Aberdeen American News Article - 5/1/19

Wings players, staff rewarded for stellar season

by Rob Garofalo

Published in the Aberdeen American News on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Aberdeen Wings forward Jonathan Bendorf prepares to take a shot on goal during a game against the Brookings Blizzard at the Odde Ice Center. American News photo by Robb Garofalo

Aberdeen Wings forward Jonathan Bendorf prepares to take a shot on goal during a game against the Brookings Blizzard at the Odde Ice Center. American News photo by Robb Garofalo

Considering the type of season in the midst of which the Aberdeen Wings are, it’s easy to see how they were rewarded for their efforts.

The North American Hockey League announced its divisional awards Tuesday, and several members of the team were recipients.

After guiding the Wings to a franchise-best 47-10-2-1 record, including a program-high 97 points, Scott Langer was named the Central Division Coach of the Year. This is the second time in three years Langer has been named the coach of the year.

“To be honest with you, you don’t win awards like this by yourself, it just doesn’t happen,” Langer said. “Obviously, it’s a good feeling when you and your staff put in the type of work we did and it pays off with a season like this. To have your peers recognize you for that effort feels really good, but again, without the commitment by those players, this doesn’t happen, and the guys in that locker room deserve a ton of credit.”

In addition, Langer thanked team owner Greg Odde for the belief that the system Langer wanted to put in place would net the results this city of Aberdeen has seen over the past two-plus years.

“The Odde family has given me everything I need to be successful in Aberdeen,” Langer said. “That’s a big thing in the coaching fraternity, when owners have your back no matter what and are willing to invest in you. It’s human nature to want your name on an award, but we know everything we accomplish happens because of the entire group. It’s just a testament to the culture we’re building here. We have a great thing going between this team and the fans, and I couldn’t be happier for those players and the Odde family.”

Two players for Langer had outstanding seasons on the ice and were recognized for their efforts.

Goaltender Matt Vernon, who led the NAHL with 40 wins and seven shutouts, was named the Central Division Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year. Vernon cites a confidence level helped by Langer as a big part of his success.

“‘Smack’ (Langer) had told me when I came back this season that he wanted me to be the guy in net,” Vernon said. “Knowing that, I felt like I was going to be counted on a lot this season, and that helped. It makes you feel determined because guys are expecting you to come up big, but at the same time, I know the guys in front of me will do their jobs. Our ‘D’ core has been so solid this year. They eliminate a lot of quality chances by our opponents because of blocking shots, fore-checking, and just knowing how to play against odd-man rushes.”

Brad Belisle, playing his first year in Aberdeen, set a new team mark for points in a season with 68, scoring 33 goals while recording 35 assists. It was a text from Langer that alerted Belisle to the honor.

“I got a text and I looked at my phone and it was ‘Smack’ saying congrats,” Belisle said. “I checked Twitter really quick and saw the release, and the first thing I did was respond back to (Langer). My season happened because of him taking a chance on me and introducing me to the Wings culture. I just have to give him and coach (Michael) Hill and Greg Odde credit. It’s just a great group of guys we have in that locker room. Anyone on this team who gets an award knows you don’t get it without the help from the rest of the team. It’s very special being part of the Wings.”

Johnathan Bendorf of the Aberdeen Wings, center, reaches to control the puck between Devon Fields, left and goalie Kyle McClellan, right, of the Austin Bruins during the first period of Friday night’s game at the Odde Ice Center. Bendorf was able to backhand the puck into the net on the play to give the Wings a 1-0 lead.  American News photo by John Davis.

Johnathan Bendorf of the Aberdeen Wings, center, reaches to control the puck between Devon Fields, left and goalie Kyle McClellan, right, of the Austin Bruins during the first period of Friday night’s game at the Odde Ice Center. Bendorf was able to backhand the puck into the net on the play to give the Wings a 1-0 lead. American News photo by John Davis.

Jonathan Bendorf also made the awards list, being named the Central Division Community Service Award winner. Bendorf took home the league honors in this category last season through his volunteer work he continues to do at Aspire. His commitment to helping those with physical and mental disabilities stems from his childhood

“My billet mom got me involved with going to Aspire and helping out, which is something I’ve always loved doing,” Bendorf said. “When I was a kid, my sister started working with children with disabilities. She fell in love with it and with helping others, and really, inspired me to do the same. ‘Smack’ preaches about being great players, but also being great men, and I’m just part of a group of high-class guys in that locker room. Giving back to the community is something I just love to do.”

Capping off the day, the franchise itself received the highest honor of the Central Division as the Wings were named the Organization of the Year. This is the second straight year the Wings were recipients of the award.

“You’re always happy when you reach your goals and then you exceed them,” Odde said. “No question Scott and his team are having a great season. We’ve worked hard at doing things the right way, and that starts with ownership and goes down through our coaches, players, marketing staff, ticket sales, and our fans. These awards are voted on by your opponents and partners, and when you receive awards like we have, it really means something.”

When Belisle first found out he was heading to Aberdeen, he had spoken to several people he trusted and they had relayed the same message: “You’re going to a great head coach and an even better owner.”

For Odde, that’s why he and his family started this team, and it’s the goal they have for each player each season.

“This year’s team is as good a group as we’ve had no question,” Odde said. “We knew this was how we wanted to build our program — through the players. We want them to evolve through our system, treat them well, reach their goals, then spread the word that that’s what we’re about. We want to develop them as players and as young men, and I think we’ve been able to accomplish that.”

Vernon and Belisle were also named to the All-Central Division squad. Joining them was defenseman Dalton Weigel, who finished the regular season with seven goals and 38 assists

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