Minnesota-Duluth Senior Jake Connolly didn’t spend his season thinking about winning awards; but had his mind set on sending his team back to the Frozen Four Championship game for the second consecutive year. Connolly and the Bulldogs wanted that second NCAA National Championship but fell just a little short.
However, Connolly’s efforts did not go unnoticed by the voters on the Hobey Baker committee. Connolly’s senior season was quiet the effort by any young player determined to get his hometown team back to the championship and that is was truly impressed the committee.
Connolly, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound center, was selected as the 2012 Hobey Baker Award winner on Friday during ceremonies at MacDill Air Force base. He beat nine other nominees, including two other finalists — forward Austin Smith of Colgate and forward Spencer Abbott of Maine.
“It’s pretty incredible. I would have liked to have been down here with my teammates and still playing,’’ Connolly said. “To win this, it’s just as much my teammates’ as it is mine. There were a huge part of this.”
“My heart was racing. It was pretty much pounding out of my chest and when I heard my name, I kind of settled down but then became a little emotional,’’ he said of the countdown to announcing the winner. “Just to hear my name, it’s a feeling that’s pretty much unexplainable.’’
Connolly was among the Top Ten finalist for the Hobey Baker honors last season when the Bulldogs won the Championship 3-2 in an epic overtime win over Michigan. This year, Connolly was the 2nd leading goal-scorer in the nation with 20 goals and 41 assists for 61 points and was selected as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Player of the Year and to the NCAA All-America First Team.
“It’s a tribute to my parents, my brother, my coach and everyone who’s helped me out along the way,’’ he said.
During his four seasons at UMD, he never missed a game, playing in 164 contests. He’s a three-time All-WCHA First Team selection and was an All-American a year ago. He served as captain as a senior.
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said he loved watching Connolly develop into an outstanding player and person.
“He’s a very special hockey player who’s had a tremendous career, but he’s even a better person,’’ Sandelin said. “He’s a very humble kid and it’s not about him. He’s a team guy. He’s been a fun player to coach and be around and his teammates feel the same way.’’
This season marks the end of two outstanding careers for both Connolly and his older brother, Chris, who played the last four seasons at Boston University. Chris also won the NCAA title in 2009 and served as captain of the Terriers this past season.
And for some reason, Minnesota-Duluth has a knack for producing Hobey Baker Award winners. Connolly is the fifth Bulldog to win the award, following in the tradition of Tom Kurvers (1984), Bill Watson (1985), Chris Marinucci (1994) and Junior Lessard (2004). UMD has more Hobey Baker winners than any team in college hockey. Minnesota is second with four.
The award is named after the legendary Princeton hockey player who was America’s greatest amateur athlete in the early 1900s. Baker served as a pilot in World War I and was killed in a plane crash in 1918, on the day after he was supposed to return to the United States.
Where does Connolly plan on playing hockey next? Europe is the next stop for the young star. “I’m looking at some good opportunities in Sweden. That’s kind of the road I’m going right now,’’ he said. “Some of the opportunities are pretty inviting, more than some of the things here.’’