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Luukkonen named OHL goalie of the year

Sudbury Star

Sudbury Wolves goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen sprawls to make a save on Sarnia Sting forward Franco Sproviero during first-period OHL action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, February 2, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was marvellous and the vote was unanimous.

The OHL announced on Friday that the Sudbury Wolves goaltender and Buffalo Sabres prospect had been named goaltender of the year for 2018-19 following a vote by OHL general managers.

Luukkonen will be formally presented with the award at the OHL Awards Ceremony, to be held at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on June 5. He will be the OHL’s nominee for CHL goaltender of the year, to be announced on May 25 at the 2019 Memorial Cup in Halifax.

“I am very honoured to be named OHL goaltender of the year,” Luukkonen said in a release. “I want to thank my teammates and all of the Wolves fans who stood behind us the whole year. I also want to thank our owner Dario Zulich and our general manager, Rob Papineau, for taking a chance with me, and drafting me in the import draft and for creating an amazing environment for all our players to play in. To coach Cory Stillman, goalie Coach Alain Valiquette, athletic therapist Dan Buckland and the rest of the Sudbury Wolves organization, I want to say thank you for pushing me and believing in me. I am also very thankful for my billets Tammy and John Valtonen, who gave me a second home.”

Luukkonen became the first member of the Wolves to earn the award after tying for the league lead with 38 wins and six shutouts, while posting the OHL’s third best goals-against average with a mark of 2.50 and the best save percentage at .920. His goals-against average, save percentage and shutout total set new franchise records and he backstopped the Wolves to their most successful season since 1994-95.

A 20-year-old from Espoo, Finland, was the third overall pick in the 2018 CHL Import Draft last summer. With a regular-season record of 38-11-2-2, he helped the Wolves finish second in the Central Division standings with 43 wins and 91 points.

Luukkonen began his OHL career with five straight wins and produced impressive streaks of 11 and eight throughout the 2018-19 campaign. His 38 wins are the second most in a single season in franchise history, behind only Jim Bedard, who won 40 games in 1975-76.

A second-round pick by the Sabres in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Luukkonen represented his country on the international stage, winning gold at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and following the Wolves’ playoff run made his professional debut on April 14, making 32 saves in a victory for the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

“We are extremely proud and happy for Ukko on winning this award,” said Wolves GM Rob Papineau. “We knew when we drafted Ukko that we were drafting a great goaltender. It quickly became very obvious that he was also an outstanding teammate and individual who is an amazing leader. His character is as great as his ability to stop pucks. The impact he has had on our players and our organization on what it takes to be the best and to be a pro will remain with our team for years into the future. His dedication, his focus, and his preparation both on and off the ice are second to none.  His support of the community of Greater Sudbury and the significant Greater Sudbury Finnish population, as well as the time he made available for young fans, was remarkable. We thank Ukko for his time in Sudbury and we wish him tremendous continued success with the Buffalo Sabres and throughout his entire career.”

OHL GMs 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.

Luukkonen was the unanimous choice, receiving the maximum 95 points in the voting process representing 19 first ballot selections. Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals finished in second place with 44 points, followed by Ivan Prosvetov of the Saginaw Spirit, with 19.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

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