GRAND FORKS -- It may be a busy awards season for the University of North Dakota hockey team.
One year after getting shut out of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's major awards, UND has finalists in eight of the nine categories.
The NCHC announced its finalists Monday afternoon.
Junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi and senior captain Colton Poolman lead the way for the Fighting Hawks. Both are finalists in two categories.
Kawaguchi, the nation's second-leading scorer, is a finalist for NCHC player of the year and NCHC forward of the year. UND has yet have an NCHC player of the year in the seven-year history of the league.
Kawaguchi will be up against Minnesota Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich and St. Cloud State defenseman Jack Ahcan.
Kawaguchi is the favorite to become the NCHC's forward of the year. The other finalists are Minnesota Duluth's Noah Cates and Denver's Emilio Pettersen.
Poolman, meanwhile, is a finalist for defensive defenseman of the year and scholar-athlete of the year. Poolman's older brother, Tucker, won the NCHC's defensive defenseman award in 2016-17.
Here's a list of the major award finalist with thoughts from Herald beat writer Brad Elliott Schlossman:
NCHC award finalists
Player of the year: Jordan Kawaguchi (UND), Scott Perunovich (Minnesota Duluth), Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State).
Comments: This one will come down to Kawaguchi and Perunovich. They are both locks to be Hobey Baker Award top-10 finalists. They were both the most dominant players at their positions in the NCHC this season. Arguably, they were the most dominant at their positions in all of college hockey, too.
Rookie of the year: Shane Pinto (UND), Bobby Brink (Denver), Nolan Sullivan (Omaha).
Comments: This will come down to Pinto and Brink. Pinto likely had an edge on Brink hitting the stretch run and Brink's back-to-back injuries, forcing him to miss the seven games of the season, probably solidifies this for Pinto.
Herb Brooks coach of the year: Brad Berry (UND), Scott Sandelin (Minnesota Duluth), Andy Murray (Western Michigan).
Comments: Coach of the year awards usually go to either the coach of the best team or the one whose squad overachieved the most based on preseason projections. In the NCHC this season, the champion coach was Brad Berry and the team who most exceeded expectations was Brad Berry's. This will be Berry's second Herb Brooks coach of the year award. He will join former St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko as the only two-time winner. It will also mark the sixth time in seven years in the NCHC that coach of the year has gone to the Penrose-winning coach.
Forward of the year: Jordan Kawaguchi (UND), Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth), Emilio Pettersen (Denver).
Comments: Only one of these three is a finalist for player of the year. That's Kawaguchi. So, that would indicate that he's going to win this one. UND has never had an NCHC forward of the year.
Defensive forward of the year: Cole Smith (UND), Justin Richards (Minnesota Duluth), Paul Washe (Western Michigan).
Comments: This group features Smith (the most athletic and imposing forward in the group), Richards (the defending champion of the award) and Washe (the league's best faceoff man). UND has had two previous winners with Mark MacMillan in 2015 and Rhett Gardner in 2018. Smith would be a deserving third if he gets it. Richards is looking to become the first two-time winner. Several previous winners have gone on to play in the NHL, including Nic Dowd (SCSU), Sean Kuraly (Miami), Dominic Toninato (Minnesota Duluth) and Gardner.
Offensive defenseman of the year: Matt Kiersted (UND), Scott Perunovich (Minnesota Duluth), Ian Mitchell (Denver).
Comments: There's a pretty good list of offensive defensemen in the NCHC this season if Jack Ahcan doesn't make finalist. But Perunovich is the biggest game-changer from the back end in college hockey and stands out even among this excellent group.
Defensive defenseman of the year: Colton Poolman (UND), Mattias Samuelsson (Western Michigan), Nick Wolff (Minnesota Duluth).
Comments: Samuelsson had a terrific sophomore season for Western Michigan, but it might be hard to overcome the pair of seniors he's up against. Poolman and Wolff are likely the front-runners and Colton is trying to join his brother Tucker in winning this award.
Goalie of the year: Hunter Shepard (Minnesota Duluth), Magnus Chrona (Denver), David Hrenak (St. Cloud State).
Comments: It was going to take an exceptional season for someone to swipe this honor from Hunter Shepard and nobody did it. The NCHC's leader in goals-against average and save percentage was UND's Peter Thome, but he didn't play enough games to pick up votes. After Denver's Tanner Jaillet won this in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018, Shepard has a great chance to win it in back-to-back years in 2019 and 2020.
Senior scholar-athlete award: Colton Poolman (UND), Karch Bachman (Miami), Zach Jordan (Omaha).
Comments: There's more than hockey that goes into this award, but all three of these guys have been pretty good on the ice, too.