When most hockey players strive for awards, they aim for the big boys: most valuable player, leading scorer, etc.
Usually not on the forefront is gunning for the most sportsmanlike player award.
“Yeah, I still take some grief from the guys in the locker room,” admits Brad McGowan.
McGowan, a high-scoring forward for the Surrey Eagles, was named the B.C. Hockey League’s most sportsmanlike player for the Coastal Conference when the league handed out its year-end awards, based on voting down by the coaches.
The 20-year-old from Langley has mixed emotions about being tabbed with the honour.
“Probably when I am older, I will look back on it,” he said.
“Right now I am getting ripped on a little bit by the guys.
“They are saying I am the softest guy in the league.”
McGowan’s game is not the type that relies on over-powering his opponent – think Todd Bertuzzi bulling his way to the front of the net – but rather is the type who thinks the game and sees a play develop, using finesse instead of brute force.
Regardless of how he does it, McGowan, a lanky six-foot centre who weighs 175 pounds, has always shown a knack for piling up the points when given the opportunity.
“He’s done it consistently,” said his coach Matt Erhart, earlier this season. “He hasn’t had that 18-point weekend where he gets named player of the week. He just quietly puts up one or two points a game and goes about his business. That seems to be his MO – he just comes to work every night.”
“I have always been a skill guy; I am not the biggest, so I don’t throw a lot of hits,” he said. “And I was always more of a playmaker; I didn’t have the best of shots, so I didn’t score a lot of goals (but) I can bang them in from the crease every once in a while.”
He may have been selling himself short.
During the regular season, McGowan finished tied for second in the BCHL scoring race, with 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points.
The success carried over to the post-season as McGowan had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 14 playoff games. But unfortunately, McGowan was slowed in the Coastal Conference championship series, and the Eagles lost four games to two to the Powell River Kings.
McGowan was held to a single goal and an assist in the first four games before missing the final two contests of the series with a concussion.
Scoring, when given the opportunity, is nothing new to McGowan.
Two years ago, playing Junior B with the Richmond Sockeyes, he lost the PIJHL scoring title on the last day of the season, finishing with 36 goals and 55 assists in 48 games.
He made the move to Junior A and put up some respectable numbers, 46 points.
This year’s success is a product of taking advantage of the opportunity.
“I was more of a third- (or) fourth-line guy last year and didn’t get the power-play time I’ve got this year,” he said. “I didn’t really quite expect to be putting up this many points, but it’s been a little bit of luck, and the coach has thrown me out there on the ice a lot and I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity.”
“Over the summer, we challenged him to show up in great shape,” Erhart said. “You could tell that he put a lot of work in (and) he came into training camp with a lot of confidence.”
It also helps to have great chemistry with his primary linemate, Richard Vanderhoek, a fellow Langley Minor Hockey alum.
Vanderhoek, a year younger, and McGowan would be teammates every second season through their minor hockey days, and created instant offence when united.
Vanderhoek was second on the Eagles with 26 goals and 45 assists, and despite being eliminated from the playoffs, Vanderhoek leads the post-season scoring race with a dozen goals in 16 games.
With McGowan’s junior days behind him, he readies for the next challenge: collegiate hockey.
Earlier this season, he verbally committed to the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers.
And he knows he will be staring over once again, trying to work his way into a top six role with the New York-based university.
“It is always like that in hockey, you don’t always start as a top guy, you have to work your way up.
“It is better that way, you have to earn your way and it creates more character when you have to work for it rather than have it given to you.”
McGowan isn’t ruling out playing for a living either, if an opportunity arises down the road.
“If pro hockey is there, I would love to play for a living but getting my degree will be a big thing too.”