TORONTO – The Ontario League’s 2008 awards ceremony was held with heavy hearts Wednesday afternoon at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The most poignant part of the ceremony involved former NHLer and current head coach of the Windsor Spitfires Bob Boughner, who was awarded the Matt Leyden Trophy as OHL coach of the year.
Greg Gilbert, former OHL and Calgary Flames head coach and current bench boss of the American League’s Toronto Marlies, presented the trophy to Boughner. Gilbert recalled having coached Boughner in Calgary “for about three months,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to being fired 25 games into the 2002-03 season.
Upon taking the mic, the classy Boughner immediately turned Gilbert’s self-deprecating humor into kudos: “One of my great moments in hockey was when Greg Gilbert called me into his office to put the ‘C’ on my jersey on Calgary.”
But from there, Boughner’s speech got emotional. The Spitfires had to overcome tragedy this season when Mickey Renaud, their captain and heart-and-soul leader, collapsed and died suddenly at his parents’ home.
“It was a huge blow, a huge loss, a huge shock,” said the choked-up Boughner. “Our players had to deal with their own pain and suffering, but also the community’s.
“We dedicated the rest of the season to our fallen captain and picked-up 18 of a possible 20 points at the end,” he said. “I accept this award in memory of our captain, Mickey.”
The big winner of the day was Kitchener dynamo Justin Azevedo. Already the Canadian League’s player of the year, Azevedo won the Eddie Powers Trophy as the league’s top-scorer and the Red Tilson Trophy as its most outstanding player.
No wonder. Azevedo’s 126 regular season points led the entire CHL; his 36 playoff points led the OHL; and his 11 points led the Memorial Cup.
Azevedo credited his coaches and teammates with his huge season, which came within a point of equalling his combined output for the last two seasons.
“I have to thank my coaches for putting me on such a great line,” he said during his acceptance speech. “And I couldn’t have won a thing without my great linemates, (Nick) Spaling and (Matt) Halischuk.”
Already passed over in two NHL drafts, the diminutive Azevedo (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) isn’t likely to be overlooked in Ottawa later this month. He won’t be a high pick, but some team will take a chance on him. Azevedo was hopeful, but not cocky when asked about the draft and his hockey future.
“I hope to go this time around,” he said wistfully. “I haven’t heard anything. And I’d be happy to continue my career anywhere.”
The award winners were announced in late May, making the day’s festivities somewhat anti-climatic. Led by the melodious Jack Miller, the legendary OHL announcer, it was a day of cathartic celebration; closing the door on a season in which the Rangers failed to win the Memorial Cup on home ice and the league lost one of its bright lights under sad circumstances.