This season, more than 3,000 players suited up for Junior A games across Canada, from Nanaimo, B.C., to Woodstock, N.B. But only 10 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 announced during the 2013 RBC Cup in Summerside, P.E.I., and presented with his award at the tournament awards banquet on May 17.
The winner will join a distinguished list of past honourees that includes current and former NHLers Joe Colborne (2008,), Kyle Turris (2007), Jeff Tambellini (2002), Dany Heatley (1999), Mike Comrie (1998), Paul Kariya (1992) and Greg Johnson (1989).
The 2013 nominees for RBC Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year are (in alphabetical order):
MIKE DIETRICH - MINNESOTA WILDERNESS (SUPERIOR INTERNATIONAL JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
The captain of one of the highest-ranked teams in the Canadian Junior Hockey League, Mike Dietrich has had a year to remember, leading the Wilderness to the greatest regular season in SIJHL history - 51 wins in 56 games, the last 41 without a loss in regulation time - and earning the league's scoring title, with 28 goals and 77 points in 46 games, and player of the year award.
On and off the ice, Dietrich is a captain in the truest sense of the word. He lets his play do the talking on the ice, isn't afraid to tackle a problem in the dressing room, and has earned fan favourite status in Cloquet, Minn., not only for his scoring prowess, but for his true compassion for the community, the young kids and fans of hockey.
As Dietrich completes his final season of junior eligibility, he recognizes the need for academic success, and has been taking part-time college courses in recent years in hopes of earning a scholarship that will allow him to get the education he wants while also continuing to play the game he loves.
CHARLIE FINN - KINGSTON VOYAGEURS (ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Statistically speaking, there wasn't a goaltender that came close to Charlie Finn this season. Finn led the OJHL in goals-against average (2.15), save percentage (.941) and shutouts (eight), and finished fourth in wins (25) and saves (1,348). Not surprisingly, he took home the OJHL Top Goaltender award, to go along with the goaltender of the year honours he earned for posting the league's lowest GAA, and was runner-up for OJHL MVP. Finn also made his international debut this season, wearing the red and white of Canada East at the 2012 World Junior A Challenge.
A 20-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., Finn has learned to lead by example, and is well-respected by his teammates as the ultimate team player, someone who would trade all of his individual accolades (and he has a lot of them) for a chance at a championship.
Finn had an 84 per cent average in high school in both British Columbia and Ontario, and has been accepted into Colgate University beginning this fall. He has aspirations of earning a law degree and one day working for the NHL or NHLPA.
MITCH GILLAM - CHILLIWACK CHIEFS (BRITISH COLUMBIA HOCKEY LEAGUE)
How important was Mitch Gillam to the success of the Chilliwack Chiefs this season? Named team MVP for the second year in a row, the goaltender was among the busiest in the BCHL, finishing second in minutes played and shots faced, and leading the way in saves, averaging 33 stops per game. Named the Coastal Conference MVP, Gillam had the league's second-best goals-against average and save percentage, and even scored - he was credited with a goal during a Dec. 28 game against Surrey.
No matter how busy he was on the ice, Gillam always found time to make off-ice contributions in the community, participating in the team's Read with the Chiefs program and Salvation Army Christmas Kettles initiative, and he was a regular at community events, representing the team.
The Peterborough, Ont., native will head south of the border to pursue a post-secondary education in the fall; he will attend Cornell University, play for the Big Red and enroll in the architecture program in urban and regional planning.
BENJAMIN LALIBERTE - PANTHÈRES DE SAINT-JÉRÔME (LIGUE DE HOCKEY JUNIOR AAA DU QUÉBEC)
You won't find his name anywhere near the top of the Ligue de hockey junior AAA du Québec scoring list, but it's arguable that few players had the impact on his team that Benjamin Laliberté had with the Panthères de Saint-Jérôme. A former first-round pick in the QMJHL Entry Draft (12th overall by Gatineau in 2009), Laliberté played provided veteran leadership, and 81 points, to a Panthères team that finished with the LHJAAAQ's best regular season record.
But his impact was felt in more ways than just his on-ice play. A dedicated student with an 87% average at CEGEP Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Laliberté is quick to provide academic assistance to his teammates, often serving as a tutor after practice.
Although he no longer has NCAA eligibility due to his time in the QMJHL, Laliberté continues to pursue a post-secondary education in Canada, and hopes to combine hockey and academics for the foreseeable future.
CAM MACLISE - BROOKS BANDITS (ALBERTA JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Cam Maclise had so much fun in 2011-12, winning Brooks' MVP and Top Forward awards, finishing second in league scoring and helping the Bandits to an AJHL championship, that he decided to do it again this season. Maclise again won the two team awards, again finished top three in AJHL scoring and again won the league title, and this time added the AJHL MVP award to his trophy case, captaining Brooks to league records for wins and points in a season and the No. 1 ranking in Canada for most of the season.
