With the 2021-22 regular season safely behind them, the Aberdeen Wings travel to face the Austin Bruins in the Central Division semifinals, a best-of-five series to move onto the division finals in two weeks.
When the dust settled on the regular season, the Wings were in third place overall in the division with 67 league points, which came from a 31-24-3-2 record.
University of Alaska-Fairbanks commit Cade Neilson led the team in goals, assists and overall points, racking up 26 goals and 49 assists on the season for 75 total league points. Wings captain Kyle Gaffney was second overall on the team with 46 league points (14 goals, 32 assists), while Jacob Bosse (12 goals, 22 assists), Will Gilson (10 goals, 24 assists) and Ronan Walsh (21 goals, 12 assists) rounded out the top five with 34, 34 and 33 points, respectively.
Gaffney notched seven power play goals on the season, while Walsh and Neilson each recorded six. Neilson led the team with 13 power play assists; Gaffney and Gilson had eleven apiece. Neilson and Seamus Campbell led the squad with five game-winning goals each, while Gilson claimed three.
Neilson also claimed the team’s top +/- score, ending with +18, while Bosse, Gilson and defenseman Kevin MacKay each ended +10.
But the Wings recently handed out season awards that went deeper than just the statistics show. While some players recorded consistent points, others performed behind the scenes to help their team to victory. The players, coaches, staff and media all voted on end-of-season awards to honor several members who made a big difference.
Rookie of the Year — Landry Schmuck
The 2021-22 Rookie of the Year is ’03 forward Landry Schmuck, who notched eleven goals and eleven assists during the regular season. The Huntsville, AL native earned consistent power play time, scoring a power play goal and adding three power play assists, and also recorded two game-winning goals. Wings head coach Steve Jennings said Schmuck learned to play at a fast pace quickly, and he described him as a smaller guy who has gotten much more physical over the course of the season.
“Landry has made a real impact as a first-year player,” Jennings said. “He worked himself onto our power play and has been a regular presence in the lineup. He’s grown his game, getting more physically involved and learning how to use his speed, vision and shot in a way to be a steady impact on the game.”
Most Improved Player — Luke Amell
Luke Amell, an ’03 defenseman from Mars, PA appeared in 36 games this season, notching a goal and three assists. He’s a strong presence on the ice standing at 6’4″ and coach Jennings said he started playing with more creativity, improved his defensive decision-making skills and improved his stick and puck skills dramatically. And, Jennings added, Amell was deserving of this award as 13 separate players were nominated but he was still the hands-down winner.
“Luke has had a great growth year here this season,” Jennings said. “His confidence with the puck has grown and he’s developed well in his physical play as well. I was happy that we had so many players received votes in this category but he was the hands-down leader and is very deserving of this recognition.”
Offensive Player of the Year — Cade Neilson
In addition to Neilson’s 26 goals, 49 assists, five game-winning goals and one shorthanded goal, Neilson also led the team with four shootout goals. His 49 assists set a franchise record for most assists in a single season, and those totals also pushed him over the top for most overall franchise points, accumulating an impressive 147, plus seven more points (seven assists) during the 2020-21 playoff run.
“Cade generated a very strong stat line this year, leading the team in points and setting career and single-season records for our franchise in the process,” Jennings said. “In the times when he was not personally scoring or getting an assist, he was a critical part of our offense, winning face-offs, protecting pucks and doing what was needed to get our offense going.”
Defensive Player of the Year — Kevin MacKay
Jennings said that a defenseman’s job isn’t so much ab out point production as it is about being responsible in the defensive zone, helping orchestrate breakouts to alleviate pressure, winning battles in front of the net and stepping in to block mammoth shots. Kevin MacKay recorded four goals and added 14 assists, but Jennings said he’s a calming presence who allows his team to play with confidence in front of him.
“Kevin has been a stalwart of defense this year,” he added. “He quietly goes about his business and creates confidence for his teammates with his defensive play. Bad things don’t happen when Kevin is on the ice.”
Hard Hat Award — Jackson Yee
The symbol of the Wings’ culture of rewarding hard work is the hard hat, representative of someone who goes to work with the single-minded purpose of doing his job for the betterment of the group. Jennings said Jackson Yee is always willing to sacrifice for the betterment of his team and will do anything to make sure the team finds success. Not only does he care about his preparation and dedication to the game, but he leaves things better than when he found them every day. With 14 goals and eight assists on the year, including three power play goals, Yee is the first guy in and the last guy out, and Jennings said is a true professional to his approach in everything in life.
“Jackson embodies the hard hat, doing anything and everything he can to ensure he and the team succeed,” he continued. “Blocking shots, hitting, battling for pucks — he does it all and is never satisfied.”
Community Service Award — Mason Kelly
During the 2021-22 season, Wings players contributed over 300 hours of community service over 16 different occasions — and Mason Kelly participated in twelve of them while also working a job during the week. Jennings said he volunteers with a smile and never has to be asked twice to do it — in fact, he often goes out of his way to do more.
“Mason is extremely generous with his time and gets excited to spend time giving back to the community,” he said. “He goes out of his way to participate and lead in these service opportunities, working hard to make sure people enjoy the event. I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of this award.”
Heart Award — Jackson Yee
The Heart Award focuses more on digging deep and battling from the heart for his brothers on the ice. Yee is fully engaged and goes about his work without making a big deal, and Jennings said he doesn’t care if he’s noticed or not.
“Jackson gives 100 percent in everything he does, and does it without fanfare,” he explained. “On and off the ice, he gives his all to his teammates and our organization. Wherever we go and whatever we do, Jackson is a leader and someone who works hard to make sure for success.”
Most Valuable Player — Cade Neilson
Neilson’s presence this season was not only felt within the Wings organization but across the North American Hockey League as well; his 75 total points was tied for fourth place overall in the entire NAHL. People know who he is and he’s a focal point for his team and for others, and all for the right reasons. Jennings said he’s a critical contributor to every single situation we play in, whether that’s even-strength, on the power play or penalty kill, in overtime or in a shootout. He plays with heart and soul, night in and night out.
“Cade’s play this year has defined what an MVP is,” Jennings said. “He’s a key leader in all situations on and off the ice. He inspires confidence in his teammates and has the respect of the teams we play against. He’s also done a great job in helping his teammates mature and grow as people and players.”