Despite ending their 2017−18 season in dead last, the midget AAA Norman Northstars still had a lot to celebrate during their annual awards banquet May 12 at the Juniper Centre.
Head coach James Buchanan went over the season’s highs and lows during his official address to the players, their parents, the coaching staff and the team’s many volunteers who were in attendance.
While Buchanan admitted that the team experienced many frustrating disappointments, having been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention back in January, this year presented a couple of personal milestones, including a historic 2−1 victory against the Winnipeg Thrashers on Feb. 16.
“During my five years coaching with the Northstars, that’s my first two points off of a Winnipeg team,” he said. “On a bit of a personal level, I also hit the 200-game mark behind the bench and we were lucky enough to win that one a day short of my birthday.”
Buchanan also pointed out the fact that, even though their roster was young and lacked experience, a lot of their players showed real promise and room to grow over the next couple years.
This includes captain Hunter Rambow, who led his team in points by the end of the season and picked up three awards on Saturday night because of it, including most valuable player.
Jordon Pfoh collected the most goals out of anybody on the blueline and snagged two pieces of hardware on May 12 for his effort.
Sheldin Howard’s use of his size and speed all season also caught the eye of the coaching staff, and he was presented with the Terry Murray Most Dedicated Award.
Saturday night’s ceremony also featured some words of wisdom from former Northstars captain Mathew Backhouse, who acknowledged that these athletes are at an immediate disadvantage just by virtue of the fact that they are playing out of Thompson.
“Between the gruelling road trips, games, practices, dry land classes and homework, it’s overwhelming at the best of time and hard to stay motivated,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard for you guys to play high-level hockey coming from Northern Manitoba. There’s no year-round ice, fancy gyms or scouts up here.”
However, Backhouse said these factors are what helped him develop “grit,” which would eventually lead him to play hockey for teams like the Humboldt Broncos, Dauphin Kings and Canisius College Golden Griffins in New York state.
“Put in the extra work and be as gritty as possible,” he said. “You may not get pampered like the city kids, but I guarantee you’re at an advantage to have more of this than they do.”
Backhouse also emphasized the importance of having fun and enjoying the company of your teammates, especially in wake of Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which claimed the lives of 16 people back in April.
“We’ve all spent countless hours on buses and I think that’s why it hit so close to home,” he said. ”I love road trips and the time on the bus. It might have been my favourite part about playing hockey. That’s where all your memories happen ... that’s where you build those friendships and that camaraderie.”
While the Northstars’ 2018−19 roster won’t be finalized until later this summer, Saturday’s banquet did provided a sneak peek of their upcoming season. At the tail end of his speech, Northstars president Brad Salamandyk revealed the team’s new jerseys, which closely mimic the design and colour paletteof the Winnipeg Jets.
“Our Northstars organization has been working very hard since the final buzzer of our season,” said Salamandyk. “It’s all about improvement and moving forward. Part of that is we decided that we needed to have a bit of an update.”
Training camp for the 2018–19 Northstars team is tentatively scheduled to take place on the weekend of Aug. 24–26.
Norman Northstars Award Winners 2017−18
Barry Patterson Most Popular Player: Mikey Baron
MacIntyre Defensive Player of the Game: Jordan Pfoh and Braedin Melsted
McDonald’s Offensive Player of the Game: Hunter Rambow
Most Improved Player: Jamie Valentino
Terry Murray Most Dedicated Award: Sheldin Howard
Paul Lafreniere Best Defensemen: Jordan Pfoh
Cliff Duchesne Hardest Worker: Jon Tagoona
Top Scorer: Hunter Rambow
Top Defensive Forward: Keistin Saunders
Rookie of the Year: Mitchell Reid
Most Valuable Player: Hunter Rambow