Defenseman Matt Koch has been named the 2015 North American Hockey League Defenseman of the Year, it was announced Monday, as a fruitful awards season for the Wichita Falls Wildcats continues.
Koch, who was tabbed as the South Division's top blue-liner last week, was also selected to the All-NAHL team. He is the first player in Wildcats history to be honored with a year-end award as the top performer at his position, which he says is the culmination of years of hard work.
"I'm very excited and honored to receive this award after two great years in Wichita Falls," Koch said. "I learned so much from [Wildcats Head Coach] John [LaFontaine], [former head coach and current Team President and General Manager] Paul [Baxter] and [Assistant Coach] Chris [Ceransky] during my time with the Wildcats. I also want to thank the owners, Roy Davoult and Alex Shnayderman, for their support, and of course, I need to thank all of my teammates from the past two years. This award would not be possible without them pushing me to improve every day."
As one of just two veterans on the blue line at the start of the season, the Wildcats looked to Koch to take on a leadership role in 2014-15, and the Minnesota-born defenseman did not disappoint. Koch recorded a point in 11 of the first 13 games of the year, setting a tone of consistency that would be a key theme to his game throughout the season according to Coach LaFontaine.
"From day one, Matt was a strong, dependable presence on the ice and in the locker room," LaFontaine said. "Whether it was coming early to set up or staying on the ice late for extra shooting practice, Matt's dedication and drive to constantly improve his game while also helping his teammates improve was something we could count on every day.
Koch's commitment to cultivating his craft paid off in spades on the ice, as he registered 51 points (seven goals, 44 assists) to tie for the league-lead in scoring amongst NAHL blue-liners, and set a new franchise record for most points in a single season by a defenseman.
In addition to establishing a new club record for points in a single season by a defenseman, 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). He will also leave Wichita Falls with the second-most career points by a Wildcats defenseman (68).
With the Defenseman of the Year award serving as a nice cap to a successful junior career, Koch will now turn his attention to his next challenge; basic training at the United States Air Force Academy.
"It will be a different kind of challenge, but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Transitioning back into school after two years of nothing but hockey will be exciting, and it will be nice to see some of my old Wildcats teammates again."