AHL alumni shine on NHL Awards night

awards09_350.jpgThe Boston Bruins were well represented in the winners’ circle as American Hockey League alumni Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien were among the big recipients at the NHL’s annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Thomas, who played 119 career AHL games with Providence and Hamilton before finally cementing his spot among the NHL’s elite goaltenders, took home the Vezina Trophy after leading the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage for Boston. Thomas also won a career-high 36 games.

Thomas also shared the William Jennings Trophy (with Manny Fernandez) as the Bruins allowed the fewest goals during the regular season.

Chara, an AHL All-Star in 1998 as a rookie with Kentucky, won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s outstanding defenseman. He is the first AHL graduate to capture the Norris since Rod Langway in 1984.

Julien, a co-winner of the AHL’s Louis A.R. Pieri Award with Hamilton in 2003, claimed the Jack Adams Award as the top coach in the NHL. Julien joins Jacques Demers, Don Cherry and Fred Shero as the only men to be named outstanding coach in both leagues.

Steve Mason, who began his pro career with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch earlier in the 2008-09 season, went on to a 33-20-7 record, a 2.29 GAA and 10 shutouts for the Columbus Blue Jackets to earn the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, beating out fellow AHL alumni Bobby Ryan and Kris Versteeg for the honor. Mason, Ryan and Versteeg all earned spots on the NHL’s All-Rookie team.

Thomas and Chara were joined by 2006 Calder Cup champion Mike Green of the Washington Capitals on the NHL’s First All-Star Team. Mason and former AHL All-Stars Dan Boyle of San Jose and Zach Parise of New Jersey were named Second Team All-Stars.

Nashville’s Steve Sullivan, a former AHL All-Star and Calder Cup champion, won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Over 84 percent of all NHL players in 2008-09 were graduates of the American Hockey League, including more than 300 players who skated in both leagues over the course of the season.