Canisius’ Williams bags Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year laurels

Charles Williams (1 - Canisius) had 45 saves in a 3-1 win at RIT (Omar Phillips)
Charles Williams posted five shutouts in 2016-17 for a surprising Canisius squad (photo: Omar Phillips).

The Atlantic Hockey regular-season award winners were announced Thursday night during the league’s annual tournament championship weekend kick-off reception held at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

There were five major individual awards announced this evening, each determined by the 11 Atlantic Hockey coaches — Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Best Defenseman and Best Defensive Forward.

Taking home Player of the Year honors was Canisius senior Charles Williams. During the regular season, Williams registered five shutouts, which was tied for the national lead in the regular season and tied an Atlantic Hockey single-season record. Williams led all goalies in Atlantic Hockey with a .947 save percentage and a 1.69 GAA. The goaltender also led the nation in save percentage with a .946 mark and finished second in the nation with 1.75 GAA.

Securing Rookie of the Year honors was RIT standout freshman Adam Brubacher, who finished tied for the lead among Atlantic Hockey freshmen skaters in assists (14) and points (20) in conference play. He was also tied for second in defenseman scoring for all league defensemen throughout the conference season. Brubacher tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals and led RIT skaters with a plus-11 rating in conference play.

The Coach of the Year was given to Canisius’ Dave Smith. The Golden Griffins got off to a 7-10-4 start before going on a program-record 15-game unbeaten streak to close the regular season, the longest streak of any team in Division I this season. Smith’s Golden Griffs were picked to finish ninth in the conference in the preseason coaches poll, but he and his coaching staff helped guide Canisius to their first regular-season championship and the top seed in this year’s tournament. The 12th-year head coach led the Griffs to 21 wins this season, a career-high for Smith.

Atlantic Hockey had two players voted Top Defenseman as both Cameron Heath of Canisius and Les Lancaster of Mercyhurst shared the award.

Heath anchored the Griffin defense, a corps that ranked first in scoring defense during league play, allowing just 1.89 goals per game. He was a factor on both ends of the ice, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists in league play, in addition to posting a plus-5 rating and blocking 63 shots.

Lancaster followed-up a tremendous freshman year with another strong season for Mercyhurst. He was the Lakers’ third-leading scorer in conference play with 20 points, tying him for second amongst Atlantic Hockey defensemen for scoring. Lancaster had 32 blocks on the year and finished conference play plus-5.

Ryan Schmelzer of Canisius was named the Best Defensive Forward and finished tied for first on the team with 27 points in AHC play, but it was his 14 blocked shots and plus-16 rating that was the driving force behind receiving this award.

Also announced Thursday night were the Team and Individual Sportsmanship Awards, as well as the Atlantic Hockey Scoring and Goaltending Trophies.

The Team Sportsmanship Award went to Holy Cross, while the Individual Sportsmanship Award was given to Ryan Nick of Army West Point. Nick has been a steady leader for Army this season and proved he plays the game the right way, accumulating just two penalties all year while logging some of the most ice time of any of the Black Knights.

The scoring and goaltending trophies went to Brady Ferguson of Robert Morris and Williams, respectively. Those awards are determined on statistics alone.