Tigers defenceman scores hardware

SCOTT FISHER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Kris Russell got a birthday present from the WHL yesterday.

Two of them in fact.

The Medicine Hat Tigers captain picked up the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the league's MVP and the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL's top defenceman.

"Yeah, it's a pretty good birthday," Russell said after he and twin brother Ryan, a winger with the Kootenay Ice, blew out 20 candles apiece.

Former Calgary Hitmen goaltender Justin Pogge took top honours last year.

Russell was named the top blueliner for the second straight year after Calgary Flame Dion Phaneuf won the award in 2004 and '05 with the Red Deer Rebels.

The world junior gold medallist credited his team, which will battle the Vancouver Giants for the WHL championship beginning tomorrow (7:30 p.m., Shaw TV), for his impressive numbers.

"These awards definitely showcase what our team has," he said. "They're a part of it. They're the ones who travel with me and make me better every night."

A 2005 third-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Russell was the first WHL defenceman to lead his team in scoring (32 goals and 69 points in 59 games) since current Flame Richie Regehr paced Portland in 2002-03.

Russell will turn pro next season but that's the last thing on his mind.

His Tigers are guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup because Vancouver gets an automatic berth as host. And although the WHL championship is essentially meaningless, Russell said the teams won't treat it that way.

"Everyone knows we're in the Mem Cup," said Russell, who also played in the 2004 tournament.

"But once that puck drops, both teams are want to go in the right way by earning their spot. No one wants to go in the back door."

MORE AWARDS

World junior MVP Carey Price (Tri-City) won the Del Wilson Award as the WHL's goaltender of the year while Everett's Kyle Beach took home the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the top rookie.

Other winners included Calgary product Kyle Moir (Swift Current; humanitarian), Aaron Gagnon (Seattle; sportsmanlike), Zach Hamill (Everett; top scorer), Bob Tory (Tri-City; top executive), Cory Clouston (Kootenay, coach), Bruce Vance (Prince Albert; marketing and communications), Andy Thiessen (official), Keith Aulie (Brandon; scholastic) and the Kamloops Blazers (scholastic team).

NEXT GENERATION:

The Calgary Hitmen have the 14th pick in today's WHL Bantam Draft. The Portland Winter Hawks select first.


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