The azcentral.com Sports Awards, presented by Arby’s, will honor an Athlete of the Year in every sport at the event on April 30.
At the end of each season, azcentral sports will announce three finalists for each Athlete of the Year award. The finalists are listed alphabetically.
All three will be invited to the awards show where the winner will be announced live.
A Coach of the Year in every sport also will be selected at the end of each season. From the winter sports honors, a finalist for the overall Coach of the Year award will be announced and invited to the event.
Tickets are on sale for the event at sportsawards.azcentral.com.
Boys Ice Hockey Athlete of the Year finalists
School: Peoria Centennial
Declan George is an Arizona-bred hockey player.
He grew up watching the Arizona Coyotes and admired the way Daniel Briere, his favorite player, could find the back of the net from anywhere on the ice.
His grandma had Coyotes season tickets, leading him to lace up his skates for the first time at 4 years old.
“I’d just go the games, sit up against the glass and watch, watch, watch,” he said. “The season tickets came with free passes to ice skating lessons, and I was the closest one who lived to the rink, so I got them.”
Fast forward 13 years, George is a Division 2 state champion, piloting Centennial to a 4-1 victory over Phoenix Horizon.
That game is a snapshot to the contribution he made in the state tournament run. George led in total points (12), goals (six) and assists (six). That effort earned him the championship’s MVP title.
For the season, he had 20 goals, 12 assists and 32 points.
“He makes everyone around him a better player,” Centennial coach Greg Vaughn said. “He has a unique ability to see the ice and make plays better than most players his age. He’s a true team player with nasty hands.”
This season, he was a captain for the first time. Looking back, he said it’s what made this season stick out from the rest.
“This year, the team really came together as one,” he said. “I had to discover how to compromise playing my game and learning the responsibilities a captain has and what my players look up to me for. Once I had that figured out, I was able to find my groove.”
School: Phoenix Pinnacle
Recently, Blake Hermann shook hands and talked with Gov. Doug Ducey.
The meeting was because his team earned a spot to compete in the 2017 USA Hockey National Championship in Cleveland. As the captain, he’s at the helm of representing Pinnacle’s success in the hockey world.
“It was really cool to talk with him for a bit,” he said. “That and all the fundraising we are doing to be able to go to nationals – it helps get our name out there.”
Pinnacle coach Glenn Karlson is familiar with Hermann’s skill set on the ice, serving as a coach to Hermann’s older brothers, Justin and Kyle.
There’s a leadership gene, too, that passed on to Hermann when he inherited the “C” last season.
“He plays a foot bigger than he really is,” Karlson said. “He’s a big hitter, he’s very physical and he’s verbal in the sense of keeping the team accountable. When you have a senior looking down at the freshman saying you need to skate, you’re like, ‘Yep, no problem.’ ”
Hermann leads defensemen in the Arizona High School Hockey Association league in goals (six) and total points (12).
But aside from the accomplishments, it’s off the ice moments that make a season memorable.
It’s a family effort.
“We just came together as friends and teammates,” Hermann said. “The late night practices out at Peoria then going out to Chick-fil-A afterwards, just hanging out having fun and bonding as a team.”
School: Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor
Paxton Parker said that luck had a lot to do with his success on the ice this season.
Luck, and his 16-year-old brother, Mason, who played on the same line with him for O’Connor.
“We really just found each other,” he said. “That’s one of the certain things about this year that was special. We grew up playing hockey and everything we know how the other works. It was definitely a brother thing.”
Whether it was luck or having his brother skate beside him, Parker had 30 points, leading the Arizona High School Hockey Association. His 18 goals also put him first among scorers and third in assists with 12.
“He’s the kind of player that you want a team of,” O’Connor coach Bob Halt said. “He has all the attributes that you look for. It’s not just the skill that makes the team or the player. It’s the all-around coachable, respect and being supportive to the team.”
That respect comes naturally for Parker. Although he grew up playing the game with his brother, he’s either played with or competed against other young skaters in the Valley.
It makes ending his high school career on a high note all the more sweeter.
“It’s really cool, because I see some of the other players on these teams, like Blake (Hermann), who I played with him when I was younger,” he said. “They’re good hockey players. Just to know, that I’m recognized out of all of them – it’s really humbling.”
Coach of the Year
Season recap: After hanging up his skates in 2012, Karlson didn’t think he’d return to coaching hockey. But after coaches and parents persuaded him to take the reins again, he helped the program capture its fourth USA Hockey National Championship bid. He didn’t show any signs of rust after a five-year hiatus from the game. Under Karlson, Pinnacle rebounded from a 6-14 season last year to a 16-1 finish, the only loss coming to O’Connor in November. In the state tournament semifinal, Pinnacle knocked off Horizon 3-2, then beat Notre Dame Prep 4-2 for the state title.
Coach Karlson’s comments: “The great thing about this team is that, for the seniors, their hockey career had a finite date. Every game they got to play, it was one less game they got to play for Pinnacle. We have such a large senior core, so you could see that resonate in the room. This is the most successful season collectively for this group of boys in the last three to four years. So going out as a group that didn’t do so well last year, or the year before either, then all of a sudden be able to turn it around and realize this was it, it was special.”
Arizona High School Hockey Association All-Arizona Team
Trevor Beneduce, Brophy Prep
Ryan Berger, Cactus Shadows
Declan George, Centennial
Joe Mancuso, Chaparral
Jack Kirkpatrick, Desert Vista
Paxton Parker, Sandra Day O’Connor
Cole Kamin, Pinnacle
Grant Ziegler, Pinnacle
Brendan Kuffel, Shadow Ridge
Jordan Behm, Cactus Shadows
Erik Tollefson, Desert Vista
Jacob Sandnas, Hamilton
Marcus Koumontzis, Notre Dame
Blake Hermann, Pinnacle
Logan Derryberry, Pinnacle
Cameron Judge, Notre Dame Prep
Darshan Manhas, Centennial