Cory Simons, Port Huron; Derek Moser, Mentor.
Coach of the Year: Andre Niec, Carolina
Another easy pick, it speaks to the job Niec has done this year when you look at the stats and aside from Henry Dill, there are few league-leaders on the team. In fact, the leading scorers on the team are tied for 13th in the FHL, and yet, the Thunderbirds have three more wins than any team in the league, have an eight-point lead in the standings, and have the league’s best goal differential at +21.
He missed a few games due to suspension, so I guess you have to give a chunk of this award to Scott Brand and Co. for keeping things rolling smooth while he was out.
Also in Consideration: Brent Clarke, Elmira; Trevor Karasiewicz, Watertown.
What We’re Watching the Rest of the Way
Will there be a playoff race?
Right now, the expansion Elmira Enforcers hold the last playoff spot by six points over Port Huron, and eight points over Mentor. Can either of those teams rise up and challenge for that last spot, or will the Enforcers continue their steady play of late, and maybe even challenge for a higher seed? I really don’t know what to make of either team below the Enforcers in the standings, because Port Huron has been terribly inconsistent and terrible in goal, while the Ice Breakers had one hot stretch, but the same issue of not keeping the puck out of their net has returned. If you made me pick, I’d guess Port Huron has a better chance to challenge due to the experience on the team, and them starting to get key pieces from last season back.
Will attendance stay this way?
Three teams are doing amazing at the turnstiles, with Elmira, Carolina, and Watertown all pulling in record attendance so far, setting the FHL up for what will likely be the most fans to ever see FHL hockey in a single season.
But while those three are doing great, there’s some concern in Danville and Mentor. Danville is down by about 116 fans a game this year, or about 10%, which is a huge number in the FHL. Mentor brought in a respectable crowd on opening night, but hasn’t come close to matching it since, and barely broke 300 fans at each of their last two home games, bringing their average down to 497 on the season. Now, there’s no chance at either team folding mid-season, but it is worth keeping an eye on to see if they can boost those numbers during the holidays and remainder of the season.
When will expansion rumors start?
Yeah we know it’s only 15 games in, but it’s never too early to start wondering if and when the next expansion announcements will be made. As of now, the only team that seems like it has an inside track to a team is Battle Creek, Michigan, who is hosting a pair of neutral-site games and has been working to renovate their arena to get it up to FHL standards.
Beyond that, we know southern expansion is something the league wants badly to help Carolina. Do they finally get Asheville on board? Do they go after former SPHL cities? The league right now seems to have at minimum, five steady teams that will be back for next season, and could likely see all six teams brought back for the first time ever. Could the league somehow get four more teams to get to 10? We’ll see, but right now if you made me put a number out, I’d venture they have at least eight teams (two of them expansion teams) lined up for next season before this current season ends.