On Friday evening, the winner of the 2007 Hobey Award was announced, and surprisingly that recipient was University of North Dakota sophomore Ryan Duncan. The other two "Hobey Hat Trick" finalists were Air Force Academy junior center Eric Ehn and Notre Dame senior goaltender and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect David Brown.
"Ryan’s truly a deserving winner of this award when you look at all of the criteria," said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol addressing a small pool of reporters. "For me, the ability on the ice is obvious but the character, leadership and the competitiveness that is always talked about when you talk Hobey Baker and what he brought to the table, Ryan personifies that."
The Calgary, AB native led the Fighting Sioux and the WCHA in scoring this season with 57 points (31 goals, 26 assists) and was named the WCHA Player of the Year. Duncan was instrumental in helping to guide North Dakota to their 17th NCAA Frozen Four appearance this year as well.
He played on one of the nation’s most explosive lines this season, alongside fellow sophomores T.J. Oshie (STL) and Jonathan Toews (CHI). Though he didn’t quite get the recognition that his NHL-drafted linemates have gotten for much of the season, Duncan was by far the most consistent, and at times carried the team offensively throughout the season.
"Ryan challenged himself throughout the year to play a bigger role on our team. Throughout much of the season, he wasn’t a guy that was getting a lot of limelight on our team," said Hakstol. "In the second half when we began to have success, he wasn’t always the first guy that was in the spotlight but he always was the guy that was there and was consistent. When you look at Ryan’s stats in the second half, they’re equally as good as the first half. When you look at the key plays and the key goals that were scored, those are sometimes difficult to breakdown just by looking at stats. I can tell you that Ryan played a huge role in a lot of key situations for us in the second half certainly, and that to me is Ryan just elevating his game."
Duncan is undrafted but he is certain to grab the attention of more than just a few interested NHL teams, if he hasn’t already.
What Duncan lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his speed, skill, heart and work ethic. His great hands and playmaking ability have made him not only a lethal scoring threat but have helped to elevate the level of play of those around him as well.
"Good hockey players come in many different packages. Just because you’re not the prototypical NHL draft pick doesn’t mean that you’re not a great hockey player. To play this game, it requires skill and ability but it also requires heart. That’s a stat that when you take a look at a young man is hard to quantify. That’s not judging by height and weight. When you have ability, character and heart and soul to play this game, you can be pretty effective. I think Ryan Duncan proves that good players come in a lot of different packages. Just because he wasn’t a first round draft pick doesn’t mean that he isn’t a prospect to play at that level."
Duncan’s statistical accomplishments have put him in some elite company in the recent annuls of Sioux hockey history. He is just one of four North Dakota players in the last 15 years to reach the 30-goal plateau, joining Brandon Bochenski, Lee Goren and Bryan Lundbohm. Furthermore, Bochenski and Zach Parise are also the only Sioux players in the last 10 years to have posted more goals than Duncan in their first two years at North Dakota.
While North Dakota has been the subject of some negative press this season, Duncan is perhaps it’s greatest feel good story of the year and as Hakstol enthusiastically points out, he symbolizes everything that is great about North Dakota and it’s storied hockey program.
"Ryan is a tremendous representation of our program. When you look at Ryan’s accomplishments in his first two years here, they’re absolutely tremendous. I think there’s still a little bit more of the story to be written for Ryan Duncan at North Dakota and his successes. But that remains for the future. Ryan Duncan is a special player and he’s a special person within the program. I think I can speak for his teammates the level of pride that we all carry to see him be named the Hobey Baker Award winner."
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