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Phantoms’ Varone voted AHL MVP

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League announced today that forward Phil Varone of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms has been voted the winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player for the 2017-18 season.

The award is voted on by coaches, players and members of the media in each of the league’s 30 cities.

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Varone enters the final weekend of the regular season tied for the league scoring lead with 70 points in 73 games played for the Atlantic Division champion Phantoms, establishing career highs in goals (23), assists (47) and points. The seventh-year pro has also scored seven power-play goals and five game-winners, and he has gone back-to-back games without a point only three times all season. Varone’s 15 multiple-point efforts include a four-assist game at Binghamton on Nov. 4, and his first career hat trick at Utica on Feb. 21. Lehigh Valley is 37-7-3-1 this season in games when Varone records a point, and 16-1-2-1 when he scores a goal.

A 27-year-old native of Vaughan, Ont., Varone has totaled 112 goals and 256 assists for 368 points in 465 games over his seven seasons with Lehigh Valley, Binghamton and Rochester. Originally a fifth-round draft pick by the San Jose Sharks in 2009, Varone appeared in 50 National Hockey League games with Buffalo and Ottawa (five goals, five assists) before signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 1, 2017.

The AHL’s most valuable player award honors the late Les Cunningham, a member of the AHL Hall of Fame who was a five-time league All-Star and three-time Calder Cup champion with the Cleveland Barons. Previous winners of the award include Carl Liscombe (1948, ’49), Johnny Bower (1956, ’57, ’58), Fred Glover (1960, ’62, ’64), Mike Nykoluk (1967), Gilles Villemure (1969, ’70), Doug Gibson (1975, ’77), Pelle Lindbergh (1981), Paul Gardner (1985, ’86), Tim Tookey (1987), Jody Gage (1988), John Anderson (1992), Don Biggs (1993), Derek Armstrong (2001), Jason Spezza (2005), Darren Haydar (2007), Keith Aucoin (2010), Tyler Johnson (2013), Travis Morin (2014), Brian O’Neill (2015), Chris Bourque (2016) and Kenny Agostino (2017).

In operation since 1936, the American Hockey League continues to serve as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of all players competing in the NHL are AHL graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The 2017-18 regular season ends Sunday, and then 16 clubs will continue to vie for the league’s coveted championship trophy when the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway next week.