Every year the IL Indoor writing staff submit their picks for the annual NLL awards, and here are mine. Note that these are not picks for who I think will win, they’re picks for who I think should win.
Offensive player of the year – Shawn Evans
Runners-up: Garrett Billings, Rhys Duch, Callum Crawford
Billings had almost as great a season in 2013 as he did in 2012, and Duch set personal records in both goals (leading the league) and assists. Crawford only had 4 games (out of 14) with less than 6 points – none of them after March 3 – and had six straight games of 8+ points. But Evans had them all beat before he even began his final game. Evans had five games with 10+ points, more than John Grant had during his record-setting 2012 season, while only Crawford and Dan Dawson even had two.
Transition player of the year – Jesse Gamble
Runners-up: Geoff Snider, Jeremy Thompson, Brad Self
Is this a bit of a homer pick? Possibly, but I really thought Gamble had a hell of a year. He played strong defense, ran like the wind, scored a bunch of goals (including two on the power-play), and led the team in loose balls.
I thought about picking Jordan MacIntosh, who will probably win the award, but decided against it for the same reason I didn’t think Jeff Shattler should have won this award two years ago – he’s not really a transition player. He’s an excellent player, no question, and as good as he was, he even stepped up his game when Andrew Suitor went down with a season-ending injury. But he played a lot more shifts on offense than he did defense. In the division semi-final game, MacIntosh played as much offense as Benesch or Crawford did. Gamble is a true transition player.
Defensive player of the year – Kyle Rubisch
Runners-up: Chris Corbeil, Scott Self
It sounds like Kyle Rubisch might be the winner of this award every year for the foreseeable future. The word I hear most often to describe his play is “beast”.
Goaltender of the year – Matt Vinc
Runners-up: Brandon Miller, Tyler Richards, Nick Rose
If not for Matt Vinc, the Knighthawks might have been hitting the links early, not the Bandits. To have a goalie with the best GAA and the best save percentage in the league and still finish at .500 tells you how bad their offense was. Similarly, as one Wings fan put it, the Wings would be 1-15 without Brandon Miller. I’m not sure it would have been that bad but the Wings had a similar problem to the Knighthawks – outstanding goaltending, but almost no offense to speak of.
Rookie of the year – Mark Matthews
Runners-up: Kiel Matisz, Shayne Jackson, Dhane Smith, Curtis Knight
From a stats point of view, it was closer than you might have thought. Matthews had 4.31 points per game, while Jackson and Matisz had 4.00 and 3.94 respectively. But Matthews turned the Rush’s mediocre offense from last year into the third highest-scoring in the league, and that’s after losing Aaron Wilson, Scott Evans, and Shawn Williams. Obviously Matthews himself didn’t make up the difference entirely, but he forced opposing defenses to focus on him. This opened things up for Ryan Ward, Corey Small, and Zack Greer, all of whom increased their point totals over 2012.
Unsung player of the year – Cory Vitarelli
Runners-up: Kasey Beirnes, Jay Thorimbert, Brodie MacDonald
When you think of the offensive stars on the Knighthawks, you think Jamieson, Dawson, Powless, Accursi, Point, even Keogh, but Vitarelli doesn’t always spring to mind. But he was third in team scoring, put up at least a point in every game he played this year, and scored some of the prettiest goals we saw all season. Beirnes has gotten more recognition in the last year or two for his hard work playing behind big-name guys like Doyle, Billings, and Sanderson, but he’s been doing that for years. Jay Thorimbert had almost identical face-off numbers to Bob Snider, which is impressive in itself. Thorimbert split face-off duties in 2012 with Brandon Francis and Jeremy Thompson, but became the Bandits’ only face-off man this year – and increased their team face-off win percentage from 48.3% to 59.7%. Brodie MacDonald only played in three games this year, but put in at least 20 minutes in each, and finished with a GAA of around 8 and a save percentage of 80%. Having that kind of backup goalie behind you has to be a great confidence boost for both Aaron Bold and Derek Keenan.
Coach of the year – Troy Cordingley
Runners-up: Chris Hall, Derek Keenan
The Rock were the most consistent team this year, in a league where many teams looked unstoppable one week and terrible the next. Chris Hall showed how important he is to the Stealth, bringing them back from their brutal 2012 season, much of which was played without him, to second place in the West.
GM of the year – Derek Keenan
Runners-up: John Arlotta, Curt Styres
Drafting Mark Matthews wasn’t the master stroke – every GM would have done that. But in the off-season, Keenan retooled the offense, turning them from the worst in the league to the third-highest scoring – and managed to do this despite losing Shawn Williams, Aaron Wilson, and Scott Evans. Keenan also turned Paul Rabil, a player who never played for him and wasn’t going to, into Jarrett Davis.
MVP – Shawn Evans
Runners-up: Garrett Billings, Callum Crawford, Matt Vinc
Evans had an outstanding year. He led the league in both assists and points, almost setting records in both, and beat his next closest teammate by almost fifty points. He had almost exactly the season Garrett Billings had a year ago, and Billings was my choice for MVP then. How close were their seasons?
Evans had the same number of goals as he did last season but picked up 33 more assists. Just to cap it all off, Evans scored the overtime winner in the last game of the season to clinch the Western division for the Roughnecks.