04/16/2016 7:00 PM
Article By: Alec Lessner
Rockford, Ill. – Shortly before the Rockford IceHogs final regular season game against the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday, the team announced the club’s award winners for the 2015-16 campaign.
The awards were presented to the winners by the Chicago Blackhawks General Manager of Minor League Affiliates, Mark Bernard, and several season ticket holders in a special pre-game ceremony.
Goaltender Michael Leighton earned the IceHogs Most Valuable Player award for the second-straight year after putting together a record-breaking regular-season performance. The veteran netminder followed up a five shutout season in 2014-15 with five more perfect performances to set the AHL’s all-time shutout record (46). Leighton’s inspired play helped the team to its second consecutive playoff berth, and earned a call up to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he played in his first NHL game in three seasons. The Petrolia, Ontario native finished with a 28-8-3 record, and compiled a 2.44 goal against average in addition to a .918 save percentage. Despite missing the final month of the season due to his call up, Leighton still ranks in the top-15 among goaltenders in wins, goals against average, and save percentage.
The Rookie of the Year award went to Vince Hinostroza, who led the team with 48 points (16g-32a) entering the final contest. In his first season out of Notre Dame, Hinostroza played 66 games with the IceHogs in addition to seven tilts with the Blackhawks. The Bartlett, Illinois native scored the game-winning goal three times for Rockford and led the team in multi-point games (12).
Blueliner Ville Pokka was named the Defenseman of the Year following his Rookie of the Year award last season after putting up 10 goals and a team-leading 33 assists entering tonight’s season finale. The second-year Finn was the only IceHogs player to dress for each game of the 2015-16 season. Pokka ranked first among Rockford defensemen in both goals and assists, and matched his previous season total of five power-play goals.
The Heavy Hitter award was awarded to forward Mike Liambas. Liambas made a seamless transition to the IceHogs roster, and proved to be a force to be reckoned with for opposing teams. The 27-year-old led the team in penalty minutes (179) and ranked first in the American Hockey League with 19 major penalties.
Team captain Jake Dowell received the Unsung Hero award. In his 9th professional season, Dowell joined the team on a PTO before earning a guaranteed contract and proved to be a veteran presence and source of leadership. The University of Wisconsin product also had the most productive season of his professional career, as he put up personal bests in goals (11), assists (24), and points (35).
Kirill Gotovets took home the team’s Most Improved Player award. In his second professional season, Gotovets proved to be an essential cog in the IceHogs defense. He played in 61 games entering the season finale, and put up 15 points (2g-13a) after playing in 12 games for Rockford last season.
Michael Leighton also earned the IceHogs Man of the Year award for his dedication and commitment to bettering the lives of those in the Rockford community. Leighton contributed to and created countless initiatives to help the team give back to fans and the underprivileged. With the help of his wife, Jennifer, the goaltender reserved suites to host families going through hard times as a part of his “Leighton’s Minions” program, and convinced Blackhawks and IceHogs teammates to sign “mystery pucks” on multiple occasions to help raise money for the team’s charitable causes. Leighton also drove his teammates to put together personalized baskets for a silent auction on Autism Awareness Night, which contributed to a final total of over $20,000 raised.
The following is a summary of the 2015-16 Rockford IceHogs Awards: