The Hobey Baker Award has been given to the player in collegiate hockey that exemplifies excellence, both on and off the ice, since 1981. Of the 40 men who have won the award, only nine have been defencemen. While some look at that as the position is underappreciated, it only shows how valuable these players are.
9. Matt Gilroy (Boston University, 2009)
Since the 1970s, the Boston Terriers have always had talented players in their lineup, but failed to turn it into team success. In the 2008-09 season, the Terriers received a two-fer with a stacked lineup, headlined by Matt Gilroy on the blue line. With their captain’s play and leadership, and a little bit of dramatics, BU would win their first championship in 31 years.
The former New York Ranger hit a career-high in points with 8 goals and 29 assists for 37 points in 45 games played. He also had a career-best plus/minus with a plus-22. He became the second Terrier to win the award after Chris Drury won it back in 1998.
8. Will Butcher (University of Denver, 2017)
Another blueliner to win both the Hobey Baker Award along with a national championship, Will Butcher was unquestionably one of the most dominant players in the 2016-17 season. Similar to Gilroy, Butcher hit career highs across the board en route to Denver’s third championship of this century.
The New Jersey Devils’ blueliner tallied 7 goals along with 30 assists in his senior season. Butcher also achieved a plus-27 plus/minus, by far his best during his time with the Pioneers. He became only the second Pioneer to ever take home Mr. Hobey Baker, but we will get to him in a minute.
7. Scott Perunovich (University of Minnesota-Duluth, 2020)
This year’s winner was undoubtedly one of the best playmakers in the NCAA. Perunovich is a smooth-skating offencive defenceman that played big minutes for the Bulldogs this past season, becoming the sixth player from Minnesota-Duluth to win the award.
The St. Louis Blues 2018 draft pick scored 6 goals and 34 assists for a career-high of 40 points in his 34 games, helping Minnesota-Duluth to a second-place finish in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). (from ‘Blues (literally) have their brush with history in ‘Market Street Dream’ painting,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 04/21/2020) He had a six-game point streak in the first semester of this past season, where Perunovich picked up 14 assists in that span.
6. Mark Fusco (Harvard University, 1983)
The first-ever defenceman to win the Hobey Baker Award, Mark Fusco played on a Harvard team that was built into a powerhouse in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) in the 1980’s. His outstanding senior season led the Crimson to their first national championship game berth.
While it was not his best season, defencively, at Harvard, Fusco’s offencive output in 1982-83 was his best. He scored 13 goals and 33 assists for a total of 46 points. Fusco would go on to represent the United States in the 1984 Winter Olympics, before playing two seasons with the Hartford Whalers.
5. Mike Mottau (Boston College, 2000)
The Boston College Eagles were in the middle of an extremely long national championship drought in the late ’90s, having not won since 1950. They came close in 2000, making it all the way to the championship game. Many thanks had to be given their standout d-man, Mike Mottau.
The strange fact about Mottau’s Hobey Baker season was that it was not even his best at BC. That was in the 1997-98 season where he scored 49 points in 40 games (The Eagles made it to the national championship game that year as well). In 1999-00, Mottau scored 6 goals and 37 assists for 43 points.
4. Matt Carle (University of Denver, 2006)
The first Pioneer to ever win the Hobey Baker Award, