As a fan of hockey, it’s rewarding to see a player’s class away from the rink exceed his skill on the ice. 2012 Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Connolly is one of those special players.
Below is a letter Connolly wrote to Mike Snee, Executive Director with Minnesota Hockey, detailing his memories of growing up playing hockey in Minnesota. In it, Connolly writes fondly about skating in Minnesota Hockey and thanks all of those who helped him along the way.
Connolly was born and raised in Duluth, developed his skill in his hometown, and played and starred for four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He helped lead the Bulldogs to a NCAA National Championship last season. This season, his individual achievements on the ice were honored with college hockey’s ultimate individual award, the Hobey. Judging by the letter, Connolly hasn’t forgotten his roots or the people who helped mold him into the player he is today.
Connolly didn’t expect or ask for it to be sent to Wild.com, but thanks to a chain of emails, we got it and couldn’t resist sharing it with all of Minnesota.
Be proud State of Hockey, Jack Connolly is one of our own.
Dear Minnesota Hockey:
I recently had the honor and privilege of being named the 2012 Hobey Baker Award Recipient as the top men’s college hockey player. Wow! Just typing that sentence and reading it over and over causes all kinds of wonderful emotions and thoughts in my head. But more so than anything, it makes me realize how fortunate I am to be from Minnesota, especially Duluth.
I put my skates on for the first time in the warming house at the Duluth Heights outdoor rink when I was four. And some of the other four year old kids that were putting their skates on for the first time next to me in the warming house that winter are still some of my best friends today, 18 years later. We grew up on the outdoor ice rinks and then eventually the indoor ice rinks in the Duluth area. My friends and I are extremely lucky to have been coached by so many wonderful people who instilled into all of us a passion and respect for the game. I was fortunate enough to play in the state high school hockey tournament and eventually play for my hometown Bulldogs, being part of a memorable team that won the school’s first National Championship. But it all started with the foundation that was built for me by the community hockey system that Minnesota has.
In recent years, I’ve been able to play on teams with players from all over North America. After talking about our childhood hockey experiences, I quickly realized that hockey elsewhere is not quite like hockey in Minnesota. As a mite and squirt playing for Duluth Heights, all I wanted to do was beat the other Duluth neighborhood teams including Piedmont Heights, Glen Avon, Portman, Congdon Park, Woodland, etc. Then at the PeeWee and Bantam level I played for Duluth East, which increased my list of rivals to places such as Cloquet, Grand Rapids, and Hibbing. Then came high school hockey at Duluth Marshall and games against Hermantown. The only thing better than a high school game against Hermantown was a win against Hermantown! All of this was done with my friends. All of this was done while living in the same house where I’d fall asleep as a four year old dreaming about hockey. All of this was done while continuing to play soccer at a high level throughout high school. No, I didn’t join an all-star team of 10-year old kids in the winter and go to tournaments in Quebec City or Buffalo. I played with kids from across the alley and down the street and a big road trip was a tournament in Coleraine. I didn’t move away at age 14 to pursue my hockey dreams. Instead I stayed home to play the game I love with my friends, and had a blast doing it!
I did develop. I developed as a hockey player and as a person. And for that I want to thank everyone who is involved in hockey in Minnesota. The coaches at Duluth Heights that picked me up when I fell as a four year old. The people connected with Minnesota Hockey that oversee all of the community associations in the state. I truly appreciate all that you have done for me and for other young hockey players in Minnesota. I encourage you to keep doing it because hockey in Minnesota works and is indeed special. From the bottom of my brand new Hobey Baker award, thank you!!