Known as the most prestigious award in college hockey, the Hobey Baker Memorial award annually recognizes the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player in the country. Hockey skills and stats aren’t the only criteria, because the Hobey is awarded to the play that most embodies a variety of qualities, including sportsmanship and character.
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Let’s take a dive into the history and selection process for the award, along with a history of the winners.
Hobey Baker didn’t create this award himself, rather he was the eventual inspiration for all that an award should embody. Charles R. Bard, who was the CEO of the Decathlon Athletic Club of Bloomington, Minnesota, founded the award in 1981.
In 1978, Bard was attending a Club Managers Convention in Los Angeles where he spent some time with Duke Llewellyn, the Administrator of college basketball’s Wooden Award. Llewellyn spoke to Bard about the development and plans for the Wooden Award (which was in turn modeled after the Heisman Award), and Bard thought that the Decathlon Club could do the same thing for hockey.
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Over the next three years, Bard worked with members of the Decathlon Club, the media, sponsors and prominent members of the hockey community to obtain sponsors for the award, a format and selection criteria. John Justice, the Athletic Director of the Decathlon Club, was tapped to format the criteria for who would vote on the award, who would select the candidates and how to pick a winner.
Finally, all that was left was to name the award. Bard scoured the bios of members of the Canadian and U.S. Hockey Halls of Fame. Four personalities impressed Bard — Frankie Brimsek, Moose-Goheen and John Mariucci — but the fourth name intrigued him the most, and was the only player that Bard pursued for more information — Hobart Amory Baker.
At the next committee meeting, Bard presented all four names but pushed for Hobey. In the end, it was a unanimous decision. A selection committee was formed, a network of NCAA coaches determined the top 10 finalists, and on March 20, 1981, the first Hobey Baker Award was presented to Minnesota’s Neal Broten.
In 1991, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation was established as the non-profit corporation tasked with presenting the award.
Check out the exclusive content from our 39th Annual Hobey Baker Memorial Award Banquet! This is one of the best events in college hockey! #hobeybaker @NCAAIceHockey @UMassHockey https://t.co/SWlYeFcI5U pic.twitter.com/S6qtKFr1n8
— Hobey Baker Award (@HobeyBakerAward) June 26, 2019
Hobey Baker wasn’t alive to create this award in his own honor, so it’s clear that his credentials and personal history had to be exceptional to stand out from all the other greats of hockey history.
Born in 1892 in Philadelphia, Hobey Baker’s hockey career began during his enrollment in a prep school named St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. The school was allegedly one of the first to introduce ice hockey to the country, just eight years before Hobey’s arrival. He immediately excelled at the then-seven-man game (with no forward passing or substitutions) and went on to continue his career at Princeton.
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At Princeton, Baker was a legend in football as well as hockey. Newspapers offered constant coverage, and fans lined up for hours to purchase tickets when he was playing. Baker was playing a standard of offensive hockey before its time, averaging four goals per game and was penalized only twice in his college career.
After college Baker entered the world of Wall Street, but continued his passion for hockey on an amateur team in Manhattan. He was known to continue his college tradition of visiting the opposite locker room after each game to shake hands.
As World War I loomed, Baker took up flying and in 1917 was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army. A member of the Lafayette Escadrille, he was with the first group of American pilots sent to France. Baker was credited with bringing down three enemy planes and awarded the Croix de Guerre.
After the armistice, before returning home, Baker was enjoying one last flight before his engine quit and the plane crashed. Baker died in the ambulance later, at age 26. With his death in France, the virtues Hobey Baker had personified in life became legendary. He was one of the first Americans selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, in 1945, and in 1973, the United States Hockey Hall of Fame included Hobey Baker as a charter member.
The Hobey Baker trophy is 16 inches high and made of 40 pounds of bronze and etched acrylic. The original trophy was presented at the first Hobey Baker Memorial Award banquet in 1981. Each year, the Foundation creates two trophies — one for the Hobey Baker Award winner and another trophy for the winner’s college. The original Hobey Baker trophy is on display at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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The trophy was designed by sculptor Bill Mack, a Minnesota native. To design the trophy, Mack first had to search for a model, and he eventually landed on hockey player Steve Christoff. Christoff was a standout for the University of Minnesota, and later played for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team and in the NHL.
More than 50 poses were analyzed before the final pose of a player stopping quickly was decided upon. Christoff was photographed in that pose from a variety of angles, and those photos were broken down to create a charcoal drawing. From that drawing Mack created a stick figure, covered it in clay and plaster-baked the design in an oven. From this, the finished bronze statue has remained the same and recognized around the nation.
According to the Hobey Baker Memorial Award website, there are four criteria used to consider Hobey Baker Memorial Award nominees:
- Strength of character, on and off the ice
- Contribution to the integrity of the team and outstanding skills in all phases of the game
- Scholastic achievement and sportsmanship
- Compliance with all NCAA rules, including being a full-time student in an accredited college or university and completing 50 percent or more of the season
There are three steps involved in the award’s selection process. First, the head coaches of NCAA DI ice hockey schools nominate the top three players in their respective leagues and the top three players in the nation. College hockey fans can also participate by voting online during this step. Price Waterhouse Coopers accounting firm counts these votes and the top 10 finalists are announced.
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Next, voting begins for the “Hobey Hat Trick,” which narrows the award field from ten finalists to three. The winner is then selected from this trio of players. The voting in this step of the process is by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Selection Committee. The committee is “a geographically balanced group of 29 individuals representing print and electronic sports media, college hockey coaches and officials, and NHL scouts.” There is also a round of fan voting in this step of the process.
The Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner is announced in a nationally televised ceremony.
To date, there have been 39 Hobey Baker Memorial Award recipients. Twenty-nine forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies have won the award. Age and experience can be a factor, as 25 college seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores and just two freshmen have been honored the award.
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Mark and Scott Fusco are the only brothers to both have been named the Hobey Baker award winner, both of Harvard University in 1983 and 1986, respectively. Minnesota-Duluth has the strongest showing of any NCAA institution, boasting five award-recipients in its 39-year history. Harvard follows closely with four Hobey winners, and Boston College with three.
See below for a full history of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award:
Information sourced from HobeyBaker.com.