The Bandits' undisputed leader on the ice, Maclise has taken the same role in the community, participating in the team's Reading with the Bandits program and skating with teams during local minor hockey association practices, all while holding down a part-time job from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday to Friday.
Maclise's lost his NCAA eligibility after spending the 2009-10 season with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, but intends to pursue a post-secondary education in engineering or business while continuing his playing career in CIS.
MITCHELL MAYNARD - SUMMERSIDE WESTERN CAPITALS (MARITIME HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Picked up by the Summerside Western Capitals for his leadership and big-game experience, Mitchell Maynard provided unexpected offence for the RBC Cup host team, finishing second in Summerside scoring, and fifth in the MHL, with 80 points; prior to this year, his highest point in three previous junior seasons was 31. Maynard, who won a Memorial Cup as a member of the host Shawinigan Cataractes last year, was rewarded for his big season with the MHL Player of the Year award.
The Halifax, N.S., native is a fantastic ambassador for the Western Capitals program; this season alone, Maynard has raised money for breast cancer research and under-privileged families, given his time to Summerside minor hockey and schools, and attended birthday parties for young fans.
Despite all of his hockey and volunteer efforts, Maynard has also found time to focus on education. He enrolled this year in the engineering program at the University of P.E.I., and will look to continue in that field, as well as continue his career, at a CIS school in the fall.
GUILLAUME NAUD - DAUPHIN KINGS (MANITOBA JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
The winner of the MJHL MVP award, Guillaume Naud was a member of one of the highest scoring trios in Junior A hockey, combining with Dauphin Kings teammates Jesse Synatynski and Jon Gaudet for 271 points, helping the Kings to a 20-game winning streak to close out the regular season, clinching the MJHL's best record. Playing his first season in Manitoba after one year with the OJHL's Wellington Dukes, Naud was the league's top set-up man, racking up an MJHL-high 56 assists.
A native Francophone, Naud hasn't let the language barrier get in his way of being a part of the community. He regularly took part in French classes at Dauphin schools, as well as collecting food and clothing for various local drives and participating on Rotary Club floats during Pumpkinfest and Christmas parades.
Naud has been taking English classes in Dauphin, and has aspirations of attending an English university, studying civil engineering and continuing his playing career at the CIS level.
MICHAEL PONTARELLI - CORNWALL COLTS (CENTRAL CANADA HOCKEY LEAGUE)
All Michael Pontarelli did this season was score, score, and score some more. The Cornwall Colts forward led the CCHL in scoring with 107 points, and was not only the lone player in the league to score more than 40 goals, he was the only one to get to 50, finishing with 52. He ran away with the Colts' scoring title, finishing 45 points ahead of Marly Quince, and was rewarded for his offensive exploits with the CCHL's MVP and sportsmanship and ability awards, as well as the first-ever CJHL MVP and Top Forward honours.
In his first season of Junior A hockey, Pontarelli was selected to serve as an alternate captain, a testament to not only his on-ice performance, but his off-ice influence as well. The Laval, Que., native quickly became a fan favourite, with No. 9 jerseys a common sight at Colts games.
Argue, who has long had an NCAA scholarship in his sights, will enter Union College this fall with hopes of earning a degree in economics while continuing his playing career with the Bulldogs.
TAIT SEGUIN - NORTH BAY TRAPPERS (NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
The youngest of the 10 nominees, Tait Seguin burst onto the junior hockey scene in 2012-13, leading all NOJHL rookies in goals, assists and points and finishing fifth in scoring on a very strong North Bay team with 41 points in 46 games. His performance earned him a spot on the NOJHL First All-Star Team, and he was the runner-up for the league's rookie of the year award.
Off the ice, Seguin has proved to be a role model for his teammates, despite not turning 18 until March 21. All season, he was consistently one of the first Trappers on the ice and one of the last off of it, and has never hesitated to get involved in community activities.
Seguin was honoured as the NOJHL Scholastic Player of the Year after graduating high school a year early and finishing all of his courses with at least a 90% mark. He hopes to use his hockey abilities to gain a college scholarship, and has his sights set on a strong engineering program.
ALEX WAKALUK - MELVILLE MILLIONAIRES (SASKATCHEWAN JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Perhaps best known entering this season as the son of former NHL netminder Darcy Wakaluk, Alex Wakaluk made a name for himself in 2012-13. The Melville goaltender took home SJHL MVP honours after finishing in the top three in almost every major statistical category, including goals-against average (third, 2.32), save percentage (second, .930), wins (first, 28), shutouts (second, five) and saves (second, 1,385), all while playing the second-most minutes of any SJHL goaltender.
The Millionaires are revered in Melville, and Wakaluk has embraced being a role model in the community, making frequent visits to schools in the city and working with goaltenders in the local minor hockey association, sharing his knowledge to help develop the next generation of puck-stoppers.
Wakaluk will continue his career, both academic and athletic, next season south of the border, attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He will patrol the crease for the Minutemen while pursuing a degree in engineering.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)