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WHL names Player of the Year finalists

Wheat Kings' forward Tim McGauley & Winterhawks' forward Oliver Bjorkstrand have been named WHL Player of the Year finalists
Brandon Wheat Kings’ forward Tim McGauley (pictured at right during Feb. 6 action against Luke Philp

Brandon Wheat Kings’ forward Tim McGauley and Portland Winterhawks’ forward Oliver Bjorkstrand have been named finalists for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season.

The Western Hockey League made the announcement Thursday afternoon.

McGauley is the Eastern Conference nominee for the WHL’s annual player-of-the-year award, while Bjorkstrand represents the league’s Western Conference.

A native of Wilcox, Sask., McGauley led the Wheat Kings in scoring this past season, tallying 42 goals and 105 points over the full 72-game slate. Those totals were good enough to rank him third league-wide.

Through 10 playoff games, the 19-year-old has contributed four goals and nine points to help the Wheat Kings advance to the 2015 WHL Eastern Conference final.

McGauley and the Wheat Kings fire up their conference finale on home ice Friday night when the Calgary Hitmen roll into Brandon.

Last year at the NHL Entry Draft, McGauley was passed over by all 30 pro clubs. Heading into the 2015 edition of the NHL’s annual draft, McGauley has been ranked 165th amongst North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Service.

WHL fans in Cranbrook were lucky enough to get a brief glimpse of McGauley’s abilities when the Wheat Kings visited Western Financial Place Feb. 6 and 7. The 6-foot, 185-pound centre posted three goals and five points in the Wheat Kings weekend in Cranbrook.

McGauley came to the Wheat Kings via the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft after being selected during the first round with the 20th-overall pick.

In 225 career games, McGauley has registered 80 goals and 210 points.

Unlike McGauley, Cranbrook hockey fans weren’t lucky enough to take in the brilliance of Bjorkstrand during the 2014-15 WHL campaign. His Portland Winterhawks stayed home, hosting the Kootenay Ice Nov. 28 in the lone meeting between the two clubs.

A native of Herning, Denmark, Bjorkstrand returned to the Winterhawks after an extended stay with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who selected the 20-year-old with the 89th-overall pick in the third round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

From there, the Danish dynamo demolished the WHL, tallying 118 points to lead the league in regular-season scoring.

“I had a good second half of the year,” Bjorkstrand told Sunaya Sapurji of Yahoo! Sports on April 17. “I really took off, because I feel like I had a slow start. I came back from Columbus training camp and I guess it was a slow start for me and the team -- we lost a lot of games and nobody really got going.

“For me the turning point was really after I played at the world juniors at Christmas time. That’s when I really stepped my game up and started feeling a lot of confidence and the team started to get a lot of confidence, too. That’s where it all started for me.”

The 6-foot, 168-pound winger came to the Winterhawks via the 26th overall selection at the 2012 CHL Import Draft.

In 193 career games, Bjorkstrand has burned WHL goaltenders for 144 goals while setting up 156 others, good for 290 points.

Bjorkstrand and the Winterhawks open their 2015 WHL Western Conference final Friday against the Kelowna Rockets.

The finalists and eventual winner of the WHL’s Four Broncos Memorial Trophy are determined through a voting process, which includes general managers, coaches and media representatives of each WHL club.

The winner of the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy will be announced at the 2015 WHL Awards Luncheon, which is to be hosted in Calgary on Wednesday, May 6.

Sam Reinhart, captain of the Kootenay Ice, was the 2013-14 winner of the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as WHL Player of the Year.