A strong season for the Swift Current Broncos wrapped up with two more accolades.
The WHL honoured forward Aleksi Heponiemi with the Jim Piggot Memorial Trophy as WHL Rookie of the Year and forward Tyler Steenbergen with the Brad Hornung Trophy for Most Sportsmanlike Player.
"It certainly is a great accomplishment for both our players," said Broncos Coach/Director of Player Personnel Manny Viveiros. "Not only just the players but it's a team award. Those guys certainly wouldn't have had the seasons they did without great complimentary teammates to help them out throughout the year. Both very well deserving. So happy for the kids and both those kids put the time and effort in to do it the right way."
Heponiemi entered the league as a 17-year-old fresh from Finland listed at only 5'10 and 141lbs. Despite that he became one of the most dangerous offensive weapons on the WHL with 28 goals and 58 assists while playing in all 72 regular season games.
"We knew he was good coming but we didn't expect he would be that good," Viveiros said. "For him to come over to North America his first time over here with a new language, new culture and a different league... how well and how quickly he adjusted was a surprise for us. We were so happy at the way he continued to develop throughout the whole year. He's only going to get better."
Often it takes rookies a while to adjust to the WHL game and that's especially true for those adapting to a new culture in a new country. Heponiemi never skipped a beat.
"I just think he's a special player," Viveiros said. "Any special players they can adapt under any type of circumstances. The biggest thing with Aleksi is he has to get a little bit faster and a little bit stronger. That will come in time just by maturing. He'll put the work in. He'll come back stronger, a little bit faster and continue working on his skills."
For Steenbergen it was a breakout season going from 20 goals as a 17-year-old to a league leading 51 as an 18-year-old.
"Tyler is another example of a young man coming into this league as a 16-year-old and maybe taking a bit of time to develop here," Viveiros said. "His development curve has been unbelievable. Everything that he's got is all deserved. There's very few people on our hockey team that work as hard as him. A great young man and he's a leader in our dressing room as well. Whoever is going to draft him this year, and he will get drafted, is going to have a very good hockey player."
The jump in goal scoring didn't just come because of a lethal shot.
"Tyler understood what he had to do to score goals," Viveiros said. "It's not just the wrist shot that he has developed, but the work he has put into it as to where he scores goals. He scores a lot of goals right in front of the crease area which is the most dirty area to play. It's also his 200 foot game. He's come back and learned to be a really good defensive player too which translates to spending less time in our zone."
Steenbergen took only 22 minutes in penalties and that translated to an award for sportsmanship. The Broncos still felt he played a hard game.
"He plays the game at such a high level, he plays the game fair and he plays it hard," Viveiros noted. "His ability to stay out of the penalty box does translate to being on the ice more in key situations. He's a very smart hockey player and his ability to play hard and fair is why he got chosen for this award."
Regina Pats forward Sam Steel won the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy for WHL MVP. If they continue to develop on the same path Viveiros could see Steenbergen and Heponiemi being candidates for that prestigious award one day.