University of Minnesota-Duluth senior Jack Connolly was named the winner of the 2012 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player. Connolly, who was also named the WCHA Player of the Year and the 2011-12 recipient of the Lowe's Senior CLASS award, finished the season second in the nation in scoring with 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) playing in all 41 games for the Bulldogs. He was the first ever Minnesota-Duluth player to be named a Hobey Baker Award Top Ten finalist twice, after being named a finalist last year as well. Connolly finishes his stellar Minnesota-Duluth career with 197 points (66 goals, 131 assists) playing in a school-record 166 games.
Connolly embodies so much of what the Hobey Baker Award is all about – strength of character, leadership, sportsmanship, and excellence both on and off the ice. So it should come as no surprise that he was named the recipient of college hockey's highest individual honor.
"To win this, I mean it's just as much my teammates' as it is mine," Connolly said following the award ceremony last Friday. "They were a huge part of this for me and a huge part of my success. It's just as much theirs as it is mine."
Despite being just 5'8, Connolly played a lot bigger than his size throughout his career at Minnesota-Duluth. And while he was a prolific point producer, it was the things that he did away from the scoresheet that made Connolly so extraordinary. He has the ability to make other players around him better and was as tough a competitor as they came. As head coach Scott Sandelin explains, Connolly's competitiveness is probably most underestimated attribute.
"I don't think people talk about his competitiveness much. He never stops competing."
One characteristic that made Jack Connolly rather unique is playing college hockey with a brother that has accomplished many of the same things that he did. Connolly's brother, Chris recently completed an excellent career at Boston University. Like Jack, Chris also served as his team's captain and has also helped guide his team to a National Championship. But what makes this brother act so special is the mutual respect and support that the two have for one another.
"Chris was my lifeline in college hockey," Connolly said of his brother. "I'm in contact with him every week. We'd be talking about what was going on in Hockey East and the East Coast type of stuff and he'd be picking my brain about what's going on in the WCHA and out west. For both of us to have National Championships and be captains for our respective teams, I couldn't be happier for him and him for me as well. We've both had success in the college hockey game, so it's definitely a unique situation."
"I just think that the relationship those two have is pretty neat," said Sandelin. "You don't always see that with brothers. Just the admiration and the respect that they have for each other and the fact that they both took different paths, I think is pretty neat because Chris is two years older and had played three years of junior and Jack had played only one. Both of them finish their (collegiate) careers together, both were captains and have won a National Championship, then it culminates with Jack getting the Hobey. Jack was in Washington when Chris won in 2009 and Chris was in St. Paul when Jack won last year. That was pretty cool and I don't think you see that a lot."
Connolly is as much of a battler and leader on the ice as he is humble and grounded off of it. And it is these attributes that have served both him and his Minnesota-Duluth team so well over the last four years.
"That's one of the things that I really love about Jack," said Sandelin. "He's not one of those guys that really likes the spotlight. I think you can just see that in his personality. There were so many questions about how Jack is going to play without Mike Connolly (COL) and Justin Fontaine (MIN), and to come back and have one more point than last year and play with different players, to me that's why I think Jack was so deserving of the Hobey Baker Award. I think he had a great year this year and he became a better player in different ways. He made other guys around him better. And I think he matured as a leader and even as a person over his time here."
So what will Sandelin miss most about Connolly?
"I think probably more than anything, just the person and how he went about his day-to-day business and how he handled himself. I'll miss how Jack kept the team in perspective. Nowadays I think that's very hard to do with a lot of players because many players are very much into the individual things. Jack has that personality in the (locker) room where he kept everyone loose and I'll miss that part of it too. I've been pretty fortunate to have been around a lot good players and there's no question that Jack is right there at the top among the best players that I've ever coached here. I think it's just been his consistency, durability and just how he plays the game that puts him there. His numbers speak for themselves and that's not an easy thing to do. To be as consistent and durable as Jack has been, especially with his size, has made him among the best players that we've had here. Jack just found different ways to be successful."
With his collegiate playing career over, Connolly is carefully weighing his options on where hockey will take him next. Although he has received quite a bit of interest from various NHL teams, Connolly is seriously considering Europe, specifically Sweden, to begin his professional career.
"Actually right now, the opportunities that I'm looking at are overseas. There are some good opportunities in Europe for me up in Sweden. So that's kind of where I'm thinking of going right now. I just have to weigh my opportunities and see what came after the season was done. The buzz in Europe came pretty quick and some of the opportunities over there were pretty inviting, actually a little bit more inviting than some of the opportunities back here (in North America), so I think it would be a good place for me to start."
Regardless of where Jack Connolly begins his professional career, one thing is for certain; his new team will get a very special player that can bring them many great things.