Season ends with a bang for two Phoenix Coyotes prospects

By Andrew Sykes
Brandon Gormley - Shawinigan Cataractes

Photo: Shawinigan Cataractes defenseman Brandon Gormley holds the Memorial Cup Trophy high following his team's 2-1 OT win over the London Knights in the championship game (courtesy of Terry Wilson/CHL Images)

The exciting playoff run that the Phoenix Coyotes enjoyed may have ended in disappointment.  But for two of the organization's prospects, the conclusion of their 2011-12 season ended on a much higher note.

Brandon Gormley of the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes helped his team capture the 2012 Memorial Cup, while the Tri-City Americans' Brendan Shinnimin was selected as the Player of the Year in the Canadian Hockey League.

Gormley, a first-round pick of the Coyotes in 2010, was dealt from the Moncton Wildcats to Shawinigan with the knowledge that the team would be hosting the Memorial Cup tournament. After appearing in just nine regular season games with the Cataractes in the regular season, Gormley was forced to miss the team’s first-round playoff series, but returned for the second round where Shawinigan was ousted in a hard fought, seven-game series with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.

Despite the disappointment of the playoff defeat, there was still much to play for as the host team of the Memorial Cup automatically receives a spot in the four-team tournament to decide the best team in Canadian Major Junior hockey.

Having previously played in a Memorial Cup with Moncton, Gormley’s leadership and skill made his presence on the Shawinigan blueline invaluable. The 20-year-old finished the tournament tied with team-mate Anton Zlobin for second in scoring with nine points in five games, and was considered a strong candidate to be named the tournament’s MVP once Zlobin scored the OT winner in the championship game. His ability as a two-way defender, along with his elite power-play skills, made Gormley the best defenseman in the tournament and proved why he is considered one of the best defensive prospects in hockey.

It’s unbelievable,” Gormley told Sportsnet after Shawinigan defeated London in the final.  “To go through junior hockey and get a second crack at this trophy, it’s been unbelievable.”

For Shinnimin, his season concluded not with a team award, but rather a major individual trophy. A free agent signing of the Coyotes in early March, the undrafted, overage forward produced one of the finest offensive seasons in the WHL in recent memory.

Capturing the league’s scoring title with 58 goals, 76 assists and 134 points, Shinnimin delivered the highest-scoring season of any WHL player since the 2000-01 season. The 5-9 dynamo continued to dominate in the playoffs, registering 23 points in 15 games, before Tri-City was eliminated in the Western Conference Championship.

As the WHL MVP, Shinnimin was one of the three nominees for the CCM Player of the Year award in which he would be up against the MVP representatives from the OHL and QMJHL. There was no debating who had the most impressive season, however, and the 21-year-old was honoured as the best player in junior hockey for 2011-12.

For a player who was never drafted to the WHL or NHL, Shinnimin’s hard work and determination has certainly been the biggest reason as to why he has been able to excel.

"I was disappointed because as a young kid you want that status," he told The Canadian Press. "But it was an opportunity for me to look at what I had to do to establish myself in the WHL.”

Passed up time and time again because of his small stature, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native has continued to show that his lack of size will not hold him back from being a high-scoring, offensive wonder. "You've got to believe in yourself. I got a shot with Tri-City and that was a huge for me."

Shinnimin will now embark on a pro career with the NHL organization that showed much faith in him when they signed him to a three-year entry-level contract.