Jonny Sorenson was not just a rookie to the North American Hockey League.
The Fairbanks IceDogs forward was a rookie when it came to the experience of concentrating on one sport for the entire year.
Not long ago, Sorenson still thought his college pursuits could be as a dual-threat quarterback on the football field, a pitcher on the baseball diamond or, quite possibly, both.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder topped out as an NCAA Division III prospect in baseball and football, and in the latter leading his high school team to its first state tournament appearance. That led him more regularly to the rink and a commitment to one of the nation’s most prestigious programs at the University of Minnesota.
In his first full year as strictly a hockey player, Sorenson earned the distinction of Rookie of the Year when the NAHL announced its regular season awards this week.
With his sporting interests spread across three sports and changing according to the calendar, Sorenson did not know much about junior hockey. He was, however, familiar with the IceDogs after two former high school teammates headed off to play in Fairbanks.
When it came time to play what could turn out to be Sorenson’s only season of junior hockey, he was comfortable with Fairbanks as his option.
“I knew that there would be a learning curve and I’d have to adjust,” said Sorenson, a 19-year-old from St. Louis Park, Minnesota. “It did take me a while.
“I didn’t think it would all happen this fast. Just to see how fast it all came together was pretty cool.”
Sorenson was scoreless in his first four games and had just one assist six games into the NAHL season. He immediately changed that with points in 11 of his next 12 games, starting on a tear in which he produced 10 goals and 19 assists in 24 games.
He ended the season with 17 goals and 39 assists in 60 games.
The IceDogs followed a similar path as a team. Heading into this weekend as the only team unbeaten in the Robertson Cup playoffs, Fairbanks completed the sweep over the Minnesota Magicians in the Midwest Division finals. Sorenson scored four goals in the series.
“We had a slow start here,” Sorenson said. “We were probably still last in our division in mid-November or second to last. It was just us having a young team and everyone kind of getting to know each other better, trying to identify the leaders and find what route we wanted to go as a team.”
Sorenson learned with those teammates while leading Fairbanks in scoring. The longer season and extra time devoted to hockey changed him as a player.
“Probably my ability to see the ice,” Sorenson said when asked where his most marked improvements have come. “Seeing my teammates better and then just how to use size and speed better to get to certain areas.”
The league’s 24 head coaches voted on the awards.
Logan Jenuwine from the Amarillo Bulls broke a 29-year-old NAHL record by scoring 60 goals to land both the Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year awards. The 20-year-old from Romeo, Michigan, was also the first player in 27 years to surpass 100 points in the NAHL.
Brenden Datema, Jenuwine’s Amarillo teammate, was the Defenseman of the Year. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound, 20-year-old from Sterling Heights, Michigan, led the league’s blueliners with 60 points in 58 games.
Matt Vernon from the Aberdeen Wings won 40 games and posted seven shutouts while earning Goaltender of the Year honors. The 21-year-old from San Jose, California, was second in goals against average (1.94) and third in save percentage (.934).
Mike Letizia was named Coach of the Year after leading the Johnstown Tomahawks to 25 straight home wins, the East Division title and a league-high 47 wins.
Other awards went to: General Manager of the Year, Marty Murray, Minot Minotauros; Executive, Rick Bouchard, Johnstown; Organization, Johnstown; Academic Achievement, Konner Lundeen, Minnesota Magicians; Leadership, John Roberts, Bismarck Bobcats; and Community Service, Brandon Perrone, New Jersey Titans.
Jenuwine, Datema and Vernon were All-NAHL First Team selections, along with Johnstown forward Carson Briere, Aberdeen forward Brad Belisle and Shreveport Mudbugs defenseman C.J. McGee.
The second team was: Johnstown forward Samuel Solensky, Springfield Jr. Blues forward Brandon Puricelli, Austin Bruins forward Dante Sheriff, Bismarck Bobcats defenseman Sam Malinski, Lone Star Brahmas defenseman Blake Evennou and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights goalie Zach Stejskal.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.