As the 2021-22 Elite Ice Hockey League campaign continues at pace, now is the perfect time to hand out a selection of (unofficial) mid-season awards. The EIHL’s 10 clubs are approaching the halfway mark in the fixture list despite skating headlong into a rampant stretch of COVID-19 postponements in November and December.
While the eighth-placed Coventry Blaze have only contested 21 of their 54 games, the Cardiff Devils – who sit second in the Elite League standings – have already fulfilled 29 of their matches. As a result, some players will be aiming to kick on in the second half of the schedule.
With that in mind, I tentatively present to you British Ice Hockey’s mid-season EIHL awards for 2021-22.
BIH’s 2021-22 Elite League Mid-Season Awards
Colin Shields Award (Best Forward)
Winner: Marc-Olivier Vallerand (SHE)
Producing offence at a point-per-game (PPG) rate is exceptionally difficult in the Elite League. It requires a scoring touch, prolific linemates, and – in most cases – playing on a competitive team. Although 15 forwards from seven clubs uphold PPG records five months into the season, Marc-Olivier Vallerand leads by an impressive margin.
The left-shot winger, in his second season with the Sheffield Steelers, has registered 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 23 games. Numbers aside, Vallerand is a key player for Aaron Fox’s team, bringing skill and tenacity to their first line.
Play of the Night | #EIHL
Marc-Olivier Vallerand's sweet hands on this finish are our pick from Saturday night! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/WQ6uh5tAUE
— Premier Sports Elite League | #EIHL (@officialEIHL) October 3, 2021
The Canadian demonstrated his silky stick-handling abilities versus the Manchester Storm in October, scoring on Matt Ginn with a deked effort that later earned him the Play of the Night award.
Honourable Mentions: JJ Piccinch (BEL), Scott Conway (BEL), Brodie Reid (CAR), Michael McNicholas (FIF)
Of my four honourable mentions, I wanted to give a hat-tip to Michael McNicholas of the Fife Flyers. The 27-year-old, despite playing for a team struggling at the bottom of the table, has enjoyed an impressive start to his Elite League career, notching 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 25 games.
If you dig a little deeper, McNicholas’ early production is even more impressive than it first seems: he’s scored 24.5% of the Flyers’ 53 goals.
Jonathan Weaver Award (Best Defenceman)
Winner: Jamal Watson (GUI)
Athletes, hockey players, in particular, are often criticised for lacking personality in their interactions with the media. That, however, doesn’t apply to Jamal Watson, who couldn’t hide his joy at joining the Guildford Flames this off-season.
“I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to play for Guildford, the opportunity to play pro for an established club in the EIHL is an honour,” Watson said at the time. “My goals are to bring a professional, hard-working attitude to the arena every single day and strive to improve every day.”
The 27-year-old has more than delivered on his promises through 27 appearances for his new club. While it’s impressive that Watson leads Elite League defencemen in points (22), he deserves a lot of praise for his role in Guildford’s solid start to the season. The Flames, who sit fifth in the standings after 27 games, are the Elite League’s fourth-best team on the penalty kill, in part due to the Canadian’s dynamic defensive contributions.
Honourable Mentions: Mitch Jones (GLA), Sam Ruopp (BEL), Daine Todd (SHE)
The Belfast Giants boast the Elite League’s best defensive record, conceding just 50 goals in 26 games to start the year. Sam Ruopp, in his first season outside North America, has played an important role, handling difficult assignments with admirable composure. The Canadian, a significant physical presence at 6-foot-4, has made an imposing start to life in Belfast.
Stephen Murphy Award (Best Goalie)
Winner: Mac Carruth (CAR)
Through 22 appearances, Mac Carruth has upheld a .945 save percentage (SV%) and 2.14 goals-against average (GAA). Although he doesn’t lead the Elite League in either metric, he’s within touching distance of the summit in both. A consistent, composed performer between the pipes, he performed solidly during the Cardiff Devils’ Champions Hockey League campaign, keeping his SV% above .900.
🤯 | #EIHL
Mac Carruth doing Mac Carruth things. pic.twitter.com/TTUluIuDJT
— Premier Sports Elite League | #EIHL (@officialEIHL) November 29, 2021
Carruth is also a character on the ice, as shown by his headed save versus the Giants in November. If the Devils are to win silverware this year, their American goalie will be a big factor in their success.
Honourable Mentions: Rok Stojanovic (SHE), Tyler Beskrowany (BEL), Shane Starrett (GLA)
Picking between Carruth, Rok Stojanovic, and Tyler Beskrowany was difficult. They’ve all started the season on a positive note, backstopping title-contending teams to title contention. Shane Starrett also deserves kudos for his work for the Glasgow Clan; he ranks fourth in the Elite League for GAA and SV%.
Liam Kirk Award (Best Young Player)
Winner: Joe Hazeldine (MAN)
A ‘young player’, for the purpose of this award, is anyone born after Liam Kirk (January 3, 2000) who has appeared in at least five Elite League fixtures this season. As a result, the list of eligible players is small.
Joe Hazeldine, by a small margin, is my mid-season winner because he’s established himself as a full-time EIHL’er. The 20-year-old has continued his remarkable form from the Elite Series into 2021-22, solidifying his place on Manchester’s blueline.
VIDEO | #MondayMotivaton 💯
Throwback to when #13 Joe Hazeldine (@_Hazeldine13) scored a 🚀 against @covblazehockey! What a feed from @Victoria21_atTC sponsored #7 Max Fortier! (@FortsMax41) ⛈️#WeAreStorm | #Manchester pic.twitter.com/frt3twN2Mf
— Manchester Storm | #WeAreStorm (@Mcr_Storm) May 24, 2021
His offensive production, three points (one goal, two assists) in 23 games, is relatively unimportant. After spending three years on the cusp of a breakthrough, it’s significant that Hazeldine has found a permanent spot in the Elite League because very few young players do.
Honourable Mentions: Mack Stewart (BEL), Alex Graham (SHE), Finlay Ulrick (MAN), Scott Jamieson (FIF)
17-year-old Mack Stewart also deserves serious praise. Although he hasn’t found his point-scoring touch yet (he has two assists in 12 outings for the Giants), the Belfast-born winger looks comfortable at the senior level – which is a testament to his recent development.
Your Elite League Mid-Season Awards
Now you’ve seen BIH’s mid-season award nominations, which players do you think deserve recognition halfway through the season? Join the debate by Tweeting @LukeJames_32 and @BritIceHockey.