TAMPA, Fla. – In receiving college hockey’s top individual honor on Friday, Jack Connolly did what he became known for throughout his four seasons of play at Minnesota Duluth—he passed off to others.
Even before Connolly had been announced as the 32nd winner of the Hobey Baker Award, he was passing out thank yous, crediting the UMD team trainer for the work in enabling him to play 164 consecutive games. He also mentioned linemates, teammates, coaches past and present, family, and an army of fans who have followed him and the Bulldogs for the past four years.
“This is just kind of the icing on the cake for me,” said Connolly shortly after he and brother Chris posed with the trophy, showing off the national championship rings they won at UMD and Boston University, respectively. “My brother’s been more than successful with a national championship, and then UMD took one home, and now this (trophy) enters the picture. It goes to show that a lot of hard work went into our hockey careers and it’s nice to take this to the next level.”
Connolly, who finished second in the nation in scoring with 60 points in 41 games, sat between Maine’s Spencer Abbott and Colgate’s Austin Smith in an impressive auditorium at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The 30-minute award ceremony featured officials from the French military awarding Baker’s relatives a medal for the Princeton star’s World War I service nearly a century after his death. Major General Karl Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command also offered remarks and a welcome to the five buses of dignitaries, media members, and college hockey fans in attendance.
When his name was called, Connolly battled emotions reminiscent of a year earlier when he held the national championship trophy aloft with tears in his eyes. Connolly’s father, Mark, reflected on a childhood spent skating on the outdoor rinks in Duluth and recalled that 1985 Hobey winner Bill Watson was one of Jack’s assistant coaches in peewees.
“It’s been so much fun to be a part of this,” said Watson, who was in attendance and joked that anything that keeps the Bulldogs ahead of Minnesota—the Gophers have had four Hobey winners, while this makes five for UMD—is good. “It’s one of those things where you get on the ice with somebody for the first time and they have that impact. You knew he was going to be a special player.”
Abbott and Smith were gracious runners-up but admitted that the competitive nature of being hockey players made it hard to hear someone else’s name called.
“It’s three really good players that bring a lot to the table and a lot to their teams,” Smith said. “Obviously there’s that killer instinct where anything you do, you want to win, but I realize I’m sitting next to two guys that demand the best of themselves every day. … At the end of the day, I’m humbled by the experience and I’m happy for Jack.”