With the 2013 Frozen Four just two months away, college hockey players from around the country are looking to get their hands on some NCAA hardware. The team goals are all the focus and individual accolades are often not realized until the season is over.
The one individual award up for grabs for collegiate skaters that does get the attention of everyone on the ice is the Hobey Baker Award.
The annual award given to the nation’s top player is a distinguishable honor to be bestowed upon not only as an elite caliber talent, but also a model citizen and proven leader on and off the ice.
The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers have a history of producing these gentleman of the ice. Four such men have worn the Maroon and Gold for the Gophers and have taken home the trophy.
In 1981, the first ever recipient of the award was given to Roseau, Minn. native Neal Broten. The Hall of Fame Gopher great won the award after his sophomore season at Minnesota when he scored 71 points in 36 games.
The next Gopher to win the award was the first goaltender to win as well. In 1988, Robb Stauber took home the hardware after an amazing season in which he led Minnesota to the WCHA regular season title. Stauber still stands as one of the all-time best netminders in program history.
Minnesota would pick up just one Hobey winner in the 1990s, when White Bear Lake, Minn. native Brian Bonin won in 1996. Bonin was the WCHA player of the year for 1995 and 1996. He led the conference in scoring in both seasons and the nation in 1996. He was also a model student carrying a 3.17 overall GPA as a chemistry major at Minnesota.
The last local legend to win the Hobey Baker Award was Jordan Leopold in 2002. The stud defenseman helped the Gophers to the 2002 National Championship in his senior season and posted 48 points in 44 games. The two-time All-American is still finding success in the NHL as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
These Gopher greats are the models of success at the collegiate level and all have attributes similar to current Gophers on the roster.
To combine the best characteristics of each of those four previous winners would leave us with junior forward Erik Haula.
The Finnish-born winger leads the team in scoring for the second straight season. His presence in the line-up has been key all season as Haula has recorded a point in all but three games. And of those three games, the Gophers have lost two of them against conference opponents.
His ability not only on the score sheet, but also defensively makes him an important part of a Gophers team looking at another deep postseason run.
Minnesota currently has three players in the fan voting for the award on the HobeyBakerAward.com website. Haula is joined by fellow juniors Nate Schmidt and Nick Bjugstad.
Bjugstad leads the Gophers in votes received at nearly 1,400. The gap falls off after that to Haula and Schmidt who have 325 and 219 entries, respectively.
Why the disrespect for Haula? Bjugstad is likely destined to be a future star in the NHL just like Haula and Schmidt, but the big centerman who is heralded as perhaps the top NHL prospect in the college game, has the name recognition to garner the vote of the casual hockey fan.
The fan voting is just a small part of the overall process for selecting the Hobey Baker Award. The main criteria that the award committee uses to select its finalists is that:
- Candidates must exhibit strength of character both on and off the ice.
- Candidates must contribute to the integrity of the team and display outstanding skills in all phases of the game.
- Consideration should be given to scholastic achievement and sportmanship.
- Candidates must comply with all NCAA rules: be full time students in an accredited NCAA college or university; and complete 50% or more of the season.
Based off this list each of the three Gophers on the fan ballot have a chance at the award. There are no glaring marks on their public track record to warrant a dismissal from consideration based on the criteria stated.
Schmidt is the only one named to the Big Ten Conference Academic All-Conference from last season and may have an advantage to be named a finalist as he is also the current No. 1 scoring defenseman in the nation.
No Minnesotan was named a Top-10 finalist last season and oddly enough one may not make it as a selection this year. Fan voting which is an element of the selection process is absurdly low for one of the nation’s most popular teams.
In a recent list compiled by the award’s website, Bjugstad is ranked No. 16 overall. Haula and Schmidt fall even farther down at No. 34 and No. 41 in order.
Where are all the Gopher fans to vote for their favorite players? Conference rivals North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Wisconsin each have a player ranked in the Top-10 in votes.
North Dakota forward Corban Knight leads the list with over 24,000 total votes. That is over 17 times as many votes as so-called superstar Nick Bjugstad.
Knight is the only UND player in the fan voting, but his university is behind the senior center, by promoting his campaign.
Where is GopherSports with campaign promotion for Haula, Schmidt, or Bjugstad?
I say that fans of Gold and Gopher get behind one of our stars and I nominate Haula!
Come join me in getting Minnesota hockey back in the argument for a Hobey Baker Award. We cannot let North Dakota best us. Especially in the last year of the current WCHA as we know it.
Haula, Haula, Haula, Haula…
You get the idea.