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Clarkson Cup weekend kicks off with CWHL Awards Friday

Elana Lovell (center) is the lone Inferno player up for an award at the CWHL Awards gala Friday in Ottawa.
Elana Lovell (center) is the lone Inferno player up for an award at the CWHL Awards gala Friday in Ottawa.
Ari Yanover

Before the top two teams in the league take to the ice this weekend, the CWHL's best will be honored in the league's end-of-season awards ceremony, to be held Friday evening at the Brookstreet Hotel in Ottawa.

The nominees were announced Feb. 25 (check here for my post on Elana Lovell being nominated for Rookie of the Year). Here's a refresher, annotated with my highly unimportant thoughts on who should win. Enjoy.

Rookie of the Year:

  • Katia Clement-Heydra, Les Canadiennes de Montreal
  • Elana Lovell, Calgary Inferno
  • Rebecca Vint, Brampton Thunder

All three have proven to be immensely valuable to their clubs, but while Lovell started off the season hot and cooled down toward playoffs, Vint stepped up and helped carry her team down to the wire against Calgary in the semis. Her 19 goals were the most on the Thunder, a welcome offensive burst for a team that didn't have a lot of it last year. My vote would go to her if I had one, simply for becoming a standout player when it counted most. Also, I am a bit biased here, but seeing as Brianne Jenner was ruled out of Rookie of the Year contention for previous participation with a CWHL club, I would have looked to nominate Jill Saulnier over Clement-Heydra. Saulnier proved to have tremendous chemistry with Jenner over the regular season, plus she showed up well in her first-ever All-Star Game (though I know those obviously don't count in the standings). However, if variety in teams is what they're looking for, I can understand why they chose Clement-Heydra.

Defender of the Year:

  • Julie Chu, Les Canadiennes de Montreal
  • Laura Fortino, Brampton Thunder
  • Lauriane Rougeau, Les Canadiennes de Montreal

Chu and Rougeau were part of a defense that allowed the fewest number of goals in the league in the regular season (36), and Chu especially stood out in her transition to the blueline. Both were also apt at jumping into the play, moving the puck well both at the points and down low. But former Rookie of the Year Fortino took the reins over on the Thunder this season, scoring 28 points (20 of them assists, which means she helped out on about 22 percent of Brampton's 91 goals). When you drive possession that well, you deserve some recognition.

Goalie of the Year:

  • Erica Howe, Brampton Thunder
  • Charline Labonte, Les Canadiennes de Montreal
  • Genevieve Lacasse, Boston Blades
For me, this is a no-brainer. Howe and Labonte have both had excellent seasons, Labonte especially as the backbone supporting the strongest team Montreal has iced in a couple of years. But while Labonte might be the more appealing or obvious choice, Lacasse has been the one saving grace for a beleaguered Blades team over in Boston. Facing an average of about 44 shots a game (more than your everyday NHL netminder), Lacasse made over 1000 saves this season and still managed to keep her save percentage above .900 (.904, specifically). With that heavy a workload and that good of a number in spite of it, how do you not honor her?

League MVP:

  • Laura Fortino, Brampton Thunder
  • Marie-Philip Poulin, Les Canadiennes de Montreal
  • Natalie Spooner, Toronto Furies

This is the only one that's a bit of a toss-up for me. Fortino has come into her own as an offensive defender and a leader on the Thunder. Spooner's five-goal game against Calgary Dec. 6 cements her place in the league as an offensive threat from anywhere, whether streaking down the wing or parked right in front of the net. However, Poulin might get this one just due to her absolute dominance on anyone's ice. The two-time Olympic gold medalist isn't the only part of Les Canadiennes' offense, but she's a crucial part. Her creativity, strength and patience with the puck are unparalleled (just watch a few minutes of the Clarkson Cup semis a couple of weeks ago against Toronto and you'll see what I mean). Her 46 points are nearly 20 percent higher than Rebecca Johnston's league-leading 37 last season (and nearly everyone on Les Canadiennes have joined her there). She's already won the Angela James Bowl as the C's top scorer; I wouldn't be shocked if she wins this one too.

Some might be wondering why no other Inferno players were selected, and my best guess for that would be that everyone who might have been up for something joined the team late in the season. Rebecca Johnston, last year's Angela James Bowl winner, was sidelined for most of the regular season with an injury. She scored six points in four games, which projected over 24 matches would add up to about 36 points (if my math is correct), putting her at just about par with her production last year and third in scoring above Kim Deschenes, breaking up the juggernaut of Canadiennes at the top of the scoring leaders chart. Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid and Brigitte Lacquette, both anchors of the blueline late in the year, joined in December and January, respectively. I could have seen Lacquette becoming much more of a factor in power play time and offense had she joined the team sooner, perhaps earning her either Rookie or Defender of the Year. But again, that could be my bias talking.

The festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Keep your eyes on Matchsticks & Gasoline for more Awards and Clarkson Cup coverage as the weekend unfolds.