WATERLOO — Waterloo Black Hawks standouts Ben Finkelstein and Jackson Cates were recognized Monday as United States Hockey League players of the year.
Finkelstein was voted the top defenseman in the USHL, while Cates was named the top forward.
The honor speaks volumes about what Finkelstein has contributed since joining Waterloo in January. He began the season at St. Lawrence University, but left 20 games into the season in the midst of an internal investigation into the program.
In just 23 regular-season games with the Black Hawks, the native of South Burlington, Vermont, served as an assistant captain and racked up 26 assists and eight goals to help Waterloo win the Anderson Cup as the USHL’s regular-season champion.
“It’s not very often that a player can change his team’s season, but I think everybody knows he’s a very special player, and in a lot of ways, he’s a special kid, too,” said Black Hawks head coach and general manager P.K. O’Handley.
Finkelstein, a Florida Panthers NHL draft pick who will play at Boston College next season, is the fifth Waterloo player named USHL Defenseman of the Year, joining Brandon Montour (2014), Blake Kessel (2008), Doug Schmidt (1997) and John Gruden (1990).
Cates, originally from Stillwater, Minn., was voted as the Black Hawks’ MVP by his teammates in early April. Monday, the USHL named him Forward of the Year.
In his second season with Waterloo, Cates racked up a team-best 33 goals during the regular season with 63 total points. He accumulated 25 special team points, second in the league to Black Hawks teammate Jack Drury. He also has two shorthanded goals and five game-winners.
“I told him on the bench three weeks ago, ‘I’d like to have you on my team forever,’” O’Handley said recently. “I didn’t say that to him because of just his hockey play. It’s the fine young man that he is and what he represents, how he does things and the fact that he’s just a great, great kid.”
Cates is committed to play college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth.
Previous Black Hawks to earn the USHL Forward of the Year honor were Taylor Cammarata (2013), Jason Blake (1994) and Peter Ferraro (1992).