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Best of the West Poll

I will have several articles/posts going up here in the next few days. I'm going to space them out so that we don't lost anything on the front page. You'll also notice I've changed the font and made the text larger. Someone (my wife) gave me a tip that I probably should make things easier to read.

First note of the week goes to the Annual Best of the West Poll conducted by Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald. Link to the article can be found here.

The Best in the West is a neat poll done each year, sending ballots out to players, coaches and management from the 10 teams in the Western Conference. I don't think I need to re-post each one of the poll results, you all can go over and take a look at them for yourself... but let's hammer the highlights (and low lights).

Best Fans: Everett - 82.9% (Seattle 0%)

This comes as no surprise as Everett has now won this poll 5 years in a row. As much as "we" dislike Everett fans, I can't really objectively argue with this. Everett averages over 5,100* fans this season (which is down 9.38% from last) which is good for 4th best in the Western Conference, but their fans are always loud and support the team very well. Everett may not have the highest "hockey smart" fans in the league but lately I have begun to question how "hockey smart" Seattle fans are, so I can't really complain as much about that as I may have in the past.

Probably most surprising to me is that Spokane ranks only 5th. Spokane averages nearly 6,000* fans per game and their attendance is only off 2.61% this season.

Seattle comes in tied for last with Chilliwack and quite frankly this doesn't surprise me either. Our Tbirds average only 3,456* and I've seen too many people threaten to "cancel their season tickets"/"not pay for this anymore" to really call Tbird fans a loyal bunch.

*Attendance figures are only through the end of 2009 so they are by no means 100% accurate.

Top Coach: Don Hay, Vancouver 63.9%

Pretty tough to argue with a guy who is about to win his 5th straight B.C. Division title and has 3 Memorial Cup rings.

Marc Habscheid is second and that probably has more to do with track record than current record, but I can't really argue with that either.

For the "axe grinders" Sumner did not receive a vote and

Top Executive: Scott Bonner, Vancouver 62.2%

Another obvious choice in a Conference that is filled with good top Execs. Bonner reloads every season and finds a way (maybe it isn't very tough in Van?) to recruit college kids to come over to Vancouver (like Kevin Connauton, who came over from Western Michigan).

Mike Johnston was the 2nd choice and while this might surprise some, it's hard to argue with his early success. Johnston has presided over an incredible turnaround in Portland and was able to bring in players like Taylor Aronson, Spencer Bennett, Ryan Johansen and Mac Carruth.

Russ Farwell received no votes and quite frankly with the Tbirds in full rebuilding mode that really isn't a shock. Seattle is arguably in this position because Farwell rolled the dice last season by not trading his best assets at the deadline and as a result Seattle lost a ton of talent in the offseason and got only a first round playoff exit in return.

Top Rookie: Nino Niederreiter, Portland 77.8%

Nino gets the nod as the top rookie beating out Shane McColgan, Connauton and Ryan Johansen. I hate forming opinions based only on stats... but I think Johansen is probably the top "rookie" on the Portland team and thus probably should have gotten the nod here. Nino has more goals but Johansen has more assists and a +/- twice as good.

McColgan is the real deal and should be another NHL'er in the factory line they have going on up in Kelowna. Connauton has been really good for Vancouver and Murray has been an early success for Everett. Quite frankly I'm surprised to see Radko Gudas make this list.

Most Valuable to Team: Calvin Pickard, Seattle 65.6%

I have to admit I was surprised by this. Not because Calvin doesn't deserve it (because he does) but kudos for the pollsters for recognizing that Calvin really has been the most valuable to his team. Calvin easily beats out Howse from Chilliwack and Connolly from Prince George. I find it interesting to see Connolly on this list because I don't know that Prince George is really that much better if he was playing more this season. A little better... sure but I guess I would argue that Harper or Barrie are more important to their teams than Connolly.

Best Stay-At-Home D-Man: Jared Cowen, Spokane 67.8%

Cowen gets the nod here and I think I agree with this. Cowen is definitely the center piece to what is a generally stingy Chief defense.

Same goes for Tyler Schmidt and Gudas who both are probably the best defenders on teams that have been very stingy giving up goals.

David Musil getting a mention here at age 16 tells you just how advanced he is already.

Hardest Shot: Connauton, Vancouver 41.5%

We didn't really get to see a lot of Connauton's slapper last night but his wrister was wicked and beat Pickard once through a bit of a screen and once to an open net with everyone down in the crease.

I'm starting to feel like I need to watch Radko Gudas a lot more closely because I thought his game was pretty much just hitting/physical but he is mentioned here as the 3rd choice for hardest shot. Maybe he is a lot better than I thought.

Top Faceoff Man: Tyler Johnson, Spokane 80.8%

Johnson is the runaway choice here and is followed by Dailey, Shinnimin, Wahl, Johansen and Sundher.

Most Accurate Shot: Ryah Howse, Chilliwack 81.0%

Howse is the selection here. The 18 year old has 38 goals this season after notching 31 in his 17 year old season.

