Note: This is the first in a series of Award Winner features that will run over the next two weeks, finishing prior to the Dineen Cup Finals. Watch for the next award-winner to be announced on Wednesday, March 16.
A true Philadelphia soul has New Jersey folks singing his praises, as second-year Jersey Hitmen defenseman Sean Melso has been named Defenseman Of The Year, as voted on by NCDC coaches. The United States Premier Hockey League congratulates Sean on his award, certainly deserving for an absolute two-way threat from the blue line.
“It is definitely a huge honor to be recognized and respected by the coaches around the league as a top player,” said Melso.
Born in 2002 in the City of Brotherly Love, Melso racked up a league-leading 49 points in his 48 games this year. With two seasons under his belt, Melso stands second in points per game by a Hitmen defenseman with .831, second only to current Dartmouth College standout Tanner Palocsik, the 2019 Defenseman Of The Year. Melso is third in total points by a defenseman (74), trailing Palocsik (88) and his current teammate and the 2021 Defenseman Of The Year, Brandon Cimino (77).
Melso also led an offensive triple threat at defense by the Hitmen. Melso led the league in defenseman points with 49, followed by 41 for each of Zarudny and Cimino, giving Jersey the 1-2-3 on the blueliner scoring leaderboard.
“Our offensive core has made it easy for me to contribute on the offensive side of the game,” said Melso. “When you’re playing with guys that can really shoot the puck and make plays, it just makes it so much easier and gives you the confidence you need in them knowing that they can put the puck in the net.”
Melso was the No. 1 defenseman on the Hitmen power play (4:16 per game, 200:37 total) and racked up 13 power play points, in a three-way tie for third on the team. He also led in shorthanded time per game at 3:12 when the Hitmen were man-down. That left another roughly 13 minutes of even strength time where Melso was also able to work his art.
“I go into all games with the same mindset of ‘Control what you can control and the game will come easier,’” said Melso. “If you get caught up in all the extra things that happen throughout the game, it’s not going to go as well.”
Melso was also tied for second among Hitmen blueliners in plus-minus with +27, along with Dakota Zarudny. Cimino led at +32. Again, that Hitmen D triple threat shines through. Melso blocked 38 shots during the season and put up 21 hits over the course of the season.
“[My defensive game] has improved drastically as the coaches here really go into detail with me about plays and what I could do better,” said Melso. “I don’t think many teams actually have an extra skate just for defensemen to work on their craft like we do, and that’s been a huge thing for the growth I have had in my game over the past two years.”
Melso was certainly proud to be part of the Hitmen’s Dineen Cup Championship team in 2020-21, and he is excited to be back for a shot at the repeat here in 2022.
“We really just need to keep playing our game,” he added. “A hard-nosed, fast and skilled Hitmen team is unmatched.”