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Who's in the frame for top awards as Belfast Giants fans go to the polls?



In contention: David Goodwin

In contention: David Goodwin

William Cherry/Presseye

Kevin Raine

Kevin Raine

William Cherry/Presseye

In contention: David Goodwin

It was over six weeks ago on March 13 that the Elite League (EIHL) cancelled its season, ending the Belfast Giants' title defence six games early.

It had been an up-and-down year for the reigning EIHL champions, the early highs of the CHL dampened by an inconsistent campaign, with a watertight defence let down by a misfiring offense most nights.

The Giants though were still in the running for the league title when the season came to a close, albeit they were four points adrift of the Cardiff Devils, but the 2019/20 term is destined to be one of 'what ifs', for more reason than one.

What will be certain, however, is that the Giants will still be handing out their annual end of season awards, with fans having been asked to vote online for their winners, which will be collated and used to determine this year's winners, which are due to be announced later in the week.

Here, we take a look at who might be in the running for each individual accolade.

Defenceman of the Year

It was a season where the Giants excelled defensively, leading the shortened Elite League campaign in goals per game against and shots per game against as the team's defensive corps did well at protecting netminders Shane Owen and Stephen Murphy on a nightly basis.

In that regard, Kevin Raine, as the stay-at-home d-man, is certainly in the running, having led the way with his usual abnormally high blocked shot count, getting himself in front of 109 efforts, an incredible 44 more than any other d-man on the team.

He was complemented by the physical play of captain Matt Pelech, who shut down threats with his imposing brand of defence and led the team's d-men with a +13 rating, while Mark Garside also had arguably one of his best seasons in teal as he switched between defence and fourth-line centre.

And while his points production declined from his first year, Curtis Leonard came into his own as a premier defender in 2019/20, suiting up for every game and leading Giants d-men in penalty minutes (26).

Forward of the Year

It wasn't a hallmark year for forwards at the SSE Arena as the Giants limped to sixth in the EIHL in goals per game despite having the most shots per game.

Still, there were some good campaigns and, as top scorer across the season, notching 17 goals and 47 points in 60 games, Jordan Smotherman is naturally in the mix, while mid-season signings Elgin Pearce (0.88) and David Goodwin (0.85) provided notable boosts to the forward corps and were the only two forwards to record a points per game ratio north of 0.8, with the latter finishing the season with a team-leading +15 rating.

Centre Brian Ward finished second in team scoring with 46 points and his peripheral stats were also strong as he led the team in face-off wins and tied for most powerplay goals (four) alongside Pearce, Liam Morgan and Ben Lake.

Fans' Favourite

A hard category to narrow down, there are few on the Giants team that don't find favour with the fans in the stands.

The returning players always have an advantage and Kevin Raine's declaration he will be back next season will no doubt endear him to the fans even more, while Brits Mark Garside, Lewis Hook, Ciaran Long, Stephen Murphy and Paul Swindlehurst are popular too.

As the season went on, however, favourites from the new arrivals also emerged, with the likes of Bobby Farnham getting his own banner behind the West Lounge net, and Matt Pelech's approach to the game found plenty of favourable reviews.

Most Valuable Player

The majority of these candidates will have already been mentioned in previous categories, but it will be another tough choice for fans to determine who was MVP in 2019/20.

Elgin Pearce and David Goodwin's contributions after joining the team are notable, invigorating the scoring after a tough stretch and driving the Giants towards the play-offs, while Jordan Smotherman's overall contribution across the whole season cannot be overlooked.

On the back end, the bruising blocked count shot of Kevin Raine as one of the league's elite d-men has him in the mix again, while Curtis Leonard's strong campaign is a contender too.

Belfast Telegraph