The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers is the 2013-14 recipient of the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year award.
Nedeljkovic, who played for the Metro Jets during the 2012-13 season, becomes the first Whalers’ goaltender to win the award after starting 61 games this season posting a 26-27-0-7 record with one shutout victory while facing the second most shots in the OHL. He made 2,042 saves which was second most in the league and still posted the second best save percentage with a mark of .925, while his goals-against-average of 2.88 ranked eighth among OHL netminders.
“To receive this award is an incredible honor,” said Nedeljkovic. “There were many other goaltenders in 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.”
Eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, Nedeljkovic is listed fourth among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting. He is also just the third goaltender to win the award in their 18-year-old birth year following Brian Finley of the Barrie Colts in 1999, and Craig Hillier of the Ottawa 67’s in 1996, both selected in the first round of the NHL Draft that same season.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Alex is receiving this award,” said Whalers President, Governor, GM and Head Coach Mike Vellucci. “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.”
The 18-year-old from Parma, Ohio, is currently representing the United States at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 World Championship and is the third American goaltender to win the award following Michael Houser of Wexford, PA, in 2012 with the London Knights, and Craig Anderson of Park Ridge, IL, in 2001 with the Guelph Storm.
“Coach Mike (Vellucci) and Stan (Matwijiw) have both been tremendous mentors to me in my time in Plymouth,” added Nedeljkovic. “I have worked with Stan now for three years, and in that time period, my game has gone to an entirely new level that I never thought it could reach. The best way I can describe what Coach Mike has done for me and the team is that he forces us out of our comfort zone to be better as he demonstrates when coaching us.”
Selected by the Whalers in the sixth round of the 2012 OHL Priority Selection, Nedeljkovic is playing in his second career OHL season. This year he was recognized as a star of the game 25 different times making at least 40 saves in 19 different games including four performances with 50 or more saves. Last season he was the recipient of the league’s F.W “Dinty” Moore Trophy awarded to the rookie with the league’s best goals-against-average posting a mark of 2.28 and also earned a spot on the OHL’s first All-Rookie team.
“The Whalers have a history of outstanding goaltenders that have come through our organization with guys like Michal Neuvirth, Jeremy Smith, Justin Peters, Matt Hackett, and Scott Wedgewood, who are all great goaltenders,” Vellucci added. “At this stage of his development I think Alex is farther along than all of those players. He was a playoff starter at 16-years-old last season and to accomplish what he has in such a short time is impressive and speaks volumes about his character and goaltending ability.”
The OHL Goaltender of the Year is awarded to the league's most outstanding goaltender as selected by OHL General Managers. Teams were not permitted to vote for a goaltender from their own hockey club. Goaltenders received five points for a first place vote, three points for a second place vote and one point for a third place vote.
Nedeljkovic received 67 points in the voting process ahead of runner-up and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Matt Murray of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds who finished with 57 voting points. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk of the Erie Otters finished in third place with 29 voting points.
The award was first presented in 1987-88 to Rick Tabaracci (Cornwall) with other notable winners including Manny Legace (Niagara Falls 1993), Andrew Raycroft (Kingston 1999-00), Ray Emery (Sault Ste. Marie 2001-02), Steve Mason (London 2007), and Mike Murphy of the Belleville Bulls who is the only goaltender to win the award twice in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Mark Visentin of the Niagara IceDogs who recently made his NHL debut with the Phoenix Coyotes earned the award in 2011, while St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack was last year’s recipient.
Nedeljkovic will be formally presented with the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award on Tuesday June 3 at the OHL Awards Ceremony held at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. He is also the OHL’s nominee for CHL Goaltender of the Year.