Kyle Beach is a distant 2nd but leads the league in goals with a career high 42 goals. We have all seen in person how accurate the Shane Harper shot is and we got to see last night how good the Connauton shot is.

Toughest Player: Tayler Jordan, Portland 51.3%

Not sure I agree with this one. At 6'6", 200 lbs Jordan isn't afraid to fight with anyone and let's be honest, his sole purpose on the Winterhawks is to fight people. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that, I have respect for any player willing to put their knuckles and face on the line for the good of the team.

Personally I'd have to go with Mitchell Callahan. Every guy on the list is at least 6'1 and 200 lbs and Callahan runs around at 5'11" and 175. Obviously I love Ramsay so I'm glad he made this list too... but any players under 6' willing to take on anyone gets my vote.

Most Improved Player: Brendan Shinnimin, Tri-City 73.8%

Hard to argue with this one. Shinnimin had 25 points last season and already has 67 in 56 games this season. This would be like if Brendan Rouse became a 1.2 point per game player next season. Simply a huge leap forward for the 18 year old. Also making this list is Craig Cunningham who had 50 points last season and currently leads the league in scoring with 86. Not quite as big of a jump but still impressive. Think of Cunningham like what Charles Wells would be if next season he doubled his point totals and went from .72 points per game to 1.42.

Best Overage Player: Shane Harper, Everett 60.4%

I guess... I'm probably a little biased but I think Prab is better than Harper and Prab has had to earn his points on a team that isn't as good. It's hard to argue with the numbers though. Harper leads him in points 66 to 54 and has a much better Plus/Minus at +30 to Rai's -4 (which is darn good on this team).

Johnny Lazo, Jared Spurgeon, Chris Francis and Dallas Jackson also with votes. I would say this is a bit of a down year for Overage players.

Top Defensive Forward: Tyler Johnson, Spokane 85.2%

Tyler Johnson is a pretty good player... scratch that... a really good player. Show me a player who dominates faceoffs, plays defense and scores at a point per game pace and I'll show you the true MVP of the Western Conference. Did I mention he also only has 24 PIM's? Of course he's good... he has a good hockey name.

Best 16-Year-Old: Shane McColgan, Kelowna 94.7%

No typo there, 94.7% listed McColgan on their ballot and this was a pretty easy choice. McColgan has 62 points in 59 games as a true rookie, his only blemish being a -17 rating.

Ryan Murray, David Musil, Jesse Forsberg, Colin Smith and Ty Rattie also received votes. A little surprised that Colin Jacobs got no votes but I also think that accurately reflects that Jacobs still has room for improvement. I have zero doubt that Jacobs will eventually be a star and this poll doesn't change my opinion one bit.

Best Goaltender: Pickard, Seattle 89.2%

Never a contest here. Owsley and Reid finish 2nd and 3rd and no offense to them but if they are #2 and #3 this isn't even close. I'm pretty comfortable in my opinion that Pickard is the best goaltender in the WHL right now. Put Pickard on a veteran team right now and I think you would be ready for some hockey in May.

Simpson and Heemskerk have had good seasons and also get mentions along with Kurtis Mucha.

If I were Portland.. I would be afraid... very afraid.

Best Skater: Prab Rai, Seattle 64.1%

I haven't seen anyone with more flash than Prab Rai this season, so this makes sense to me.

Brandon McMillan, Johnny Lazo, that Tyler Johnson kid (again), Tyson Barrie and Shane Harper also receive votes.

Most Underrated Player: Shane Harper, Everett 30.6%

This doesn't surprise me... only because I honestly didn't know how good Harper's numbers were until I looked them up. That pretty well defines being underrated.

Lazo, Cunningham (can you lead the league in scoring and be underrated? I suppose you can), Shinnimin, Francis and Prab Rai gets votes here as well.

Most Irritating Player: Kyle Beach, Spokane 49.7%

No surprise here, though Beach appears to be much more focused this season than seasons past.

Brad Ross, Callahan, Lance Bouma, Dailey and Brendan Gallagher get votes here as well.

Best Pro Prospect: Nino Niederreiter, Portland 58.4%

I probably would have voted for either him or Calvin Pickard. I think Pickard is a special talent and I'd have to see Niederreiter more often to know if he is on the same level but he seems to have earned that reputation.

Connolly finishes 2nd here and you'd have to hope his injury troubles will end soon. Howse is 3rd, Pickard 4th with Cowen and Sbisa bringing up the back end.

Top Referee: Andy Thiessen 52.6%

Being a referee is a difficult job. You're doing your job well when nobody notices you. I know some people think Thiessen sucks but I have to admit that I don't very often have a problem with the games he calls. I also have to admit that I haven't noticed Hanson or Papp that much so they must be doing a pretty good job as well. Hanson was the referee last night and I didn't have a problem with anything major last night.

Pat Smith on the other hand has no business being on this list. Yuck... I can't believe he finished 4th.

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