Espanola’s Salem named finalist for CJHL Top Defenceman Award

CALGARY, Alta. – The Canadian Junior Hockey League announced Friday the five players who have been named finalists for the CJHL’s Top Defenceman Award for 2019-20.

Each of the nominees were determined through a voting process completed by each of the CJHL’s 10-member leagues, for their respective efforts during the course of the regular season.

The following are the five nominees for the CJHL’s Top Defenceman of 2019-20, which are listed alphabetically, by league.

Michael Benning, Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)

The Sherwood Park defenceman and NHL Draft prospect was selected as the AJHL’s outstanding defenceman and recipient of the W.G. (Bill) Scott Memorial Trophy, which recognizes the defensive player who demonstrates the greatest all-round ability in the position throughout the season. … Benning, from St. Albert, Alta., led all AJHL defencemen in points (75) and assists (63) and was 13th overall in AJHL scoring. … The 18-year-old averaged 1.4 points-per-game and was marked to enter the AJHL Record Book in fourth place for Most Assists by a Defenceman. … The second-year Crusader was twice recognized as the AJHL Defensive Player of the Week and as the AJHL Star of the Game five times in 2019-20. … Was ranked 60th among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings and was selected to participate in the 2020 CJHL Prospects Game in January. … He was then tabbed 57th overall by NHLCS in their final draft rankings released earlier this month. … He was a member of Team Canada West at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge in December and Team AJHL at the 2019 Junior Club World Cup in Russia last August. … Benning has committed to the University of Denver in the NCAA (Division I) for the 2021-22 season. … Named to the AJHL’s North Division All-League Team.

With files from: Charla Flett, Vice-President, Communications (AJHL)

Akito Hiroshe, Salmon Arm Silverbacks (BCHL)

The BCHL Top Defender award winner and future Minnesota State Mankato NCAA D-I defenceman played a pivotal role on the backend of the Silverbacks this season as a two-way stalwart and proven leader. … Led all BCHL blueliners in offensive production in both assists and points with 42 and 51 respectively. … Also tied for league-lead in game-winning goals, among league defencemen, with three. … Hirose’s development curve has been tremendous through four seasons in the BCHL. … He plays a modern game as a smooth skating, diligent two-way defender, who can play in all situations. … Played over 200 regular season games in the BCHL, with Salmon Arm, in his Jr. A career. … Hails from Sicamous, B.C. … Final stats: GP: 57; G: 9; A: 42; PTS: 51.

With files from: Jesse Adamson, Coordinator, Content Services (BCHL)

Brett Thorne, Carleton Place Canadians (CCHL)

The 1999-born Bedford, N.S. native finished first among league defensemen in points (74); goals (27); assists (47), power play goals (17), shorthanded goals (2), and game-winning goals (8). … Set personal single-season highs in goals, assists and points. … He also finished fourth overall in scoring among all league skaters and set the Carleton Place Canadians scoring record for defencemen. … Thorne’s 27 tallies were the most in a single season by a CCHL blueliner since the 2011-12 campaign. … Has committed to attend Michigan Tech University on NCAA Division I scholarship. … Final Stats: GP 62; G 27; A 47; PTS 74.

With files from: Sean Marcellus, Director of Hockey Operations (CCHL)

Mattais Salem, Espanola Express (NOJHL)

A breakout campaign saw the 20-year-old blueliner from Brampton, Ont., pace all NOJHL blueliners in offensive production. … He topped all league rearguards with 66 points. … This included notching a NOJHL-best 16 goals among defencemen, while also adding 50 assists along the way. … Salem also finished fourth in overall league scoring, marking the first time in two decades a defenceman finished in the Top 5, among all skaters, in that department. … He also earned both NOJHL Top Defenceman laurels and league Best Overall Team Player honour. … Salem went on to be named a NOJHL first team all-star on defence. … In 104 career contests, he produced 92 points on 24 tallies and 68 helpers.

With files from: David Harrison, Historian (NOJHL)

Sam Duchesne, Trenton Golden Hawks (OJHL)

In his second year with the OJHL, Duchesne proved to be one of the best defenceman in the league. … He finished the 2019-20 season with 55 points (14 goals/41 assists). … That placed him second in points as an OJHL defenseman and third overall on the Trenton roster in offensive numbers. … Duchesne was nominated as the OJHL Player of the Month for October 2019, and one month later played in the 2019-20 OJHL All Star Celebration. In that contest he assisted on one of the goals for Team Burns. … The 20-year-old Trenton captain led the Golden Hawks all season helping them finished second overall in their division. … The Brampton, Ont., native stacked up over 80 points in just two years with the OJHL.

With files from: Jim Mason, Director of Communications (OJHL)

Earning honourable mention for the CJHL Top Defenceman Award in 2019-20 were: Nicolas St. Pierre, Les Braves de Valleyfield (LHJAAAQ); Evan White, Edmundston Blizzard (MHL); Drake Burgin, Winkler Flyers (MJHL); Matthew Fletcher, Battlefords North Stars (SJHL) and Connor Kalthoff, Thief River Falls Norskies (SIJHL).