Even as a 15-year-old sophomore for Lathrop High in 2009, Stephon Williams of Fairbanks showed the right stuff -- size, athleticism and a fierce will -- to develop into an elite goaltender at higher levels of hockey.
Those qualities helped him backstop the Malemutes to the Class 4A state championship, the first by an Interior team in Williams' lifetime.
Fast forward four years -- at 19, Williams is an elite masked man as a freshman for Minnesota State-Mankato in arguably college hockey's best conference.
His numbers prove it -- Williams is 19-9-2, with a 1.83 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and four shutouts. And Thursday, Western Collegiate Hockey Association voters -- coaches, players, sports information directors and media -- lent their stamp of approval when they heaped awards on Williams.
Williams was voted the All-WCHA first-team goaltender, the league's Rookie of the Year and its All-Rookie goalie. He also was honored as the league's goaltending champion, courtesy of his 1.93 goals-against average in league games. Williams is the first freshman to win the goaltending championship since UAA's Gregg Naumenko in 1999, when Naumenko was also the first-team goaltender and Rookie of the Year.
Williams, who left Fairbanks before his senior year and played two seasons in the U.S. Hockey League, has been instrumental to the Mavericks' turnaround under first-year bench boss Mike Hastings, who was voted WCHA Coach of the Year. Hastings has guided the Mavericks to a 22-11-3 mark, their first home ice for the league playoffs since 2008 and a national ranking -- Minnesota State-Mankato is ranked No. 10 in one national poll and No. 11 in another.
Hastings has given Williams 27 consecutive starts as the Mavericks prepare to entertain Nebraska-Omaha in a first-round series.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Williams pumped up his stats by dominating UAA in four games this season, going 3-0-1 with a 0.98 goals-against average, .949 save percentage and two shutouts. The Seawolves, who landed 14 players on the All-Academic Team, did not win a single playing award for the eighth straight year.
St. Cloud State senior captain Drew LeBlanc (12-34--46 totals in 36 games) was voted both Player of the Year and Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year (3.64 GPA in math education), becoming the first player to sweep those honors. St. Cloud junior Nick Jensen (4-24--28 in 36 games) was voted Defensive Player of the Year.
Joining Williams on the first-team were LeBlanc, Jensen, Nebraska-Omaha junior forward Ryan Walters (21-29--50 in 36 games), North Dakota senior forward Danny Kristo (21-24--45 in 34 games) and Minnesota junior defenseman Nate Schmidt (8-22--30 in 36 games).
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY