Hart captures WHL player of year, goaltender awards

Carter Hart (Zimbio NHL draft portraits)

It’s been quite a year for Carter Hart, and there could be even more accolades on the horizon.

The Everett Silvertips star was the recipient of the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s top goaltender for the third year in succession during the league’s annual awards luncheon Wednesday at the Red Deer Sheraton.

He then snagged the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL player of the year. Add a world junior championship gold medal with Team Canada in January and the opportunity to win a league title and Memorial Cup in the very near future, and it’s safe to say the Sherwood Park product is pretty much sitting on top of the junior hockey world.

“It’s a huge honour and just kind of goes to show what we’ve been doing down in Everett this year and the team that we have,” said Hart, who credited his teammates for their role in him receiving the Four Broncos award. 

“We’re in the league finals now and we’ve had a great run so far. We’re hoping to keep it going into the month of May.”

The Silvertips will indeed vie for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, with the first game of their best-of-seven league championship series beginning Friday against the host Swift Current Broncos.

Everett is in the league final for the first time since the team’s inaugural season of 2003-04, and Hart and his teammates are relishing the challenge.

“It’s incredible,” said the Philadelphia Flyers’ second-round pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft. “This is my fourth year in Everett and we didn’t make it out of the second round (of playoffs) the first three years.

‘“To get this far is pretty cool. We haven’t got this far before and I know we’re all excited. It’s a core group of guys we’ve had since when I first went  there. We’ve worked so hard over the last four years and now we’re finally here.”

Hart missed the early stages of the 2017-18 season with mononucleosis and didn’t return to the Silvertips roster until early November.

The time off, he admitted, was somewhat of a blessing in disguise given he moved right back into his busy and usual role as the club’s No. 1 stopper and also competed in the highly intense world juniors.

“You never want to go out with mono like that, but at the same time it was kind of nice to get some rest,” he said. “It made me hungrier to come back and as soon as I came back we started playing really good hockey. We were right into the roll of things and started winning and just carried that on throughout the whole year.

“I played only 40 some games this year, which was my lowest total since I was 16. Include the world juniors and it all adds up, but at the same time playoff hockey is a lot different than regular season and to get this far is really special.”

Hart, who turns 20 in August and will play at some level of pro hockey next season, appeared in 41 regular-season games with the ‘Tips this past winter, posting a 31-6-3 record with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

He also recorded seven shutouts which gave him a record-tying 26 for his WHL regular-season career, and in 15 playoff outings this spring he’s won 12 games while garnering a 2.44 GAA, .922 save percentage and two shutouts.

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Hart was also pumped about being recognized as the league’s best goalie for a third consecutive year.

“There’s some good goalies in this league and to get that award again is a huge honour. I work hard on my craft and try to be the best that I can every day,” he said.

Now he appears more than ready to enter the pro ranks after hopefully advancing even further along the major junior playoff trail.

“Over time I’ve worked on developing my game. Working on all the little aspects, the little details has helped me become better,” he said.

Hart praised former Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine for granting him plenty of crease time through his first three years with the team and also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to meet ‘Tips’ goaltending legend Leland Irving, who posted 11 shutouts in the 2006-07 season.

“I met Leland in Everett and last summer he was my stall mate in Philly (at the Flyers’ training camp) because the Flyers’ A (American League) team signed him last summer,” said Hart. “We had some really good talks and it was cool to chat with that guy.”

Kale Clague of the Moose Jaw Warriors was the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL defenceman of the year — beating out Western Conference nominee Cal Foote of the Kelowna Rockets, and Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes was selected over Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants for the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the top rookie.

Meanwhile, Moose Jaw forward Jayden Halbgewachs was honoured with the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s top scorer. He sniped 70 goals — the first WHL player since Pavel Brendl scored 73 in ’98-99 to reach that level — and accumulated 129 points this season.

Halbgewachs was also the Eastern Conference nominee for player of the year.

The WHL bantam draft will be held Thursday at the Sheraton.

Other award winners:

Scholastic player of the year (Daryl K. ‘Doc’ Seaman Memorial Trophy) — Ty Smith, Spokane Chiefs. Finalist — Chase Wouters, Saskatoon Blades.

Most sportsmanlike player (Brad Hornung Trophy) — Aleksi Heponiemi, Swift Current Broncos. Finalist — Cody Glass, Portland Winterhawks.

Scholastic team of the year — Saskatoon Blades (Kim Hebert, education advisor).

Humanitarian of the year (Doug Wickenheiser Memorial) — Ty Ronning, Vancouver Giants. Finalist — Matt Bradley, Regina Pats.

Coach of the year (Dunc McCallum Memorial) — Manny Viveiros, Swift Current Broncos. Finalist — Dennis Williams, Everett Silvertips.

Executive of the year (Lloyd Saunders Memorial) — Garry Davidson, Everett Silvertips. Finalist — Alan Millar, Moose Jaw Warriors.

Top official of the year (Allen Paradice Memorial) — Brett Iverson.

WHL business award — Edmonton Oil Kings. Finalist — Everett Silvertips.

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