Accompanied by unprecedented ceremony, Minnesota-Duluth forward Jack Connolly was named the 32nd recipient of the Hobey Baker Award on Friday.
Upon hearing his name called, Connolly said he was “very emotional.”
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Connolly spent four years with the Bulldogs and helped Minnesota-Duluth to the 2011 NCAA championship. This year, Connolly capped his WCHA career by being named the league’s player of the year.
He led all WCHA players in scoring in 2011-12 with 20 goals and 40 assists, was named a All-American for the third straight year and was honored as a WCHA All-Academic selection for the third straight year. In his four years as a Bulldogs player, he never missed a game, dressing for 166 contests.
Connolly, the Bulldogs’ captain, said his transition into a leadership role at Duluth came gradually. “When I came in as a freshman, my coaches gave me an opportunity to step in and be an impact player, play on the second line and the second power-play unit,” he said. “It just kind of grew from there. We lost some guys and spots opened up and I took it upon myself to step up as one of the key guys in our program.”
Connolly was presented with college hockey’s highest individual honor at MacDill Air Force Base in a ceremony that honored the memory of Hobart Amory Hare Baker — the Princeton player for whom the Hobey Baker Award is named — in a very personal way. Baker, a pilot with the 103rd Aero Squadron in World War I, died while test piloting a plane Dec. 21, 1918.
He had been awarded the Croix de Guerre — or Cross of War — by the government of France for military heroism before he died, but he never received the medal.
Friday, Hobey Baker’s Croix de Guerre was presented to his great-great-nephew, Christo Morse, by Rear Adm. Patrick Martin of France. It was an emotional moment for Morse, who grew up playing hockey himself.
“In the last couple of years I started to get involved in some of the Hobey Baker events after hearing from my grandparents and my mom about his life legacy,” said Morse, a filmmaker from Brooklyn. N.Y.
Morse said that Martin and Major Gen. Karl R. Horst, the United States Central Command Chief of Staff, are both fans of Hobey Baker. “They went back in the archives in France and found out that he’d never received the award,” said Morse. “It took a couple guys digging into the archives to find the paperwork. The citation that I received today is from the archives in France. They translated it to English, which is great.
“It’s come a long way and been almost a hundred years now and they were able to give me the award to me today, which is really an honor.”
The unique ceremony led to a day on MacDill Air Force Base for the three Hobey finalists, including Maine forward Spencer Abbott and Colgate forward Austin Smith, both seniors. All three said that the Hobey Hat Trick experience is one they’ll never forget.
“Getting that call and being here is an extraordinary honor,” said Smith. “Happy to be here. The day went by quick. Congrats to Jack Connolly. I thought we were all three pretty good players. I thought we all brought something different to the table.”
“It’s been awesome,” said Abbott. “You never really think that something like this is going to happen to you. To be here with Jack Connolly and Austin Smith, two great players.”
“We hung out all day,” said Connolly. “Two great guys, two great personalities, phenomenal hockey players, obviously. I wish them the best of luck in their pro careers. I think they’re going to be great NHL players.
“It was great to bond with them a little bit and see all the cool things on the Air Force base. Just trying to enjoy the moment, try to enjoy what’s going on, all the festivities. For one day, this was pretty cool. This is a pretty special thing to go through with those guys. Definitely memories that we’ll have for a lifetime.”
Connolly plans to pursue professional opportunities in Europe.