A lot has changed the last time we looked at the favorites for specific USHL Awards but we’re back one more time before the regular season has come to an end.
There are still the usual faces you’d expect in the Player of the Year race but there are some who have made strides over the last month or so and have earned consideration. Same can be said for other awards as well.
We’ll take a look at the other awards later in the week but for now let’s look at the candidates for Player of the Year.
-Player of the Year:
Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln Stars (Brown): With 90 points (47 goals, 43 assists) in 53 games, there’s no doubt he’s having the best individual campaign this year and maybe one of the best in the history of the league. With seven games left, he has to score 10 points to reach the century mark. Given the year Roy’s had it is extremely possible he could pull that off. He’s also helped the Stars to the third best record in the USHL and one point within first place in the Western Conference. Let’s take away what his season has done in context to his team’s performances. Roy is having the kind of year that will go down in USHL record books. It is also the kind of season that could perhaps dissipate a few myths and beliefs about the USHL not being enough of a high-scoring league.
Mike Ambrosia, forward, Youngstown Phantoms (Princeton): Youngstown has had points this year where it has teetered between being a top team in the East or a solid team in the East. The Phantoms are tied for second in the Eastern Conference and barring an epic collapse, will host at least one playoff round. Ambrosia’s role in this has been that of a playmaker. His 44 assists – second in the league – have helped scorers like Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) and J.T. Steinglein (UMass-Lowell) to having solid seasons. What Ambrosia has done in this comeback season cannot be overlooked. It might be easy to forget but Youngstown was fighting for a playoff spot this time last year. Youngstown fell a point short of qualifying but was bringing back 14 players plus most of its coaching staff and has proven what experience can do for a team. Ambrosia, a second-year player, has been an embodiment of how the experience can pay off.
Andy Welinski, defenseman, Green Bay Gambers (Minnesota-Duluth): A historic season for his team, an extremely high plus/minus total (+35), he’s fourth among USHL defensemen in scoring and he’s captaining a team which appears it hasn’t lost focus despite its dominance. That is what Welinski has accomplished this season and don’t think he can’t accomplish more when the season ends. And by that we mean a Clark Cup along with a few individual accolades. The superlatives could continue with Welinski as there’s a real debate among scouts and league pundits regarding if he is the best player in the league right now. He has the tools, the size, the talent and everything else that comes with a dominant player. Or, in truth, a complete player.
Daniil Tarasov, forward, Indiana Ice: Before we get into why he’s on this list, let’s get into why he’s just now getting on the list. Indiana is certainly a Jekyll-Hyde team where one week, it can be the most dominant force on skates. The kind of team that appears to be so balanced it could pose problems for just about anyone in the league. Then there are weeks where they’ll look lost against teams it should be beating. That said, the one constant in all of this has been Tarasov. Tarasov has withstanded inconsistency, younger teammates and the expectations of being a top-flight player to prove last season was not a fluke. His 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 54 games is second in the USHL only to Roy, who is just having the season of a lifetime. Tarasov had 75 points in 57 games playing with high-end teammates in Blake Coleman (now at Miami (Ohio)) and Brian Ferlin (now at Cornell). He’s been that leader on offense this year and has proved he can be the centerpiece of an attack.
Adam Wilcox, goaltender, Tri-City Storm (Minnesota): There have been a few goaltenders put in this spot. Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University) was once here. So was Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern), who could end up back in this spot. There’s even a legitimate argument one can make about Green Bay’s Ryan McKay or Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota). Yet when you look at Wilcox, you can’t help but realize he could mean more to his team’s playoff chances than anyone else in the league right now. Tri-City is two points clear – or one game – of the sixth and final playoff spot over Des Moines. Wilcox has had his ups and downs since being traded to Tri-City going 15-15 with a 2.89 GAA but we all saw during his time in Green Bay, scoring on him isn’t easy. Wilcox has won three of his last four starts and those have come against Omaha and Fargo, two of the better teams in the Western Conference. Face it. Tri-City’s playoff possibilities hinge on Wilcox. If they get in, there’s a strong chance they could upset someone because if that guy needs to win two games, he can do it. He’s been through a playoff race before albeit under different circumstances with Green Bay last season.
VERDICT: It’s tough. Roy is having the best season. Ambrosia is the best example of what his team has stood for. Welinski is the best player on the best team. Tarasov is having one of the best seasons in the league while Wilcox is his team’s best chance at making the playoffs this season.
We will go with Roy, for now, because what he’s doing hasn’t been done in this league in a long time.
TOMORROW’S AWARD: Forward of the Year