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Canada's junior team captain Karl Alzner caps season with top WHL award

NHL.com @NHL

CALGARY - The captain of Canada's golden junior hockey team was named both the Western Hockey League's player of the year and top defenceman Wednesday.

If this was Karl Alzner's last season with the Calgary Hitmen, it was a banner one for the 19-year-old from Burnaby, B.C.

He earned the WHL's highest individual honour in winning the Four Broncos Trophy, given annually by the WHL to its top player in memory of four Swift Current Broncos who died in a bus crash in 1986.

Alzner also became the second straight player to win both the Four Broncos Trophy and the Bill Hunter Trophy as top defenceman following Kris Russell of the Medicine Hat Tigers last year.

Russell played for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

"It's incredibly nice to be honoured for something like this," Alzner said. "A guy like Kris Russell, I respect him so much, and he did it the year before me so I'm happy to follow in his footsteps.

"I think I have a fairly decent resume right now which I'm proud to show people. I've got the opportunity to see so much and do so much and learn from so many coaches and players."

Alzner had seven goals and 29 assists and was plus-26 in 60 games with the Hitmen this season.

In his four seasons in Calgary, Alzner compiled 19 goals and 98 assists in 260 regular-season games and added another eight goals and 17 assists in 59 post-season games.

The Hitmen were swept in four games by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final. Lethbridge and the Spokane Chiefs open the WHL final Friday in Spokane.

Alzner, a smart, stay-at-home defenceman, was a calming influence on a young Canadian team that beat Sweden in overtime for the gold medal at the world junior championship in January.

It was Alzner's second gold in that tournament. He was Canada's lone 18-year-old on a blue-line full of 19-year-olds at the 2007 world junior championship.

"Winning a gold medal, hoisting the trophy is spectacular. That's one of the best feelings I've ever had," Alzner said.

He was selected fifth overall by the Washington Capitals in last year's NHL entry draft. Agent J.P. Barry is currently in negotiations on a three-year, entry-level contract for him.

The idea of playing alongside Alex Ovechkin with the Capitals as early as next season makes Alzner both excited and nervous at the same time.

"I've been very fortunate to have perfect timing for a lot of things and this is another one because they're taking in young guys and getting better and better and are people's second-favourite team next to their home team," Alzner said.

"I don't know how it's going to be playing with a guy like Ovechkin. I don't want to mess up any passes or shoot the puck too high when he's in front of the net."

Tri-City Americans forward Colton Yellow Horn was runner-up for the Four Broncos Trophy.

Brandon Wheat Kings forward Brayden Schenn took the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, Tri-City's Chet Pickard won the Del Wilson Trophy for the league's top goalie while Tri-City bench boss Don Nachbaur won the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy for coach of the year.

Alzner proved his durability in a gruelling 95-game season that included 18 with Canada's junior team and an exhibition game with the Capitals.

Washington invited him to join their AHL team in Hershey, Pa., when the Hitmen were knocked out of the playoffs, but the Bears were on the verge of elimination and Alzner said he was worn out.

"I was feeling really bad with a little bit of a flu and a little bit of a cold," Alzner said. "A little bit of bad timing."

Alzner leads on the ice by playing mistake-free hockey and using his six-foot-two, 209-pound frame to break up the opposing team's attack.

Off the ice, he approaches the game with refreshing sense of humour and joked Wednesday that with his 15 penalty minutes this season, he should have won the WHL's sportsmanship award too.

"He's a calming influence on everybody," Hitmen coach and GM Kelly Kisio said. "He taught our young guys a lot about preparing for games and preparing to be a pro and he dragged a lot of guys with him.

"When he comes to the rink, he's a pro."

Previous winners of the Four Broncos Trophy include Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward (Red Deer Rebels, 2004) and Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla (Kamloops Blazers, 1996).

Alzner is one of three candidates for the Canadian Hockey League's MVP award which will be announced at the Memorial Cup in Kitchener, Ont., in May.

The other nominees are Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Azevedo, who was named the Ontario Hockey League's outstanding player Tuesday, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League MVP Francis Pare of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.

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