Paul Cotter started the season as a 16-year-old, one of the younger players in the North American Hockey League.
Cotter finished it as the league’s Rookie of the Year.
After scoring more points than any Brookings Blizzard player since the 2010-11 season, Cotter was selected by the league’s head coaches as both the Rookie of the Year and a first-team, all-star forward.
His coach in Brookings, Dan Daikawa, sees more accolades in Cotter’s hockey future.
“He wants to be a hockey player and for a young kid that’s only a junior in high school to play in our league and to have that level of success, I think just speaks volumes for where I think he’s going to go,” Daikawa said. “He’s the best player that I’ve probably coached at this level. I’ve coached some good players, but he just has the ‘it’ factor that every time he’s on the ice he wants to be the best.
“And, that’s something that’s going to help him, not only next year in the USHL, but at Western Michigan after that.”
Cotter started out last summer hoping to make the Lincoln Stars, the USHL team he expects to be with next season. When he did not make the team out of training camp and headed off to Brookings instead, the Canton, Michigan, native went right to work on making sure it was still a productive season.
“When they told me I was going down to the NA for the year, I think one of the biggest problems about going to a new league is that you don’t know what to expect,” Cotter said. “Whereas I think most people would come in a little timid, I had that positive attitude and wanted to show everybody, ‘Look here, I can play’.
“I came into it with as much positivity and tenacity as I could.”
Soon after the season-opening NAHL Showcase, Cotter made his commitment to Western Michigan. He did not slow down then.
Cotter led the team with 28 goals and 32 assists, helping the Blizzard into the Robertson Cup playoffs.
“It’s crazy because he’s almost a 2000 birth year and, with just the way he played, he had that swagger about who he was and he did not want to be denied,” Daikawa said. “Every day at practice, he wanted to be the best player and every game I felt like he was one of the best players on the ice.
“That was something that he strived for.”
And, it’s something that he keeps striving for as he prepares for the chance to stay in Lincoln next season.
“This summer is a huge summer for me, getting bigger, stronger; coming into Lincoln with a little more confidence,” the 6-foot, 185-pounder said. “They put a little confidence in me by drafting me. It’s time for me to give back now.
“I had a pretty productive season this year. I’m looking forward to next year to what I can bring.”
George Mika from the Amarillo Bulls was the Forward of the Year and Croix Evingson from the Shreveport Mudbugs was the Defenseman of the Year.
Mika, a 20-year-old from Naples, Florida, had 30 goals and 39 assists. The University of Massachusetts recruit had 116 points in 134 career NAHL games.
The 6-foot-5 Evingson, a 19-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, was the highest-scoring defenseman in the NAHL since the 2010-11 season. The UMass-Lowell recruit scored 52 points for the expansion team.
Mareks Mitens, a Latvian who set a league record by posting 11 shutouts for the Aston Rebels, was named Most Valuable Player and Goaltender of the Year.
Mitens, Mika, Evingson and Cotter were joined on the all-NAHL first team by Shreveport forward Frankie Melton and Aston defenseman Brennan Kapcheck.
The all-NAHL second team was: Bismarck Bobcats forward Matt Barry, Coulee Region Chill forward Caleb Schroer, Odessa Jackalopes forward Chase Thudium, Aston defenseman Gvido Jansons, Aberdeen Wings defenseman Andy Carroll and Fairbanks Ice Dogs goalie Erik Gordon.
Aston’s Joe Combs was named Coach of the Year after leading the Rebels to the league’s best regular-season record at 46-11-3.
Scott Muscutt was named General Manager of the Year after Shreveport went 35-19-6 and finished second in the NAHL in attendance with an average of 2,850 per game. The Mudbugs were also named Organization of the Year.
Pat Dunn from the Corpus Christi IceRays was named Executive of the Year.
The remaining player awards were: Springfield Junior Blues forward Ryan Leibold, Apex Learning Virtual School Academic Achievement Award; Aberdeen Wings captain Gage Mackey, Leadership Award; and New Jersey Titans defenseman Ryan Wheeler, Community Service Award.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc
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