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Pontiacs on the shortlist for AJHL awards

BONNYVILLE – When Joel Ray and Lucas Thorne started their careers with the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs three years ago, neither could have imagined they’d be where they are today.

The Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) announced the finalists for their league awards on Feb. 11, with Thorne snagging a nomination for most valuable player (MVP) and Ray in the running for most dedicated.

The annual awards see general managers and coaches selecting two players from each team in the division to nominate for each category through two phases of voting. Another round of voting will take place before the winners are announced at the completion of the AJHL regular season.

Ray described the nod as “special because there’s not that many nominees.”

“Knowing that I got… named as one of the most dedicated players in the AJHL is very important to me. I credit the team and town for getting me there,” the centre continued.

Ray isn’t a stranger to receiving praise for the work he does off the ice. During the 2017/18 season, he was named as part of the AJHL All-Academic Team.

As of Feb. 14, the 20-year-old had 26 points overall from 17 assists and nine goals.

He believes his leadership is what made him stand out this year.

“Being the captain, you have to be that guy that’s always keeping everything together,” he explained. “Along with my dedication on the ice making sure we’re out there working everyday, and also in the community with all the things that the Pontiacs get to do out there. It’s pretty easy to be a dedicated guy with all that stuff going on.”

When he heard Thorne also made the short list for the awards, Ray wasn’t surprised at all.

“He’s the MVP for our team, and I think he deserves it. He’s really important to our team, and for a guy that means the most to our team, I think he definitely should be nominated for the award.”

In 51 games played, Thorne recorded 30 goals and 49 assists for 79 points.

Thorne was part of the 2018/19 AJHL All-Academic Team, but this is his first nomination for a league award.

“It’s an honour to be amongst some other great hockey players, and I know there were some great hockey players nominated before me. Like (former Pontiac) Grayson Constable was nominated last year, and it’s just a privilege to be recognized for that.”

Thorne doesn’t believe he would be where he is today without the help of the Pontiacs coaching staff.

“Over the last three years, Rick Swan has helped me develop into the player I’ve become. If it wasn’t for him and the assistant coaches like T.J. Millar and Neil Langridge, I wouldn’t have grown into an MVP player.”

With their time on the team quickly coming to a close, Ray and Thorne look back fondly on the years they spent in Bonnyville.

“It’s exciting and upsetting at the same time,” noted Thorne. “I don’t want my Jr. A career to end, but I’m also excited for playoffs and to make a strong push here.”

Ray added, “It’s sad to know that it just flew by. Three years seems like a long time until you’re having fun everyday. It’s going to be sad to leave the ice for the final time when the season ends, but I’m looking forward to what my next chapter in life holds. I just hope that future Pontiacs that come after us build off what we’ve left here.”

Next year will see Thorne lacing up his skates for the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, United States. Ray hasn’t made any commitments yet, but is planning to stay in Canada as he looks at schools to continue his hockey career.

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle

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