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Vezina Trophy and Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award finalists announced

More award noms, one less day until playoff hockey

2018 NHL Global Series Finland - Winnipeg Jets v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The National Hockey League announced finalists for both the Vezina Trophy - awarded “to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position” - and the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award - given “to an individual who – through the sport of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society” - yesterday.

Here are the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, in alphabetical order:

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck (31-21-5, 2.57 GAA, .922 SV%) backstopped the Jets to a place in the Western Conference Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 9-ranked team, leading all goaltenders in games (t-58), shots faced (1,796), saves (1,656) and shutouts (six). He ranked second overall in starts (56), wins (31) and minutes (3,268:33). The 27-year-old Commerce, Mich., native recorded 31 of the 37 Jets wins (83.8%), the second-highest percentage among goaltenders on the 24 teams set to resume play. Hellebuyck faced 37-or-more shots on 13 occasions and posted a 10-1-2 record, 2.08 GAA and .949 SV% in those contests, including a career-high 51 saves in a 3-2 win at San Jose Nov. 1 in which the Jets were outshot 53-19. Hellebuyck is a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time in three seasons (2nd in 2017-18) and is seeking to become the first goaltender in Jets/Thrashers history to capture the award.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Rask (26-8-6, 2.12 GAA, .929 SV%) helped the Bruins win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top-ranked club during the regular season and teamed with Jaroslav Halak to win the William Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders on the team allowing the fewest regular-season goals. Rask led the NHL in goals-against average, ranked second in save percentage and shared second place in shutouts (five). He became the third goaltender in NHL history to post a 20-game home point streak to start the season (14-0-6) and recorded his eighth 20-win campaign, joining Bruins legends Tiny Thompson, Frank Brimsek and Gerry Cheevers. The Savonlinna, Finland, native reached the 50-shutout career milestone on March 10, his 33rd birthday, stopping 36 shots in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia. Rask, who captured the Vezina Trophy in 2013-14, is vying for his second win in as many appearances as a finalist.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Highlighted by a 21-game point streak (19-0-2) over a two-month period, Vasilevskiy posted an NHL-best 35 wins (35-14-3, 2.56 GAA, .917 SV%), marking the third consecutive season he has led or tied for the League lead in the category. He won 21 of his last 27 starts (21-5-1) from Dec. 23 through the pause in play on March 11, helping the Lightning jump from the ninth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference (.559, 17-13-4) to second-best (.657, 43-21-6). That run included a personal 10-game winning streak at AMALIE Arena from Dec. 23 – Feb. 15 (1.89 GAA, .937 SV%), becoming the first goaltender in franchise history to post a double-digit home win streak. Overall, Vasilevskiy ranked third in starts (t-52), minutes (3,121:54), shots faced (1,605) and saves (1,472).The Tyumen, Russia, native, who celebrates his 26th birthday on July 25, is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and a finalist for the third consecutive season (3rd in 2017-18).

Following are the finalists for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, in alphabetical order:

Dampy Brar, Apna Hockey (Calgary, Alberta)

Brar, alongside Lali Toor, co-founded Apna Hockey, an initiative that provides a network and support for South Asian hockey players. A former professional hockey player himself, playing in both the International Hockey League and the West Coast Hockey League, Brar works tirelessly to mentor and teach youth hockey, including coaching his own children’s teams. Brar was the first child on both sides of his family to be born outside of India and continues to play a major role in bringing hockey to his family’s native country. He worked with Hayley Wickenheiser and the Wickfest team in 2018 to bring the first-ever women’s hockey team to Canada from Leh Ladakh, India, where he travelled with the team to provide mentorship and support as an advocate for women’s hockey. Brar revisited Leh Ladakh in 2019 to watch the women’s team and provide them the support that female hockey players in India often do not receive. During that time, he also made a trip to a college in Punjab, India to mentor students of a roller hockey program.

Alexandria Briggs-Blake, Tucker Road Ducks Hockey (Oxon Hill, MD)

The Tucker Road Ducks are a predominantly African American ice hockey team in Maryland that suffered a devastating fire in 2017, which left their rink destroyed and their team without a place to play. Briggs-Blake, President of the Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization (TRPHO) and mother of former Tucker Road Ducks players, used her passion for hockey to rally her community together to build a new rink. Through her leadership and advocacy efforts, over $20M was secured and the new rink is projected to be completed by February of 2021. Briggs-Blake knows the lasting impact hockey can have on kids and does everything she can to provide access to the sport, including providing full sets of equipment for players and through a partnership with the Parks and Planning committee (M-NCPPC) offers low registration fees and accommodations for families who are unable to afford those fees. A community hero, ally, friend, mentor and mother, Briggs-Blake is an inspiration to the hockey community. She remains dedicated to the sport and has made it her mission to continue spreading her love for hockey and recruiting new players to the Tucker Road Ducks.

John Haferman, Columbus Ice Hockey Club (Columbus, OH)

Haferman is the co-founder of the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC), an organization dedicated to developing life and leadership skills in youth from some of Central Ohio’s most diverse and underserved populations. Over the past three decades, more than 30,000 kids, many of whom would have never had the chance to see or experience hockey in their lives, have been brought together through the program to develop core values to use for the rest of their lives. With Haferman’s leadership and more than $300,000 in disseminated scholarships, the CIHC supports and encourages participants off the ice to pursue education and become career-focused citizens. In 2019, Haferman partnered with local sled and special-needs hockey programs to offer a Try Hockey For Free clinic designed for athletes with visual impairments, resulting in a new hockey organization. Haferman continues to use hockey to build equality within communities, including wounded veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ populations in his quest to prove hockey is for everyone.

We are now exactly two weeks away from the opening of the Florida Panthers best-of-five series with the New York Islanders. Excited?