Spitfires’ Johnston stays humble as he wins OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy as league MVP

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Windsor Spitfires center Wyatt Johnston has become almost as good at avoiding attention off the ice as he is at avoiding it on the ice.

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Few teams were able to follow Johnston on the ice this season as he became the first Spitfire in a quarter century to claim an all-time scoring title.

Post-season accolades continued off the ice with Johnston winning three major Ontario Hockey League awards, culminating in the announcement Tuesday that the Dallas Stars NHL prospect has been named the winner of this season’s Red Tilson Award as the league’s most outstanding player in league voting. media and broadcasters.

Ever humble, 19-year-old Johnston was quick to shift the focus from accomplishment to just about everyone but himself.

“I have so many people to thank for helping me win this award,” said Johnston, who has compiled a long list of family members through the organization. “It’s a bit weird with all this attention. It’s cool, but I don’t think it’s installed. It’s something really special.

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Johnston beat North Bay Battalion forward Brandon Coe for the award, who was the Eastern Conference nominee. Johnston received 73% of the vote in the conference selection and 80% in the final vote.

Johnston is only the fourth Spitfire to win the trophy along with defender Ryan Ellis (2010-11), center Ernie Godden (1980-81) and goalkeeper Glen Hall (1950-51).

“Wyatt is such an amazing young man,” OHL commissioner David Branch said before presenting the trophy to Johnston at the WFCU Center. “The (award has) a long illustrious history. Wyatt is just going to add to this story.

Windsor’s 2019 first-round pick, Johnston had 30 points in 53 games as a rookie but came back from a lost season due to COVID-19 to become the first Spitfire to win an outright title in a quarterback. century this season while leading the entire Canadian Hockey League with 124 points in 68 games.

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“It’s a special situation where I’ve been able to come here and start coaching with the best player in the Ontario Hockey League,” said Spitfires first-year head coach Marc Savard, who won two league scoring titles as a player. with Oshawa and is seventh on the league’s all-time scoring list.

“He’s amazing and all the little things you see when you come to watch, you’re so impressed. The way he gets rid of pucks, you don’t see it every day. It’s the greatest players who do that.

Although the OHL did not play in 2020-21, Johnston appeared at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship in Texas, where he helped Canada win gold for the first time since 2013. .

Johnston was a little-known forward on the roster who continued to rise through the ranks and showed enough for Dallas to make him a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Savard and Spitfires general manager Bill Bowler agrees it was this tournament that hinted that Johnston was on the verge of becoming something special.

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“It’s not shocking and I’m not saying we knew or predicted he would be the best player in the world at his age, but when I saw the way he played for Team Canada, he was a different player,” Bowler said. “It’s a surprise how good he is, but knowing him and seeing him play and train, you knew it was coming. Every time he’s on the ice, something good happens. »

Johnston had just eight points in the first nine games of the season, but scored 41 goals and added 116 points in the final 59 regular season games.

“I was just trying to get into the league this year and do whatever I could to help the team win,” Johnston said. “I didn’t know what to expect. »

The Red Tilson Trophy is the third major award Johnston has won this season. He won the Eddie Powers Trophy as the league’s top scorer and the William Hanley Trophy as the league’s most athletic player. London Knights product Jason Allison was the last player to accomplish this feat in 1993-94. Ellis is the only Spitfire to have already won three major awards winning the Red Tilson Trophy, Captain Mickey Renaud Trophy and the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2010-11.

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“He’s just as tenacious when he doesn’t have the puck,” Bowler said. “Like any great player, it’s the IQ of hockey. To identify a reason, there are a number of reasons and we are lucky to be able to look at it.

On Monday, Johnston scored twice in Windsor’s 6-3 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs to give the club a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven league final. Johnston’s playoff point total to 37 points in 21 games. It gave him another club mark as he surpassed Taylor Hall’s 35 points in 19 games in 2010 to set a new playoff scoring record for Spitfire.

“It’s pretty cool with all the great players the Spits have had over the years,” Johnston said. “I think we’re just more focused on winning games right now. »

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Hall’s mark was set the last time the Spitfires won the OHL title and Johnston hopes this year’s team can accomplish the feat. The Toronto native has played a big part in getting the team to this point and Bowler, who is the OHL’s third all-time scorer, hopes fans can appreciate the chance to watch him play.

“Wyatt doesn’t overpower you with size or strength, but he’s great at everything,” Bowler said. “You combine that with a hockey IQ that comes off the board and then the character and the person, you end up getting what we have here and he’s a special player. It won’t happen for a long time. This guy is the best player in the league.

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