Honoring the best Ads in the return to the ECHL
Awards season is upon us in the ECHL. The league will be announcing its winners this week, with the season wrapping up. I do not expect any Admirals to make the list. Finishing second-to-last in your conference despite a solid second half will do that to a team. I might write about who I think should be there on a league-wide level, but right now it’s the Admirals.
MVP: Nic Riopel, Goalie
Norfolk’s defense has been abysmal this year. Putting it any other way would be too kind. Other goalies struggled behind this inconsistent lineup, which may have cost the team wins early in the year. Enter in Nic Riopel, who was acquired after 2 disastrous games with the Rapid City Rush. In 30 games with the Admirals, Riopel has managed a .925 save percentage while facing a little north of 31 shots a game. If he’s not injured in December, the Admirals might be contending for a playoff spot. Instead, he might be the most overlooked goalie in the ECHL right now outside of Shane Owen, another good goalie who spent plenty of time on a team with a bad win-loss record. Riopel, as an Admiral alone, would be 6th in save percentage, not 10th. There is no denying how much he meant to the team–playing well enough to get an AHL contract with Syracuse. Whether Riopel is back next year or not is up for debate, but it would be nice.
Offensive Player of the Year: Steve Whitney, F
Steve Whitney was brought in to be a face of the franchise after a decent stint when the Admirals were an AHL team. Whitney’s offensive talent was evident -he signed an NHL deal. While he never quite materialized in the Ducks system, he found his way back to his professional home in Norfolk. Despite starting off somewhat slow, he found his way to the top of the Admirals goals, assists, and points lists with 21+31=52. Whitney was brought here to lead the team, and he did. Granted: late season acquisition Robbie Czarnik has 25 goals, but 23 of those were with Reading. Had they played full seasons, rookies Scott Allen, Greg Chase, or Braden Christoffer may have scored more goals. Whitney was the team’s best offensive player all around, and it showed.
Defensive Player of the Year: Gabriel Verpaelst, D
Plus-minus is garbage, yet the ECHL continues to have an award based on it. Getting a positive plus-minus is more lottery than skill, and reflective of many factors beyond a player’s control. I bring this up because the players on Norfolk’s D with 30 plus games in an Ads uniform all have minuses. Verpaelst is a -15, Jordan Hill is a -12, Nick Pageau was a -8, Ben Betker was a -2, Samuel Noreau a -3. Picking a defensive player based on plus-minus is a fool’s errand. Verpaelst and Hill have such high (low?) minus numbers because they were the team’s most trusted defensemen. If I had to pick one of them I would rather have, it’s Verpaeslt. The second-year remade his game to be more offensive, a power-play weapon, someone who could still carry the puck. He led the way with 32 points from the defensive spot in 54 games, better than Hill’s 26 in 66. Verpaelst played well enough to merit an AHL contract with Stockton, and should be the cornerstone of the defense next year.
Rookie of the Year: Greg Chase, C
Deciding the Rookie of the Year for the Ads was the most difficult to decision to make. On an incredibly young squad, there were a number of players and what-ifs. In the end, it came down to Scott Allen and Greg Chase. Allen, an undrafted rookie acquired from Missouri, was at times the Admirals most potent goal scorer. In 37 games with the club, he posted a 13+17=30 line. A balanced player, the offense felt it when he was out with injury. There is an argument to be made Allen could have lead the team in goal scoring at the end of the season, as opposed to Steve Whitney. Unfortunately, it’s a what-if.
Greg Chase is the winner, and perhaps it’s expected: the 7th round pick of the Edmonton Oilers should be a top performer. Though he had a brief stop in the AHL, Chase did most of his damage in the ECHL. Chase racked up 16 goals, second only to Whitney (again, not including Czarnik) and piled on another 18 assissts. Alexis Loiseau finished with a higher amount of rookie points–36. However, Loiseau did it in 51 games compared to 40 for Chase. One does wonder how Braden Christoffer-11 goals in 21 games-would have fared if he spent the majority of the season in Norfolk.
The Admirals return a strong offensive core next year if things go their way. Scott Allen is the only player the Admirals can personally re-sign. Alexis Loiseau is under contract to the Condors, with Greg Chase and Braden Christoffer under contract to the Oilers. It’s not impossible for them to come back, but they most likely want to be at the AHL level next year. It would also help if the Oilers had any consistency in terms of player movement. I want to do an Every Admiral Reviewed, but there are so many of them this year with so little need to write. I could do a whole post on goalies alone. Norfolk isn’t going to return everyone-which is fine!-but it would be nice if they had some of their better pieces back.
Best Goalie: See MVP.
Jordan Hill is second in defenseman points awards: really, he is
Remember when: Corey Fienhage was here and then he wasn’t really
Hometown Hero: Ryan Salkeld, which meant Illo had competition this year