Jacob Muzzin's final season was a far cry from how his OHL career started.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds captain was a hands-down winner of the Max Kaminsky Trophy on Friday as the OHL's defenceman of the year. The Woodstock, Ont. native, who deserved an overage season as much as anyone after a back ailment cost him his first season and a half of his career, was at the fulcrum of the Greyhounds 35-point improvement, leading the team in scoring (67 points) and helping it cut its goals against from 288 to 209.
"It means a lot to get this because the Soo has been so good to me, it's become like a second home," says Muzzin, whom the Los Angeles Kings have promoted to the Manchester Monarchs for the AHL playoffs. "It's good to give a little bit back. It's kind of a good way to end my OHL career.
"This year was a lot of fun for me and the team," the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder added. "We were coming off a disappointing year, we regrouped, we had a good summer of training. For myself, I prolonged my career, I ended up getting a contract with L.A., so that was great.
"This year I was able to develop a little more confidence with the puck and in being able to make plays, I credit a lot to our strength and conditioning coach (Mike Cowan) for what he did in the summer. When you come in feeling good, it just builds and builds and builds."
In a neat coincidence, Muzzin is the first Greyhound to win the Kaminsky trophy since his first OHL coach, Craig Hartsburg (now with the WHL's Everett Silvertips) did so in 1976. He has more than put his first two seasons, when a wonky back limited him to a total of 37 games, in his rearview mirror.
"Definitely, frustration kicks in when the other guys are going out and playing and you're sitting in the stands," he recalled. "It just comes down to staying positive, staying focused, doing the right things off the ice and being ready when it's time to take advantage ... You just gotta enjoy being around the team. I just remember I made a point to listen to what the doctors said -- 'you're going to be able play again.' That kept me focused on returning."
A season ago, the Greyhounds staggered to the finish line. While a last-place finish made them winners of the Daniel Catenacci derby, it wasn't much fun coming to the rink. Suffice to say, like any graduating player hopes to, Muzzin left the place in better condition than he found it.
"We were pretty devastated after the way we finished off last year," Sault Ste. Marie coach Denny Lambert said. "Jake knew how important it was for us to have a good year and he represented us with class in all aspects."
Muzzin finished with 73 points in the balloting. Barrie's Nick Crawford (45 points) and Mississauga-St. Michael's captain Cameron Gaunce (27) were the runners-up.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. You may contact him at neatesager[at]yahoo[dot]ca.