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Justin Azevedo named Canadian Hockey League's player of the year @NHLdotcom

KITCHENER, Ont. - Justin Azevedo joins NHL stars such as Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Brad Richards and Sidney Crosby as winners of the Canadian Hockey League's player-of-the-year award.

Azevedo, a 20-year-old centre with the Kitchener Rangers, was also the CHL's leading scorer this season with 43 goals and 81 assists in 67 regular-season games.

While he has yet to garner much attention from the NHL, Azevedo was inspired by the names on the trophies he was given Saturday at the CHL awards ceremony.

"It's obviously a big confidence-booster," Azevedo said. "Being on the same trophy as a big player or Sidney Crosby or Joe Sakic, you look at that and you know you've accomplished something pretty spectacular."

The CHL is the umbrella organization of the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior hockey leagues.

Azevedo was the OHL's most outstanding player in both the regular season and playoffs. He led the Rangers to an OHL championship with 10 goals and 26 assists in 20 playoff games.

He tops the Memorial Cup in scoring with four goals and seven assists in four games heading into Sunday's championship game against the Spokane Chiefs (Rogers Sportsnet, 4:40 p.m. ET).

"A championship tomorrow would be the icing on the cake so we'll see," Azevedo said.

Azevedo is from West Lorne, Ont., which is a town of about 1,500 people near Chatham.

He's a small player listed at five foot eight and 180 pounds, but he's a tireless competitor and wins battles for the puck in the corners and along the boards. Azevedo's speed and quick shots make him a dynamic and dangerous player.

"I've worked hard all year, even in the summer leading up to this year," Azevedo said. "I wanted to come and have a great season.

"I knew I had to step my game up and lead this team to a championship and I think my hard work has paid off."

Azevedo hasn't been drafted by an NHL team, although he attended the Atlanta Thrashers rookie camp two years ago.

"I think he just needs someone to give him an opportunity," Rangers head coach Peter DeBoer said. "You're going to be reading about him five years from now and guys are going to be kicking themselves for missing out on him.

"He's proven all his critics wrong from the day he arrived in Kitchener and this tops it all off. An amazing season for an amazing kid."

The Rangers have produced smaller, but successful players for the NHL such as Derek Roy (Buffalo Sabres) and Michael Richards (Philadelphia Flyers).

A 16-year-old Azevedo and Richards were teammates for one season with the Rangers.

"You see how well he's done carrying his team to a conference final with Philly," Azevedo observed.

"Even though I played one year with him, I learned a lot from him. He's probably one of the hardest working guys I've played with in my career so far."

Azevedo beat out WHL and QMJHL nominees Karl Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen and Francis Pare of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens respectively for the award.

Alzner, the captain of the Canadian team that won gold at the world junior hockey championship, was named the CHL's top defenceman.

The native of Burnaby, B.C., signed an entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals earlier this week.

"I'm so relieved that contract talks are over and I can relax, start my summer training and gear towards trying to make the team now" Alzner said. "Winning this award was special for me.

"I'm more of a stay-at-home, defensive defenceman. It's nice to do more of a quiet job and still be recognized."

Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans was named top goaltender. The 18-year-old from Winnipeg posted a 46-12-2-2 record in the WHL with a goals-against average of 2.32 and a save percentage of .918.

Windsor Spitfires forward Taylor Hall was selected the CHL's top rookie. The 16-year-old from Kingston had 84 points (45 goals, 39 assists) in 63 games and helped lead Canada to a world under-18 championship last month.

Former NHL player Bob Boughner was named coach of the year after navigating Windsor to a 41-15-7-5 record in the OHL.

Steve Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting was selected the league top NHL draft prospect for next month's entry draft in Ottawa.

Moncton Wildcats captain Chris Morehouse won the CHL's humanitarian award for his involvement in reading and hospital programs in his three years with the team.

Cape Breton winger Robert Slaney earned the league's scholastic honour. Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll of the Shawinigan Cataractes was given the sportsmanship award.

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