Like most young athletes in these challenging times, Christian Gorscak would prefer to be with his teammates, pursuing a championship together.
Away from the ice and isolated from teammates during efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Gorscak headlined an award-winning class of North American Hockey League athletes as congratulatory calls were delivered last week.
“I would much rather keep playing right now and trying to get that big award for the team,” said Gorscak, the Johnstown Tomahawks forward, who was selected as the NAHL Most Valuable Player as well as Forward of the Year. "I think that the biggest thing was we had a goal in mind at the beginning of the season to win the Robertson Cup and, unfortunately, we were not able to do that.
“It’s definitely humbling and a great honor to receive this, but I’d much rather be with the team right now battling in the playoffs.”
In preseason discussions with his coaches this year, Gorscak mentioned a goal of increasing his scoring total to 40 points for his third season in the league. Instead, 40 was the number of points by which the 19-year-old from Jeannette, Pennsylvania, increased his scoring, up to a league-high total of 64 points in 51 games.
The progress was evident early.
The Niagara University commit had planned on starting his college career in 2021, but those plans changed in December after a scouting trip from Niagara head coach Jason Lammers. They agreed to move Gorsack’s freshman season to this upcoming fall. Gorscak caught fire after that. During an eight-game win streak, the Tomahawks improved to 34-13-2-2 and became one of eight NAHL teams to clinch a playoff berth prior to the time the league suspended play. Gorsack contributed seven goals in those eight games.
The Tomahawks stopped play with 10 wins in their last 11 games.
Gorscak’s long affiliation with the NAHL ended then. Prior to joining the Tomahawks, he had spent two seasons with the North American Prospects Hockey League’s Esmark Stars.
“The showcases that the NAPHL hold are unbelievable, especially for the NAHL scouts to see,” said Gorscak, who scored 101 points in 155 career NAHL games after being named a NAPHL 16U first-team all-star with Esmark. “Fortunately enough, I was able to sign a tender with Johnstown after my 16-year.”
Cayden Bailey, of the Lone Star Brahmas, was named Goaltender of the Year as the NAHL’s top netminder.
Bailey, a 20-year-old from Estero, Florida, set a NAHL league record with a 1.32 goals against average, and tied the all-time record for shutouts with 11. An impressive appearance in the Top Prospects Tournament led to him committing to Michigan Tech midway through the regular season.
“It was one of those things where I talked to the right person at the right time and everything kind of aligned perfectly for both of us,” Bailey said. “A good portion of it was because they were able to get a good look at me at the Top Prospects.”
Bailey credits his success, which included a league-best .940 save percentage, on rising confidence that stems from knowing he had worked on the necessary areas in practice.
“It’s just accepting things you have to work on and being open-minded about what people have to say,” Bailey said. “It’s just the maturity of it.”
Bailey too was feeling confident heading in postseason, as he and his teammates were preparing for a championship run. Lone Star, the South Division leader, was 42-9-1-1 and had given up just 81 goals while the league’s other 25 teams were allowing between 101 and 240.
“Every single guy, no matter who it was, coaching staff or player, they were all on the same track,” Bailey said. “They wanted to be there. They wanted to win.”
Dan Wildfong of the Brahmas was named Coach and General Manager of the Year by the league.
Johnstown team members won another two end of season awards. Rick Bouchard was named Executive of the Year for the second straight season, while Chris Trouba received the Leadership Award for the team captain’s role in helping the team and coaches while trying to work his way back from injury this season.
The NAHL handed out many other awards as well as naming its all-star team.
Sam Miller of the Shreveport Mudbugs, another team that had already clinched a postseason berth, was named Defenseman of the Year. The 20-year-old American International College commit from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, had 16 goals and 24 assists in 52 games to rank second among defensemen in scoring.
Kyler Kleven from the Minot Minotauros was named Rookie of the Year. Kleven, 19, from Moorhead, Minnesota, led his team and all NAHL rookies in scoring with 53 points in 48 games.
The New Mexico Ice Wolves were named Organization of the Year. The first-year team averaged more than 1,000 fans per game in Albuquerque.
Oliver Bezick from the Amarillo Bulls received the Apex Learning Virtual School Academic Achievement Award and Logan Kons from the Maryland Black Bears received the Community Service Award.
NAHL first-team all-stars were Gorscak, Bailey, Miller, Lone Star forward Joey Baez, Austin Bruins forward Dante Sheriff and Maryland defenseman Hampus Rydqvist.
See the full list of 2020 NAHL award winners here.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.