"I don't take a day for granted. I love coming to the rink."
Those words from Kelowna Rockets forward Andrew Cristall after, not surprisingly, being named the team's most valuable player during the club's annual awards ceremony.
After being shut down because of COVID, the Rockets returned to the Kelowna Community Theatre for the first time since 2019.
"I think there were a lot of deserving people for that award and I'm lucky to get it," said Cristall downplaying somewhat his accomplishments.
"Past Rocket MVP's, there's a lot of special name on that award and that list so it's definitely a big honour."
Cristall, expected to be selected in the opening round of the June NHL draft, joins a long list of MVP's including NHL'ers Jamie Benn, Colton Sissons, Cal Foote as well as Nolan Foote and last year's recipient goaltender Talyn Boyko.
With so much happening around him this season including all the draft hype, Cristall says it was easy to be motivated to come to the rink every day.
"It was an absolute whirlwind of a season and I wouldn't trade it for anything - it was an unbelievable experience.
"The guys on the team made it super fun and super easy.
"I think what motivated me was I got the privilege to play hockey every day and junior hockey in a city like this is pretty special."
Cristall also walked away with awards for the top plus/minus, finishing the year a plus 18 and leading scorer with 39 goals, 56 assists and 95 points.
Other award winners Sunday include:
- Top rookie - Ismail Abougouche
- Most improved - Jari Kykkanen
- Unsung hero - Carson Golder
- Top defensive forward - Gabriel Szturc
- Top defenceman Caden Price
- Most sportsmanlike Adam Kydd
- Scholastic player - Trae Johnson
- Humanitarian - John Babcock
The team also paid tribute to the three 20 year old who will end their junior career at the conclusion of the playoffs, Boyko, Kydd and Golder.
President and general manager Bruce Hamilton also singled out the team's 19-year-old group, one he said were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which he says hit during their most important developmental year.
With teams only allowed to keep three 20 year old, Hamilton and the Rockets will have to make some moves with five players set to enter their overage season. The team also still holds the WHL rights to 19-year-old defenceman Noah Dorey, who was removed from the active roster Jan. 10 after the team was unable to swing a trade prior to the trade deadline.
The Rockets get back to work Monday to prepare to face the Western Conference regular season champion Seattle Thunderbirds in the opening round of the playoffs.
The series opens with games Friday and Saturday in Seattle before coming to Kelowna for games three and four Tuesday April 4 and Wednesday April 5.