This season, more than 3,000 players suited up for Junior A games across Canada, in locations from Nanaimo, B.C., to Woodstock, N.B. But only eight have been named as finalists for the RBC Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year award.
The finalists were selected by their respective CJHL leagues, with the winner - who will be announced during the 2011 RBC Cup in Camrose, Alta., and presented with his award at the tournament awards banquet on May 6 - chosen by a panel that includes Hockey Canada's five living Life Members: Don Johnson, Frank Libera, Frank McKinnon, Gordon Renwick and Clair Sudsbury.
'The winner will join a distinguished list of past honourees that includes current and former NHLers Kyle Turris (2007), Jeff Tambellini (2002), Dany Heatley (1999), Mike Comrie (1998), Paul Kariya (1992) and Greg Johnson (1989).
The 2011 nominees for RBC Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year are (in alphabetical order):
BRETT CAMPBELL - BLIND RIVER BEAVERS
(NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
This year's recipient of the NOJHL Trophy as the league's best overall team player, Campbell used his hockey and leadership skills to make an impression not only on his team, but on his community as well. A stand-out high school player - he captained Central Algoma Secondary School to its first-ever Northern Ontario championship - Campbell has translated that success into success in the Junior A game, cracking the top 20 in NOJHL scoring this season.
Named one of the Beavers' alternate captains prior to the season, the Sault Ste. Marie product has led by example on the ice, finishing third in team scoring while becoming a force in all three zones. It's this end-to-end work that has earned Campbell the respect of coaches, teammates and fans in his second season in Blind River.
Campbell, who has had an NCAA scholarship in his sights since he was a pre-teen, hopes to enter university this fall with hopes of earning a degree in business and sports administration while taking his career as far as it can go on the ice.
MAXIME CHARETTE - COLLÈGE FRANÇAIS DE LONGUEUIL
(LIGUE DE HOCKEY JUNIOR AAA DU QUÉBEC)
A member of the LHJAAAQ All-Rookie Team and a finalist for the league's Rookie of the Year Award last season, Charette added to his résumé in 2010-11 by finishing second in league scoring with 98 points (including a league-leading 64 assists), earning a spot on the LHJAAAQ First All-Star Team and taking home the Player of the Year Award.
One of Longueuil's alternate captains, the 20-year-old from Gatineau, Que., is a quiet leader, choosing to lead by example on and off the ice, letting his 176 points in the last two seasons do the talking rather than being vocal on the ice and in the dressing room.
When he's not on the ice, Charette - Longueuil's third-round pick (42nd overall) in the 2008 LHJAAAQ Draft - spends his time working as carpenter with his father, and hopes to go back to school in September to advance his skills in that field.
TRAVIS EGGUM - LA RONGE ICE WOLVES
(SASKATCHEWAN JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
The sniper on the SJHL's top-scoring trio, Eggum put up numbers not seen in Saskatchewan in almost a decade, becoming the first SJHLer to have a 50-goal, 100-point season since 2002, and scoring more goals - he finished with 58 - than any player in the league since 1999. Eggum tied with linemate Marc-Andre Carre for the scoring title with 106 points, a total that was a startling 165% increase over 2009-10, when he chipped in 40 points. In fact, in his first three SJHL seasons combined, Eggum managed 69 points, or 37 less than his 2010-11 total.
On his way to 58 goals in 58 games, Eggum almost reached one of hockey's most hallowed marks, getting his 50th goal in his 51st game, narrowly missing out on joining the exclusive 50-in-50 club. His numbers helped the Ice Wolves, the defending SJHL champions, earn the league's regular season title for the first time in franchise history.
An alternate captain with the Ice Wolves, Eggum has been a leader off the ice as well, working in local elementary schools and with community groups in La Ronge, where the Ice Wolves are beloved. He has also organized community events and helped the Ice Wolves interact with their supporters, organizing snowmobiling and ice fishing trips, among others.
TANNER FRITZ - GRANDE PRAIRIE STORM
(ALBERTA JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Very few players get the chance to play their entire four-year Junior A in their hometown. Even fewer get the chance to wear the 'C' as captain and win a league championship. And fewer still get the opportunity to represent their country - twice. Fritz has done it all, and capped off a decorated career with the Grande Prairie Storm by earning AJHL MVP this year
Fourth in the AJHL in scoring, the Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association product and two-time World Junior A Challenge silver medallist with Canada West (2008, 2009) set career highs in goals, assists and points this season, finishing atop the Storm's scoring chart for the first time in his four seasons.
