KEARNEY — Ronnie Attard has always had a team-first mindset.
Throughout the regular season, the Tri-City Storm captain shied away from speaking about himself and instead raved about his teammates.
That attitude didn’t waver Thursday afternoon when Attard spoke about being named USHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year.
He had a record-breaking regular season. He’s wrapping up his third year with the Storm and the two honors are the first for a player in team history.
“It’s a special feeling,” Attard said. “It really means nothing though at the end of the day when we get down to it. Winning a championship is our main focus.”
Attard posted 30 goals, 34 assists and a plus-48 rating in 48 games this season. He set a new mark for goals scored in a season by a defenseman in league history, while his 64 points are the highest by a defenseman in a single season since the league earned Tier I status in 2002.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone more deserving,” coach Anthony Noreen said. “Obviously the records he had were impressive. The goals and the points, I think those records will stand for a long time.”
It was a remarkable season for the 6-foot-3, 207-pound defenseman. In his first two years, Attard totaled 11 goals and nine assists with the Storm.
On Thursday, Noreen recalled the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta in December as a moment that ignited Attard’s season. Noreen was Team USA’s coach and Attard was the team’s captain.
Attard had one goal and two assists in the event for Team USA, which won the gold medal. Noreen said Attard returned to the Storm with more confidence, which helped him experience greater success.
Prior to the tournament, Attard had six goals and six assists in 14 games. He recorded 24 goals and 29 assists in the 34 games after competing with Team USA.
“It just seemed like he took off from there. The swagger and confidence he had and his attitude was infectious to our locker room,” Noreen said.
Attard was eligible for the NHL draft last year. He wasn’t selected despite interest from multiple teams. Being passed over motivated Attard, he said. He understood the process but it wasn’t something he forgot.
He dedicated time in the offseason to refining his skating and offensive skills. Those two areas played a critical role in Attard’s success. He also credits linemate Zac Jones for his growth this year.
Jones earned the league’s Rookie of the Year award after tallying seven goals, 45 assists and a plus-38 rationing 56 games.
The Storm also had Goaltender of the Year Isaiah Saville in net.
They won most of the league regular-season awards, minus forward of the year, which went to Sioux City’s Bobby Brink.
“My teammates are awesome,” Attard said. “I love coming to the rink every day and being around them. We have a lot of laughs and memories we’ve made so far.”
Noreen believes Attard is a “late bloomer” and that he hasn’t reached his full potential. Attard, a Western Michigan commit, is eligible for this year’s draft and will likely hear his name called. NHL Central Scouting ranks Attard as the 76th-best North American skater in June’s draft class.
“Whoever drafts him, aside from the player, is going to get a person that is going to be valuable to an organization,” Noreen said. “He’s going to find a way to have an impact personally. He’s a guy who’s going to be a captain on the team he plays on in the future.”