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Whalers' Nedeljkovic named OHL's top goaltender

by Mike G. Morreale

Plymouth Whalers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic of Parma, Ohio, has become the first player in team history to win the Ontario Hockey League's Goaltender of the Year award.

Nedeljkovic, No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top North American goalies eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, faced the second most shots (2,207) in the OHL and finished with a 26-27-7 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 61 games.

"To receive this award is an incredible honor," Nedeljkovic said. "There were many other goaltenders in the league this year that also had great seasons. Credit must be given to all of my teammates that helped me to achieve this award. Game in and game out they would do their best to help make my job easier, and I would try my best to do the same for them. This award recognizes what a goalie has accomplished throughout the season, but it is also a symbol of what the entire team did over the course of the season to be as good as they possibly could defensively."

In 87 career games spanning two seasons, Nedeljkovic is 45-29-9 with a 2.71 GAA and .925 save percentage with three shutouts. He is currently representing the United States at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Finland and is 1-1-1 with a 1.51 GAA and .930 save percentage.

Nedeljkovic, the third American-born goalie to win the award following Michael Houser (Pennsylvania) of the London Knights in 2012 and current Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (Illinois), who played for the Guelph Storm in 2001, enjoys a heavy workload and enjoys the competition at any level.

"Knowing the effort that I have put into making myself the best goalie I can be every day, I want to utilize all that energy and time that I have spent, and make every ounce and second of it count, because if I don't use every last bit of energy I have, then all the training and preparing I have done goes to waste," Nedeljkovic said. "As a goalie, you want to show everybody that you can be counted on in big moments and in big games. You want to be the guy that plays every night and plays most of the games."

Nedeljkovic (6-foot, 190 pounds) is one of the more athletic-style goalies available in the draft. At the All-American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh in September, he stopped 13 of 16 shots in 30:53 of playing time. He also played for Team Cherry at the Top Prospects Game and stopped 13 of 16 shots in 29:54.

Central Scouting's Al Jensen said a good comparison for Nedeljkovic would be Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier.

"He's another very quick and athletic goalie," Jensen said. "He battles and has good strength in his crease area, has excellent recovery and lateral quickness. He's got quick reactions, flaring out his pads to make low corner stops. He's very smart and is capable of playing big games consistently."

Nedeljkovic received 67 points in the voting process ahead of runner-up and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Matt Murray (57 voting points) of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk of the Erie Otters finished in third in the voting with 29 points.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that Alex is receiving this award," Whalers general manager and coach Mike Vellucci said. "I thought he was by far the best goaltender in our league this season and was certainly our team MVP in both the regular season and playoffs. We had such a young team this year and needed the stability in goal that Alex provided, and without him I don't think we would have kept our playoff streak alive of 23 straight years."

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