North Dakota’s Pinto, Berry, Western Michigan’s Bennett, St. Cloud State’s Miettinen win top NCHC awards for ’20-21 college hockey campaign

Kale Bennett is a defenseman on the ice for WMU and a 3.99 GPA student in the classroom (photo: Mark Kuhlmann).

Rounding out its individual awards for the 2020-21 season, the NCHC unveiled its top honors on Thursday, with North Dakota claiming two of the four awards, while St. Cloud State and Western Michigan also each capturing a major award.

North Dakota’s Brad Berry repeated as the NCHC’s Herb Brooks Coach of the Year, while UND sophomore forward Shane Pinto was selected the player of the year. St. Cloud State forward Veeti Miettinen was named rookie of the year and Western Michigan defenseman Kale Bennett was named the senior scholar-athlete for 2020-21.

Berry is the NCHC’s coach of the year for the third time in his career, also winning it in 2015-16 and last season, while this is the fourth time a North Dakota coach has won the award after Dave Hakstol did so in 2014-15.

Pinto becomes the first UND player to win player of the year, while he’s also the first to earn the award unanimously. Bennett is the first Bronco to claim senior scholar-athlete, while Miettinen is the first Husky to garner rookie of the year honors from the NCHC.

A unanimous First-Team All-NCHC selection this season and the first player to win both NCHC Forward and Defensive Forward of the Year, Pinto, also an Ottawa Senators draft pick, captured the conference scoring title with 28 points in only 23 games and scored an NCHC-best 15 goals.

Last year’s NCHC rookie of the year also led the conference with 11 multi-point games, 1.22 points per game, seven power-play goals and 13 power-play points. Three of his goals were game-winners and he led UND to a second straight Penrose Cup. Pinto was the top faceoff man in the conference winning 308 draws with a .620 win percentage, both tops in the NCHC. His +15 plus/minus tied for second in the conference.

Berry guided the Fighting Hawks to their second straight Penrose Cup as regular-season champions with an 18-5-1 record. The 18 wins are fourth-most in the country, while UND sat atop the national polls multiple weeks during the season. In his sixth season as bench boss at UND, Berry’s squad led the country averaging 3.96 goals per game, while topping the NCHC and ranking fourth in the NCAA, giving up only 1.96 goals against per game. Berry had his team playing especially well at home, going 6-1-0 at Ralph Engelstad Arena this season.

Bennett has compiled a near-perfect 3.99 GPA while majoring in biomedical sciences. The Broncos alternate captain is a four-time member of the NCHC academic all-conference team and a four-time NCHC distinguished scholar-athlete, as well as a three-time AHCA All-American scholar. Bennett has played in 112 career games for WMU, recording 17 points, including an assist in 22 games this season and all three of his career goals last season. He plans on attending medical school upon graduation this spring.

Miettinen, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, was a unanimous NCHC all-rookie team selection and also garnered second team all-NCHC honors. He led all NCHC rookies in scoring with 23 points and 13 assists in 24 games this year. Miettinen finished second among conference rookies with both 10 goals (one game-winner) and 65 shots on goal. Ten of his points came on the power play to lead all NCHC rookies, including five power-play goals, while he notched seven multi-point games as a freshman.

Voting for the NCHC’s individual year-end playing awards was conducted by the eight head coaches at each school and eight media members, one covering each member school. Athletic directors also had a vote for the Herb Brooks Coach of the Year. Voting for the NCHC’s senior scholar-athlete award was conducted by the eight faculty athletics representatives at the NCHC schools.