Every team in the Federal Hockey League hit the 30-game mark this past weekend, so it’s a perfect time to check in on the league and hand out some pretend awards that only the players who win will care about!
In case you haven’t checked in on the FHL in a while, it’s the Carolina Thunderbirds and everyone else. But, one expansion team has turned it on over the last seven games, and we still have a decent race for the fourth and final playoff spot.
So let’s hand out grades for each team this season, which will take into account things like on-ice performance, off-ice work, and expectations the team had coming into the season, and then we’ll give out some awards for the players who have shined brightest this season, at least to this point. Teams are presented in order of the FHL standings.
Carolina Thunderbirds – 29-3-0-1, 88 points
As if there could be any other grade for them. They have 11 more wins than any other team, a 33 point lead in the standings, and lead the league in goals scored and goals against by a mile. Oh, and they’re in the midst of a 20-game winning streak that is approaching the FHL all-time record. And they’re packing the house to the tune of over 2,600 fans a night. Honestly, looking at the standings right now, they could lose every game the rest of the season, and I would bet they still finished in second-place. They’re that far ahead of everyone else.
Really, there isn’t much more than needs to be said.
Elmira Enforcers – 16-10-2-3, 55 points
We said it back when the Enforcers were added, but they were the biggest get in league history. And they have certainly lived up to the hype, vaulting all the way up to second in the league, scoring the second most goals and giving up the second fewest. After a slow start to the year, the team is suddenly white-hot, with a seven-game winning streak heading into this weekend’s games against Mentor. Oh, and they’re averaging 3,264 fans a game, and are likely setting the league record for attendance.
Just an all-around great addition to the FHL that has really helped strengthen the league, and a team that could help the league add even more hockey hot beds.
Watertown Wolves – 13-14-2-1, 44 points
The defending Commissioner’s Cup champions have been up and down all season, and that shows in their record, which is exactly .500, 15 wins and 15 losses. They’ve hit a rough stretch of late, going just 3-7 over their past 10 games, but have plenty of offensive firepower in their lineup to make for exciting games, and score their way out of problems. They’ve been hurt by a ton of call-ups this year, so you wonder if they can put together a complete enough lineup to hang with Carolina and Elmira going forward. But this grade gets bumped up to a B because the Wolves have done a fantastic job bringing in fans, averaging 1,070 a night, which would smash the team’s previous high.
If the team can find a way to shore up the back-end, they will be a difficult challenge come playoff time.
Danville Dashers – 11-19-2-0, 37 points
After a hot start that briefly put the Dashers in first-place after nine games, the bottom fell out and the Dashers flirted with last-place for a bit. They’re on their third coach of the season in veteran Rod Davidson, and so far it’s worked out, taking two of three from Port Huron over his weekend debut to get back into fourth. Another team that has been hammered by callups, but there is still talent there. It’ll be interesting to see if Davidson and can right the ship and maybe even get the team up to third to avoid Carolina in the opening round.
How huge is that 7-1-1-0 start looming after a stretch where they were 2-17-1-0 before hiring Davidson?
Port Huron Prowlers – 10-20-2-1, 35 points
Last season’s runaway regular season champs have been anything but this year. Mainly because they can’t keep the puck out of their own net, giving up the second-most goals in the year. Every time it looked like the Prowlers had turned things around and were set to go on a hot streak, they’d stumble right back down, like last weekend where they took the opening game against Danville…then gave up 12 goals over the next two games to allow the Dashers to pass them. There’s a lot of key pieces from last year that either haven’t played or are just now coming back, but it all goes back to if the defense can step up.
I think this is what the Prowlers are this year: an inconsistent team that will go as far as their goalies take them, which can be said about every team from third-place on down.
Mentor Ice Breakers – 8-21-0-2, 26 points
OK, I get that they have a worse record than Port Huron and Danville, but a better grade, here’s why: The Ice Breakers came into the year with ZERO expectations from everyone outside their locker room, basically everyone thought they would fail. And yeah their record isn’t good, but they’ve played tough, and aren’t a free win for teams when they play them. Remember, this team was added in late July, giving them maybe three months to assemble a team. All things considered, they’ve done a pretty good job. I don’t think they’re a playoff team, but they can certainly play spoiler for Port Huron or Danville.
Now, you just hope that more fans start to turn out for the games and that they come back for next season.
MVP – Tyler Gjurich, Watertown Wolves
Honestly, this was a tough pick, but Gjurich leading the league in points and goals gives him the mid-season hardware. He’s already hit 30 goals on the season, more than 25 percent of Watertown’s output this year. I shudder to think where this Watertown team would be if he wasn’t there, got injured, or called up.
Honorable Mention: Jan Salak, Carolina; Christian Pavlas, Carolina.
Rookie of the Year – Jiri Pargac, Carolina Thunderbirds
Pargac has been outstanding for the Birds this year, topping all rookie scorers, and ranking third on the first-place Carolina in scoring. He’s tied for second in the league in game-winning goals, so he’s also been a clutch performer this season.
Honorable Mention: Mark Essery, Mentor; Gordy Bonnel, Mentor; Karel Drahorad, Carolina
Defenseman of the Year – Karel Drahorad, Carolina Thunderbirds
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 when there really isn’t a stat to show their impact? And in the FHL they have to be able to chip in on the offensive side, but we went with Drahorad here, our only repeat winner from our previously posted FHL quarter pole awards.
Drahorad is second in the FHL among defenseman scoring, but leads all FHL defensemen in +/- at +42. A terrifically well-rounded season for Drahorad in his first year in the FHL.
Honorable Mention: Glen Patterson, Elmira; Cameron Yarwood, Elmira; Kyle Powell, Watertown.
Goalie of the Year – Christian Pavlas, Carolina Thunderbirds
Again, not even close. Pavlas leads the FHL in every major goalie category by a mile, even with two SPHL stints this year. Look at this stat line: 17-1-0-0, 1.53 GAA, .942 Sv%, 4 shutouts. Those are unreal numbers, and if he’s able to keep those up, or even play at 90% of that level (and not get called up to the SPHL again) we could be looking at perhaps the greatest goaltending season in FHL history.
Coach of the Year: Andre Niec, Carolina
I know Carolina is running away from everyone in the FHL, but this honestly was closer than you think it is, at least in our minds, because Brent Clarke has also done an amazing job in Elmira.
But, when your team is 29-3-0-1, you have to pick Niec because of the team he’s assembled, the numbers they’ve put up, and just the sheer consistency of the team this year. Really a remarkable job
Also in Consideration: Brent Clarke, Elmira.