ESPN presents the best player in the world of the week, celebrating the player who has the best stats, impact or storyline to earn the honor. To nominate someone, please email us here by midnight on Monday each week. Photos and context are encouraged!
We gave McDuffie, 10, the best player in the world of the week nod back in December for his heartwarming appearance at a Dallas Stars game. He was born with a heart condition and had his second major surgery back in May. In the hospital, he helped cope during the recovery by pushing a foam ball around the hallways with his stick. Hockey kept him going.
Last week, the Dallas Stars Foundation and Make-a-Wish North Texas partnered to give his team, called the EKGs, a chance to face the Stars in a scrimmage. The results were unsurprisingly touching, including a fight between McDuffie and noted pugilist John Klingberg.
Never forget the McDuffie vs. Klingberg scrap of 2019. pic.twitter.com/0MIvAR0ewB
- Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) January 21, 2019
See more on the Stars' twitter feed. McDuffie, of course, had the game-winning goal.
Kyra Smith, goalie, University of New Hampshire (NCAA)
Smith's team was shut out by No. 9 Providence on Friday night, even though she stopped 28 of 31 shots. But it was the following game that lands her on the list: a career-best 41 saves in a 5-0 shutout of the Friars in the rematch. It was the second ranked opponent she had stymied this month, having beaten No. 10 Boston College on Jan. 5.
"Here's the thing. She wasn't the starter at the beginning of the year," wrote Spencer Fascetta, who nominated her. "Sophomore Ava Boutilier is the reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year, but has dealt with hip issues all season, and had season-ending shoulder surgery two weeks ago. Kyra is the only goaltender on the roster, as the No. 3 was a call-up from the club team at the start of the season, and is unable to attend every game due to an internship she has off campus. In response, Kyra has amassed an 8-7-2 record (UNH is 9-12-4 overall) in 17 starts with a .937 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average. From November 17th to January 11th, she led the team on a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2), their longest in a decade, after the team had started the year with a nine-game losing streak. She also has stopped approximately eight goals above average this year."
Artem Ivanyuzhenkov, left wing, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Ivanyuzhenkov scored the game-winner against the Fargo Force on Wednesday, assisted on the goal that forced overtime against Fargo on Friday and then tallied a hat trick against them on Saturday. So, in summary, this is probably the least popular man in Fargo since Jerry Lundegaard. Also, Ivanyuzhenkov is a tremendous hockey name.
North Saint Paul Polars (MSHSL)
Once in a while, we have to honor a team in this space when something remarkable happens, and it did for North Saint Paul on Saturday. This high school team lost to St. Thomas Academy 13-0. They were outshot 89-13, including 67-11 in the first two periods when their opponents built an 11-0 lead. The reason they're here? Because the Polars beared down and didn't take a single penalty in this blowout game.
"Having been on the giving (infrequently) and receiving (more frequently) end of beat downs like this, I think the Polars players and coaches deserve credit for playing the game as best they could even though they were outmatched. I have seen many other instances where the play descended into chippy plays and cheap shots but there were none this night," said reader Matt, who sent in this nomination. "To be truthful, this might have been one of the most joyless hockey games I have ever seen. The Saint Thomas players barely acknowledged their goals, and their fans even less so than the players. The first goal was barely celebrated and the others even less so. I didn't even notice a couple of goals had been scored because I had looked away and there was no commotion from the ice."
No joy in a rout, and no unfortunate anger or chicanery in defeat.
Eric Comrie, goalie, Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Comrie was a perfect 4-0-0 and allowed just seven goals on 138 shots faced for the Moose. He faced 30 or more shots in 10 consecutive starts. Last week, he was Clutch Comrie: He made 62 saves on 64 shots in the third period and overtime, for a .969 save percentage.
Yuval Halpert, forward, Israel (IIHF)
The IIHF under-20 world championships were held in Zagreb, Croatia, recently. One of the participants was Israel, who finished 1-5 in the tournament. But one of the highlights of that event was the play of Halpert, an 18-year-old from Nes-ziona. He was tied for third in goals (five in five games) and points (9) in the tournament. No other Israeli player had more than four points. "A phenomenal showing, from an Israeli player, at this level," said reader Josh Greenberg, who nominated him.
And the best player in the world of the week is ...
Robin Lehner, goalie, New York Islanders (NHL)
One of the best stories in hockey this season. Granted, with the Islanders we could be talking about any number of things, from the coach to the GM to the team that was abandoned by their star player. But in this case, we're talking about their goaltender, whose heartbreaking journey off the ice has led him to his best season on the ice.
Last week, Lehner stopped 65 of 67 shots he faced in three games, going 3-0-0 with a 0.67 GAA and a .970 save percentage. Goaltending was the biggest failing of the team last season; this season, Lehner's .930 save percentage and 15-7-3 record (with three shutouts) have been one of the primary catalysts for the team's miraculous run to the top of the Metro Division. Through Monday, his team has more points than a certain Atlantic Division team with a certain former Islander on it.
But any discussion of Lehner's season has to acknowledge what he's been through: panic attacks, substance abuse, being diagnosed as "bipolar and ADHD with PTSD and trauma" and going to a treatment facility. "When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much," he said before the season.
For an incredible week within a season that's the stuff Masterton Trophies are made of, Robin Lehner is the best player in the world of the week. Congrats!