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This article was published 28/3/2020 (444 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jiri Patera emerged as the big winner on Friday afternoon, when the Brandon Wheat Kings announced their annual awards.
The overage netminder from Prague, Czech Republic earned four nods, including most valuable player, top graduating player, three stars award and fans’ choice from the Western Hockey League club.
The awards were unveiled on the Wheat Kings website in a video presented by broadcaster Branden Crowe.
"When I watched the video of the awards, it was pretty emotional," Patera said from Prague, where he viewed the video with his parents. "I teared up a little bit. I’m obviously honoured to get four awards but I’m really happy that I met all the people that I met. It’s just very emotional for me right now."
Patera overcame early season ankle surgery to appear in 41 games, posting a 2.55 goals-against average and a save percentage of .921. The six-foot-two, 205-pounder, who was drafted by the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights, completed his second season in Brandon and will be graduating to the pro ranks.
The goaltender, who also won the fan’s choice award last year, said the MVP award was a nice one.
"It’s a big honour," Patera said. "We had a lot of good players on our team and it could be a lot of our top guys. I’m really honoured to get this award and it means a lot to me. It feels amazing."
Patera said he shared the top graduating player nod with the other two overagers, Connor Gutenberg and Dom Schmiemann, who he added worked hard all year as well. He said the three stars award came from trying to do what he could to help the team win, and credited the defencemen in front of him for their help.
The fan’s choice award, however, clearly meant a lot to him again.
"Our fans were just amazing, the way they were cheering for us," Patera said. "What they meant to our team was just so huge. I think they all deserved all the smiles and all the attention that fans deserve. I just tried to be me."
The big goaltender spent most of last summer in the community, where he quickly felt at home.
"It’s very emotional to be leaving Brandon the way we did," Patera said. "For me, it’s harder than I thought. I didn’t think it would be that hard. It’s pretty emotional."
Meanwhile, a pair of the blue-liners in front of Patera each received two awards.
Prince Albert product Braden Schneider was named top defenceman for the second year in a row and also hardest working player. In his third year with the team, the six-foot-two, 210-pound defenceman posted a career high 42 points in 60 games with a plus-minus of plus-9.
He said the hardest working player award is amazing recognition of his efforts.
"It’s pretty special to be awarded something like that and to be recognized for such a good trait, being a hard worker," Schneider said. "I was so honoured to be given that award. I don’t know what to say. I was pretty excited when I got that one.
"The top defenceman, it’s named after a guy (Brad McCrimmon) who is pretty prestigious and a big name in Brandon. It’s a special thing to be given that award. I got it last year too and all the same feelings and excitement all came up again. It was two great awards and I couldn’t be more proud to get them."
The 18-year-old is considered a likely first-round pick in the upcoming NHL draft.
Vinny Iorio, 17, also took home two awards, winning the top scholastic player and most sportsmanlike honours. The six-foot-three, 195-pound defender from Coquitlam, B.C., posted a career high 21 points in 59 games, with just 31 penalty minutes.
The 17-year-old was playing ping pong with his cousin in Kelowna when he received the news in a call from his mother.
"I’m very honoured to receive both," Iorio said. "I think it’s very, very good for me and will give me more confidence."
The scholastic award was especially meaningful to Iorio, who said education and learning has always been important to his family.
"We value education pretty highly in our family," Iorio said, adding that applies to his extended family, including his grandma Barb Paterson. "They helped me a lot. My grades were good and I did a very good job on my English final. I was pretty proud of that."
The other award winners, with their reaction below, were:
• Top rookie — Jake Chiasson.
"It was pretty special when I heard that I got that award … To step into the league as a rookie and play and be comfortable, it’s a lot about the guys around you helping you out and shaping you into a player who will be up to that award at the end of the year. Some of the names that Branden Crowe mentioned in his video, it’s pretty special to be on that list in Wheat Kings history and have your name a part of their organization."
• Top Manitoba-born player — Ben McCartney.
"I’m honoured to have the award but I couldn’t have done it without my linemates. It’s a great group of guys. I’m honoured to have it."
• Most improved — Ridly Greig.
"Most improved player is a good award obviously with all my hard work this year and trying to improve my game every day. It paid off and it’s good to get credit."
• Scoring champion — Luka Burzan.
"It feels good. It’s obviously a nice award to win but I think an award like that isn’t won by yourself, it’s with the help of your teammates and coaches. I had a lot of help this year. (Head coach) Dave Lowry taught me a lot. He’s been great."
• Most inspirational — Marcus Sekundiak.
"It was a little unexpected actually. It was really a joy, and a huge honour to get that award. I think it’s a real important one to get. I worked hard all year but this could have gone to a lot of guys."
• Unsung hero — Dom Schmiemann.
"It’s honestly an honour. I’m not the guy with the most amount of flash in his game: I like to take pride in the D-zone and work hard. It’s nice to see that people noticed that."
• Most community-minded — Lynden McCallum and Connor Gutenberg.
GUTENBERG: "I think being from Brandon, you have a little bit bigger appreciation for it. I remember when Wheat Kings would come to our school when I was in elementary school for patrol lunches. It’s a very special award for me, and sharing it with Lynden, I’m sure he has the same thought process. It’s pretty special."
McCALLUM: "Obviously it means a lot. It’s a special thing to be recognized by your team. It’s a special thing that I get to share it with Guty. I know he’s done a lot of great things in the community over his five years as a Wheat King and I’ve just tried to follow in his footsteps and be a presence in the community just like he has been."
The awards are usually handed out at the team’s final home game of the season, which this year would have been against the Winnipeg Ice on March 21, but the matchup was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICINGS: Brandonite Tristen Robins was the bigger winner on Thursday as the Saskatoon Blades handed out their year-end honours. The 18-year-old forward was named MVP, best defensive forward, best forward and most gentlemanly. He was also the team’s top scorer.
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