Connolly caps sparkling career with UMD's fifth Hobey Baker Memorial AwardThe lobbying for Jack Connolly as a 2012 Hobey Baker Memorial Award candidate started early. When the four previous winners from Minnesota Duluth attended an NCAA championship ring ceremony at Amsoil Arena last July, they posed for a photo with Connolly.
The lobbying for Jack Connolly as a 2012 Hobey Baker Memorial Award candidate started early. When the four previous winners from Minnesota Duluth attended an NCAA championship ring ceremony at Amsoil Arena last July, they posed for a photo with Connolly.
The portrait was on the back of UMD’s hockey media guide — Connolly flanked by Tom Kurvers (1984), Bill Watson (1985), Chris Marinucci (1994) and Junior Lessard (2004).
That pose proved prophetic Friday as the Duluthian accepted a record fifth Hobey Baker Memorial Award for the school in ceremonies before a crowd of about 250 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. In a week in which he earned the Premier Player of College Hockey Award and the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, along with being named a Division I All-American a third time, this topped everything.
Connolly, 22, a senior center and assist man extraordinaire, took a few deep breaths after the announcement, tried to dry his eyes and then, without notes, thanked his parents, Judy and Mark, and his only sibling, Chris, who were in attendance, and his coaches and teammates.
“I share this with all of you, and the Duluth community. It was a spectacular time to be playing hockey in my hometown,” said Connolly, UMD’s captain.
Making the selection for the 32nd annual award was a 23-member panel of coaches, media members and professional hockey management representatives. The other finalists were Maine University senior winger Spencer Abbott of Hamilton, Ontario, and Colgate University senior winger Austin Smith of Dallas.
Abbott led Division I in scoring with 21 goals and 42 assists for 62 points in 39 games, Connolly was second with 20 goals and 40 assists for a career-high 60 points in 41 games and Smith was third with 36 goals and 21 assists for 57 points in 39 games.
“Jack never expects a whole lot and doesn’t care about personal accolades, and that’s why he’s so successful,” said Chris Connolly, a senior captain this season at Boston University, and two years older than Jack. “He’s won a national title and helped his team get back to the tournament, and had the best season of his four years this year, an accomplishment in itself. I’m biased, of course, but I thought he was well-deserving of the award.”
Jack Connolly, a 2007 Duluth Marshall graduate, finished eighth in UMD career scoring with 66 goals and 131 assists for 197 points in 166 games, having never missed a game in four seasons. He led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring this season and was named league player of the year.
The 5-foot-8 and 165-pound player becomes the second Duluth-born Hobey Baker winner, joining University of Minnesota goalie Robb Stauber from 1988.
“I’ve said all along that Jack epitomizes what this award is about,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin, an award finalist in 1986 as a North Dakota defenseman. “He’s a special player who is so good on the ice, and was for four years, and is a good student and a gentleman off the ice. This couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Hobey Baker was a Princeton University hockey and football phenomenon from 1910-14 and become a World War I fighter pilot. He died while testing an aircraft at the end of the war on Dec. 21, 1918, in France at age 26.
Connolly grew up playing at the Duluth Heights rink and idolizing his older brother, and then followed Chris to Duluth Marshall. Jack played for the Hilltoppers for three years and finished as a captain in 2007, and, in soccer, was the 2006 News Tribune Player of the Year.
“Chris Connolly was a great role model, he worked so hard, and that rubbed off on Jack,” said Marshall hockey coach Brendan Flaherty. “Jack didn’t require a lot of coaching, we just let him play, and since high school he comes back almost every summer and works in camps with our players. He’s very grounded.”
Jack Connolly wore No. 20 for the Hilltoppers, and Flaherty expects that jersey to be retired and to be put in the rafters at Mars Lakeview Arena as soon as next season.
At UMD, Connolly wore No. 12, as his brother did at Boston University, and never missed a game, playing in a program-record 166 straight games. He was part of a freshman class that included star winger Mike Connolly, now playing professionally, and UMD qualified for three NCAA tournaments in four years.
“When we got Jack on our campus, and players like Mike, they changed our program. And now we expect to be good each year,” said Watson, a UMD volunteer assistant coach.
Watson was at Friday’s event, along with Sandelin and Kurvers, senior adviser to general manager Steve Yzerman with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
Judy and Mark Connolly had been at two previous Hobey Baker Memorial Award presentations and said there was nothing to match Friday’s gala. The award to UMD broke a tie with the University of Minnesota for the most Hobey Baker winners.
“To have sons play college hockey at the highest level and be named captains, and win national championships, was amazing and made us incredibly proud,” said Judy Connolly. “Never in a million years do you expect something like this.”
Connolly, an NHL undrafted free agent, is undecided on a professional career. The communications major has a 3.3 grade-point average and was a three-time WCHA all-academic student-athlete.
He said this week his intention is to keep his options open, either in the United States or Europe, and choose whatever is the best opportunity and best fit. Former UMD winger Shjon Podein is working as his agent.
“My goal coming to UMD was to try to be in the lineup every night, work hard and gain the trust of the coaches to keep me in the lineup,” Connolly said earlier this season. “Our class wanted to bring winning back to the program, and get to the point where we expected to win and hated to lose. We wanted to win championships.
“I knew I didn’t have the size of some players, so I worked on my skating, and quickness, and puckhandling and passing. I don’t know what it would be like to be 6-foot-2. I’ve seen other players, like (5-7 former North Dakota forward) Ryan Duncan and (5-5 former Boston College forward) Nathan Gerbe, and thought, ‘If they can have some success, why can’t I?’ ”