Defenseman Matt Koch of the Wichita Falls Wildcats has been named the North American Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year for the South Division, while Team President and General Manager Paul Baxter received South Division General Manager of the Year honors, it was announced Thursday.
“I'm honored and proud to receive this award,” Koch said. “I could not have done it without my teammates; I just passed it to them, they did all of the hard work, putting the puck in the net. We had a great group of guys this year, and even though the season ended earlier than we wanted, I could not have asked for a better way to end my junior career.”
In addition to collecting the South Division's Defenseman of the Year award, Koch was also selected to the NAHL All-South team following a record-setting season that saw him develop into a leader for Wichita Falls in more ways than one.
“Matt was hungry to take on a leadership role from day one of this season, both on and off the ice,” said Wildcats Head Coach John LaFontaine. “Whether it was a big defensive play late in a game or a timely pass to set up a chance on offense, he did it all for us this season. He is very deserving of this award, and we are excited to watch him continue his career at the Air Force Academy next year.”
After a solid first campaign for the Wildcats last year, Koch posted 51 points on seven goals and a team-high 44 assists in 2014-15, tying him with Anthony Cortese of Corpus Christi for most points by a league defenseman, and setting multiple team records in the process.
In addition to establishing a new franchise record for points in a single season by a defenseman (51), the Minnesota-born Koch also set new team high-water marks for assists in a single season by a defenseman (44); career assists by a defenseman (61); most power-play assists by a defenseman in a single season (18); most power-play assists by a defenseman in a career (21); best career plus-minus (plus-36). The blueliner will also leave Wichita Falls with the second-most career points by a defenseman (68).
For Baxter, who is in his first season as part of the organization's executive team, the award for South Division GM of the Year follows a season in which Wichita Falls dressed 12 skaters with Division I commitments.
“Putting together a successful season is always a team effort.” Baxter said. “I'd like to thank our ownership partners, Alex Shnayderman and Roy Davoult, for their support this season. Our coaching staff, led by Head Coach John LaFontaine and Assistant Coach Chris Ceransky, deserves much recognition for the remarkable job they did in developing our players, both on and off the ice. Our front office staff did yeomen's work this season, including Ben Horner, Debi Fleetwood, Kelly Morris and all of our other support staff, interns, off-ice officials, volunteers and so many others.