TAMPA — On a day when military leaders honored the man for whom the trophy is named, Minnesota-Duluth senior F Jack Connolly took home the Hobey Baker Award, given Friday to college hockey's most outstanding player.
"My heart was racing, pretty much pounding out of my chest," said Connolly, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound Duluth native. "It's a tremendous honor. It's kind of surreal right now. I'm sure it'll set in later, but I'm trying to enjoy the moment."
It's the fifth time in the award's 32-year history a player from Minnesota-Duluth has won the honor, most in the nation.
Connolly was second in the nation in points with 60, including 20 goals, and assists with 40 as he helped lead the Bulldogs to the region final.
Baker, a multisport star at Princeton and World War I pilot who died testing a plane shortly after the war ended in 1918, was honored as well at MacDill Air Force Base. His great-great-nephew Cristo Hobart Morse was presented with the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War), a French medal for heroism.
Morse also will take part in the ceremonial puck drop for tonight's title game.
Connolly's brother Chris won a national title at Boston and was the team's captain last season.
The other two finalists also were senior forwards, Maine's Spencer Abbott and Colgate's Austin Smith.
JITTERS? Is Ferris State nervous entering the first national title game in program history? Why yes, it is.
"It's easy to say — 24 hours away from the game — that the nerves are gone. But by the time we hit 3 p.m. (this) afternoon, the nerves are going to be back, and I know it," coach Bob Daniels said. "The players know it."
Why yes, they do.
"Obviously, we are going to be excited and maybe a little bit nervous for the first couple of shifts," senior D Chad Billins said. "But to get that first game under your belt really helps."
DeJa VU: The only visible sign of the Frozen Four's host institution, Alabama-Huntsville, is a Chargers logo on the ice and boards.
Athletic director E.J. Brophy aimed to use this week to wine and dine college hockey dignitaries hoping to find a conference home. The Chargers have been the only Division I independent, a huge financial burden, since the College Hockey America Conference dissolved after the 2009-10 season.
An interim president had slated the program to be downgraded to a club sport before new president Robert Altenkirch guaranteed it would stay in Division I through the 2012-13 season.
Ferris State and Daniels can relate. Its program faced elimination in 1991.
A few of the school's administrators wanted to de-emphasize sports. And in November, the school announced the program would be disbanded. Over the next three months, though, the community rallied around the program (similar to how supporters at Huntsville have done), and the decision was reversed.
Daniels said the scare hampered recruiting efforts for several years.
"It could have been just a figment of our imagination, a hockey team at Ferris State," said Boston College coach Jerry York, who then was coaching Bowling Green. "There's only 58 of us (in Division I).
"So we're always trying to protect each other."