How Hobey Baker Award got its name

Posted: April 11, 2014

THE LIST WAS pared down to four names. This was in 1980, around the time of the Miracle on Ice, and Chuck Bard thought it was high time that college hockey had what college football had: a trophy to honor the best player each year.

So he asked for and received the biographies of every player inducted into the Canadian and American hockey halls of fame, diligently absorbed the lives and careers of hundreds of players, and came up with an imposing list for his committee to consider naming the award.

Hobey Baker. Frankie Brimsek. John Mariucci, who just happened to live across the street from Bard at the time.

And Moose Goheen.

The Moose Goheen Award?

"I think we got it right," Bard, now 88, was saying over the phone from Minnesota yesterday about his baby, the Hobey Baker Award.

Moose was a great player. He dominated amateur hockey in Minnesota, played three sports at Indiana University, played on pro teams before joining the U.S. Army at the onset of World War I. But once Bard read about Baker, Moose was cut loose.

And so was Chuck's neighbor, Mariucci. If someone had an inside track to the new trophy that Bard had conjured up and secured the funding for, wouldn't Johnnie be good? Didn't hurt that he, too, was a Minnesota legend, a star player with the Gophers first, an NHL player next, a successful college and Olympic coach, too.

Chuck loved the guy, spoke to him nearly every day, knew all about his career. Everybody in Minnesota did. He was called "The Godfather of Minnesota hockey.''

"And he would have been a good name,'' Bard said. "I went through the list of candidates and their bios and basically the ones I came up with were all good ones. But once I read one, I just dropped everybody else.''

Hobey Baker was the only name without Minnesota ties. Born to a Philadelphia upholsterer in 1892, raised in Bala Cynwyd for the early part of his life, Baker did not lace on a pair of skates until he attended St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, where hockey was already king.

Like Jim Thorpe, he mastered any athletic endeavor quickly, and by the time he reached Princeton, his dominance in hockey and football made him a touted attraction. His looks didn't hurt either, nor his soft-spoken humility and reputation for entering opposing dressing rooms after each game to shake the hand of each of his opponents.

Newspapers wrote about him, marquees over rinks heralded him, strategies were changed to take advantage of his skills and defend against them. In an era when low scores ruled the day, he habitually pumped in four goals a game, finishing his Princeton career with what is believed to be more than 120 goals. Records indicate he accumulated two penalties, although it might have only been one.

"And Ivy League,'' Bard said. "That was kind of the major league of hockey back then. He was so dominant. I was just taken away with it.''

So Bard pushed for Hobey. And the committee, assembled by Bard, said sure. A press conference was arranged on March 20, 1981 barely more than a year after the Miracle on Ice, to announce that Olympic and University of Minnesota star Neal Broten was the recipient of the first Hobey Baker Award.

"I think three guys showed up,'' Bard said. "I don't even know who they were.''

An awards banquet 10 days later did sell out, but probably because Gordie Howe was the featured speaker. Truth is, even though a favorite son won the first edition of the trophy, the great state of Minnesota was a little miffed at Bard for bypassing their guys for this unfamiliar name.

"They were really mad we didn't name it after Johnny Mariucci," Bard said. "And they were also mad that we included Canadians and foreigners. But we wanted the best player. So they kind of ignored us for a while. There wasn't much interest in helping it along here. It got an awful lot of support from the people outside of the area. The people in New York were excited about it and the coaches were excited about it and it just took a while for the people here to get behind it.''

Two big shifts in the sport's landscape helped the award achieve its current recognition status. A change in NCAA rules increased exponentially the number of Division I hockey programs, stretching from Alabama to Alaska. The expansion of the NHL into nontraditional hockey cities increased the talent pool and broadened its scope. This year's Hobey finalists - Greg Carey, Nic Dowd and Johnny Gaudreau - hail from Hamilton, Ontario, Huntsville, Ala., and Carneys Point, N.J., respectively.

Gaudreau, whose Boston College team faces off against Union College in one Frozen Four semifinal tonight, is the odds-on favorite to be named when the award is announced tomorrow night at the Loews Hotel in Center City.

He would be the first recipient born in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

Which is funny when you think of who the trophy was named after and where he was from. Or that Gaudreau would break a 2-year hold on the trophy by Minnesota-born players.

But what really tickles the trophy's 88-year-old originator is that people from New Jersey to Minnesota, from Alabama to Hamilton are well aware of the Hobey Baker Award and who and what it represents.

"Oh, absolutely,'' Chuck Bard said. "You used to read an article about one of the players who was a Hobey candidate and that wouldn't even be mentioned. Today when there's an article, it always is. And usually right on top.''


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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