A 2009 graduate of St. Joseph Catholic High School, Fritz took on a full course load at Grande Prairie Regional College in preparation for his enrollment this fall at Ohio State University, where he has accepted a scholarship to play the Buckeyes while majoring in business. In addition to education he has dedicated himself to his hometown, where he has taken part in numerous community programs and work with young students in local schools.
MICHAEL GARTEIG - POWELL RIVER KINGS
(BRITISH COLUMBIA HOCKEY LEAGUE)
The Kings' puck-stopper re-wrote the BCHL record book in 2010-11, setting BCHL records for goals-against average (1.69) and save percentage (.934), while tying the record for shutouts (seven). Garteig also led the league in wins (38), was named BCHL Top Goaltender, was a Coastal Conference First Team All-Star and shared the Wally Forslund Memorial Trophy, given to the team with the lowest GAA, with back-up Sean Maguire.
His performance between the pipes helped Powell River win the BCHL's regular season title, set a franchise record for wins and sit, on more than one occasion, atop the CJHL national rankings, impressive accomplishments for a goaltender in his first full season as a starter.
Garteig has taken time out of his season to not only mentor Maguire, but work with the young goaltenders who skated with the Kings during practices throughout the season, as well as minor hockey goaltenders at all levels in Powell River. His strong play early in the season resulted in a scholarship offer from Quinnipiac University, where the Prince George, B.C., native will work towards a business degree in the fall, in addition to continuing his hockey career with the Bobcats.
ZACH HYMAN - HAMILTON RED WINGS
(ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
The lone NHL draft pick to lace up the skates in the OJHL this season, Hyman showed the skills that made him a fifth-round selection of the Florida Panthers (123rd overall), finishing second in league scoring with 102 points in just 43 games, leading all Canadian Junior A players with 2.37 points per game. He missed games early in the season while attending the Panthers' rookie camp, and took two weeks out of the Red Wings' schedule to help Canada East to a silver medal at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge.
Hamilton's captain for the second year in a row, Hyman earned a spot on the North-West Conference First All-Star Team and was named the OJHL's Most Gentlemanly Player after picking up just 24 penalty minutes. During a stretch from October 30 to January 28, the Toronto native went 22 games without spending time in the penalty box.
Off the ice, Hyman is a published author - his first children's book, Hockey Hero, is available at bookstores in Toronto - and an 'A' student, graduating from high school as an Ontario Scholar. He will continue his on-ice career this fall at Princeton University, where he is deciding between studying business or medicine. He showed his dedication to education last fall, when he declined an invitation from the Panthers to play in an NHL exhibition game in order to maintain his NCAA eligibility.
SHANE LUKE - DAUPHIN KINGS
(MANITOBA JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Luke followed up a dream 2009-10 season by being just as good, if not better, in 2010-11, winning MJHL MVP in addition to his second consecutive league scoring championship, racking up 89 points (28 goals and a league-leading 61 assists) in 60 games. The 2010 RBC Cup MVP also got his name on the MJHL's Hockey Ability and Sportsmanship Award for the second year in a row while earning back-to-back berths on the league's First All-Star Team.
He also replaced the well-respected Steven Shamanski - last year's MJHL nominee for national player of the year - as Kings' captain and helped Dauphin avoid an RBC Cup hangover by leading the Kings to a second place finish in the Sherwood Division despite having just five players with more than one year of junior hockey experience.
Luke has been a community leader off the ice, taking time to visit Dauphin schools to read to students and giving his insight to new teammates, young and old, on what it means to be a King, play in Dauphin and be a part of the community. Luke has accepted a scholarship to Providence College beginning in September, and will take the ice for the Friars while majoring in business.
JON MITCHELL - DRYDEN ICE DOGS
(SUPERIOR INTERNATIONAL JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
A two-time SIJHL Defenceman of the Year, Mitchell added the SIJHL Player of the Year Award to his trophy case this season, becoming the first Ice Dog to win the award in its 10-year history by cracking the 50-point barrier for the second season in a row despite missing a month of action due to injury. The 20-year-old finished his three-year Junior A career as the fifth-highest scoring defenceman in SIJHL history, impressive considering he managed just nine points in his rookie season.
Dryden's captain for the past two seasons, Mitchell has been a leader on and off the ice and has become a role model not only for the young players on the Ice Dogs, but for the minor hockey players in Dryden. He has consistently volunteered his time for community projects, going as far as to shave his head during the intermission of a game to help raise money for cancer research.
The Anola, Man., native has found a variety of ways to give back to the Dryden hockey community, stepping behind the bench with a Bantam team last season and working with players of all ages at the Dryden Hockey School for the past two summers.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)