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Minnesota-Duluth's Connolly wins Hobey Baker Award

by Bob Snow / Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA -- The Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation selected Minnesota-Duluth senior forward and Duluth native Jack Connolly for the 2012 Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's highest annual award for its top player.

Top-10 highlights at Minnesota-Duluth

  • * Repeat Top-10 Hobey Baker finalist
  • * WCHA 2011-'12 Player of the Year
  • * Two-time All-American
  • * Won the 2011-12 WCHA scoring title with 20 goals and 40 assists
  • * Season total of 60 points was second best in the nation to Abbott's total of 21-41-62
  • * WCHA First-Team all-star three consecutive years
  • * Iron-man collegiate career: 164 consecutive without missing a game
  • * Held without a point in consecutive games only twice in four years
  • * Active in community endeavors, while maintaining a 3.3 GPA
  • * Undrafted free agent and older brother of BU captain Chris Connolly
"When I heard my name, my heart was pounding and jumping out of my chest," Connolly told "It was pretty emotional. I never thought this would ever be possible when I came into college hockey."

Hobey Hat Trick finalists also included senior forwards Spencer Abbott from the University of Maine and Austin Smith from Colgate University. Abbott led the nation is scoring with 62 points; Smith in goals with 36.  

The 23-member Hobey Selection Committee and an additional round of online fan balloting determine the annual winner. The criteria include  outstanding skills in all phases of the game, strength of character on and off the ice, sportsmanship and scholastic achievements.

Beginning in 1981 with the first recipient, Neil Broten, from the University of Minnesota, the award is named in honor of the former Princeton great and fighter pilot in World War I who died in a tragic aviation accident in 1917 in France after an illustrious playing career.

One irony of the 2012 award is that Friday night's festivities were uniquely staged at MacDill Air Force Base on the shores of Tampa Bay.

"This year's Award is made special by our location at MacDill Air Force Base," program presenter Paul Kennedy said.

The other irony being that France sent military dignitaries to MacDill on Friday to present a formal military award in Baker's memory to family descendents on hand these 94 years later.

Connolly is the fifth Bulldog to be named a Hat Trick finalist, and the first since Junior Lessard took home the award in 2004; Miami's Andy Miele won it last year.
The senior captain's four-year career was highlighted by leading the Bulldogs to a 3-2 overtime win over Michigan victory in last year's NCAA title game, giving UMD its first-ever national championship. The Bulldogs' hopes for a repeat ended two weeks ago in the Northeast Regional final at the hands of Boston College after they upended Maine in the semifinal.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder is the second Duluth-born winner, joining University of Minnesota goalie Robb Stauber in 1988.

It all began for Jack and brother Chris on the frozen ponds of Duluth.

Mom Judy and dad Mark were on hand. "Oh my gosh, it's overwhelming," Judy Connolly told "I'm so excited. A lot of cold snow banks along the way, watching them since they were little. I never would have thought this would be possible. So proud, so very proud."

Add some sibling revelry to those sentiments.

"Duluth is a huge hockey community and we grow up on the outdoor rinks," said Chris, sporting his national championship ring from Boston University's title in 2009. "So little kids really look up to the Bulldog players. Some of our friends had backyard rinks that their dads made with plywood and floodlights. That's where we develop a passion for the game. If you don't have the passion, you can't go this far. Jack has always had that. He's a true rink rat out there. The Duluth community is a big reason for this."

Jack Connolly, unlike his brother, opted to stay home. He has no regrets.

"It's been a spectacular time playing hockey in my home town," said the newest member of the Hobey Baker fraternity. "My parents sacrificed a lot for me and my brother to play the game. For me to come out on top tonight is a tribute to them and my brother and coaches. When I got the opportunity to play for my hometown of UMD, I jumped all over it with the intention to play all four years of college and get the degree. It was an unbelievable ride; this is the icing on the cake."

"It's pretty crazy to have two national champions and a Hobey in the same family. A lot of hard work was put in our hockey careers to get to this success as a family. Working hard, keep doing what I've been doing, listen to my coaches, and take the guidance they give me is what I hope makes me successful at the next level."

Connolly also took home the 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, presented at Thursday's second semifinal game. The award is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete. "CLASS" is an acronym for "Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School."

"Winning the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award means a lot to me and the UMD hockey program," Connolly said. "I always try to do my best in everything that I do whether it be hockey, school or helping out in the community. I am truly honored and proud to receive this prestigious award."
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