March 9, 2005
Postcard: A Hobey Homecoming

By Mike Eidelbes

Former Bowling Green standouts George McPhee (left) and Brian Holzinger flash the rings commemorating their Hobey Baker Award wins. The pair were honored at the Falcons' game vs. Michigan March 4. (photo courtesy BGSU)

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Hobey Baker was a man of numerous achievements – a tremendous athlete, a decorated war hero, and a gentleman of the highest order. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he was able to bring representatives of the parties involved in the NHL’s contentious labor dispute together to celebrate the game for at least one night.

No, the specter of Hobey didn’t escort Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow on a 13th-hour voyage to hockey’s past, present and future. But the award that bears his name – given annually to the top player in college hockey – brought former Hobey honorees George McPhee and Brian Holzinger to their alma mater, Bowling Green, for the Falcons’ regular-season finale against Michigan last week.

A few weeks ago, McPhee, the Washington Capitals’ general manager and alternate governor, and Holzinger, a nine-year NHL veteran who split last season between Pittsburgh and Columbus, weren’t even allowed to speak to each other because of Bettman’s gag order preventing team executives from being in contact with players. On this unseasonably mild March night, however, the former BGSU stars got a warm reception from a near-sellout crowd of more than 4,600 fans after receiving rings commemorating their Hobey Baker Award wins during an intermission ceremony.

For McPhee, who won the award in 1982, last weekend’s event was an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for the honor. Because of his youth and the newness of the Hobey, McPhee admitted that he couldn’t comprehend what he had achieved when he became the award’s second-ever recipient nearly a quarter-century ago.

“I thought at that time it was a great thing for the school,” McPhee said. “It was nice to get national recognition for a great program. Here we are 25 years later and people are so nice to come out and recognize you.”

By the time Holzinger became the second Falcon to win the Hobey in 1995, the award had gained a foothold in the minds of most hockey fans due in large part to Paul Kariya – the former Maine standout, who had earned the honor two years prior, was in the middle of an outstanding rookie campaign with the NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

“More and more people know what the Hobey Baker Award is…and what it represents,” Holzinger said. “I think that’s more important to what the award is all about.”

“All the variables that go into it make it unique,” McPhee added. “You have to be a good player, you have to be a good student and you have to do the right things away from the ice as well. I was fortunate to have played on a good team that had a heck of a year. I was a senior, I was a captain and my grades were good.”

While the Falcons enjoyed a terrific season in 1981-82, it ended a bit premature for the Guelph, Ontario, native’s tastes. Bowling Green was denied a berth in the Frozen Four after losing an NCAA quarterfinal series to Northeastern. So when then-BGSU coach Jerry York told his star player he would receive the Hobey, McPhee wasn’t sure how to react.

“It certainly felt like a big deal, but we had just been eliminated and as a senior, it was all over for me,” McPhee recalled. “It was probably the worst weekend I had in four years of college. It was a tough time to swallow all that stuff, but in the weeks after that, it was a real big deal for the school. I was proud to win something like that and give Bowling Green the recognition it got.”

Like McPhee, Holzinger’s reaction to hearing he had won the Hobey was somewhat muted. At first, he didn’t believe his coach, Buddy Powers, who informed him of the honor. Once he realized Powers was serious, his thoughts skipped past elation to concern.

“One of the criteria was that you weren’t allowed to tell anyone other than your immediate family and, obviously, I wanted to tell everyone in the world because I was so proud of that,” Holzinger explained. “It was a great, memorable time for me and something I didn’t want to keep secret for that long.”

The secret would eventually leak prior to the announcement, but it was through no fault of Holzinger’s. When he won the Hobey in 1995, the Falcons missed out on the NCAA Tournament altogether. Since the award was being presented in Providence – the site of that year’s Frozen Four – the day before the championship game, keeping his reasons for being in town at that time under wraps was a dicey proposition.

“We happened to be doing a camp for underprivileged kids in Providence that year and I was already on the staff to work the clinic, so I was already going there,” Holzinger said. “But people started to put two and two together and the cat got out of the bag a little bit.”

Not only was Holzinger the last Falcon to win the award, but he’s also the last BGSU player to be chosen as a finalist for an honor. So maybe it’s more than just coincidence that he and McPhee were honored for their Hobey Baker wins as their alma mater, led by a Hobey candidate in senior goaltender Jordan Sigalet, closed out its best regular season since Holzinger’s senior campaign. The moment wasn’t lost on McPhee, who remarked that the atmosphere at BGSU Ice Arena that night was not unlike those during the program's halcyon days of which he was part.

“You wonder how this ever came about,” McPhee said. “I haven’t had much time to contemplate my own experience with this…but tonight for a few minutes, I felt very special and was real proud to have played here and do something like that.”

Send this to a friend

About Us | Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2002-2005 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved