The American Hockey League held its 2023 Awards Gala during the Board of Governors’ Annual Meeting at Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Thursday evening, presenting several awards for excellence and service:
Bryan Helmer, vice president of hockey operations for the Hershey Bears, has been selected as the winner of the James C. Hendy Memorial Award, given to the outstanding executive in the American Hockey League for 2022-23.
Elected to the AHL Hall of Fame in 2017 after an illustrious playing career, Helmer now oversees the day-to-day operations of the Bears’ hockey department, working closely with the club’s coaching staff as well as the Washington Capitals on all personnel decisions. The Bears finished the 2022-23 regular season with a record of 44-19-5-4 – their best mark over a full season in 13 years – before going on to capture the franchise’s 12th Calder Cup championship.
The James C. Hendy Memorial Award is named for the late Jim Hendy, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and AHL Hall of Fame and long-time statistician and historian for the AHL who won four Calder Cups as general manager of the Cleveland Barons.
Rockford IceHogs president of hockey operations and general manager Mark Bernard has been honored with the Thomas Ebright Awardin recognition of career contributions to the AHL.
In leading the Chicago Blackhawks’ top development affiliate since 2008, Bernard has contributed to three Stanley Cup championships while being highly regarded and respected as an advocate and ambassador for the American Hockey League. He was instrumental in the Blackhawks’ purchase of the IceHogs franchise in 2021, a process that included securing a long-term lease with the city and funding for arena renovations to solidify the AHL’s future in Rockford. Bernard also plays a key role in the IceHogs’ charitable efforts in the local community, including work with the Rockford Park District to shape the city’s youth hockey programs.
The Thomas Ebright Award honors Tom Ebright, the former owner and governor of the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates who passed away in 1997.
Sebastien Vaillant, former director of marketing and events for the Laval Rocket, has been selected as the winner of the league’s Ken McKenzie Award for the 2022-23 season. Recognizing the important role played by team management in building a successful franchise, the award is presented annually to an AHL team executive who most successfully promotes his or her own club.
Vaillant, who now serves full-time as the Montreal Canadiens’ director of marketing and commercialization after filling both roles concurrently in 2022-23, oversaw the Rocket’s award-winning marketing department as a whole, including branding, advertising, sponsorship integrations, digital content, community relations and more. He was also the organization’s primary point of contact for the league in the planning and execution of the tremendously successful 2023 AHL All-Star Classic, which finally took place in February after two postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AHL’s Ken McKenzie Award was first presented in 1978 in honor of Ken McKenzie, the founder and long-time publisher of The Hockey News and a 1997 media honoree by the Hockey Hall of Fame as the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award winner.
The Coachella Valley Firebirds (team of the year) and Dustin Wolf of the Calgary Wranglers (player excellence) were named the 2022-23 winners of the President’s Awards.
The Firebirds had a remarkable inaugural season in 2022-23, one that began with a two-month road trip while awaiting completion of their first-class home venue, Acrisure Arena. The team went on to finish with the second-best record in the league before reaching the Calder Cup Finals; off the ice, they set benchmarks in all areas of their business operations, including ticket sales, corporate revenue and fan experience, and established a league record for total attendance in a single postseason.
Wolf, 22, had one of the finest seasons ever by an AHL goaltender in 2022-23, leading the league in every major statistical category while backstopping Calgary to the best record in the AHL. He was voted winner of the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender for the second year in a row; captured the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award, given to the goaltender(s) on the team that allows the fewest goals in the regular season; and became just the eighth different goaltender in AHL history to be voted league MVP. Wolf was also the co-winner of MVP honors at the 2023 AHL All-Star Challenge, and made his NHL debut with the Calgary Flames on Apr. 12, stopping 23 shots in a 3-1 win over San Jose.
Established in 2009, the President’s Awards are given to an AHL organization and/or player for overall excellence in the past year.
Veteran linesperson Jud Ritter has been named the 2022-23 recipient of the Michael Condon Memorial Awardfor outstanding contributions by an on-ice official.
A resident of Bethlehem, Pa., Ritter has served on the AHL’s officiating staff since 2008 working more than 600 games, including the Calder Cup Finals in 2011, 2013 and 2016. Ritter has provided mentorship to young referees and linespeople around the league – demonstrating the expertise, professionalism and work ethic required to be a successful official – and he was also recognized with a selection to officiate at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The Michael Condon Memorial Award was created in 2002 following the sudden passing of veteran AHL linesman Mike Condon.
The League also recognized several outstanding achievements in a variety of categories with its annual Team Business Services awards.
As part of its Team Business Services program, the AHL honored clubs for top revenue growth in four areas during this past season: overall ticket sales, season-ticket sales, group-ticket sales and corporate sponsorship sales. Recognized for overall ticket sales growth were the Toronto Marlies (Eastern Conference) and the Chicago Wolves (Western Conference). The winners in season-ticket sales revenue growth were the Toronto Marlies (Eastern) and the San Jose Barracuda (Western). The Laval Rocket (Eastern) and Henderson Silver Knights (Western) earned the awards for corporate sponsorship sales growth, and the Toronto Marlies (Eastern) and Henderson Silver Knights (Western) were recognized for group-ticket sales growth.
Additionally, teams from each conference were selected for excellence in the areas of digital media, community relations and fan experience. The Rochester Americans (Eastern) and Iowa Wild (Western) were honored for digital media excellence; the Belleville Senators (Eastern) and Grand Rapids Griffins (Western) earned the nods for exceptional community relations efforts; and the Cleveland Monsters (Eastern) and Colorado Eagles (Western) were recognized for outstanding fan experience at home games.
The AHL also honored several teams and individuals for their efforts during the 2022-23 season at the league’s Team Business Meetings in Tucson, Ariz., last month, including the Iowa Wild as the marketing department of the year, the Milwaukee Admirals as the merchandise department of the year, the Henderson Silver Knights as the sponsorship sales department of the year and the Rochester Americans as the ticket sales department of the year.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were recognized for unique ticket sales promotion or theme night (“Old Forge Pizza Night”); the Texas Stars were selected for immersive game operations experience (“Renaissance Faire Night”); the Colorado Eagles were chosen for unique community relations initiative (“Pot of Gold Night”); the Henderson Silver Knights were honored for unique social media content (Anchorman parody schedule announcement); the Cleveland Monsters were given the award for unique sponsorship package or entitlement (University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Night); and the Tucson Roadrunners were recognized for outstanding marketing campaign (“El Lazo”).
In operation since 1936, the AHL serves as the top development league for all 32 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers.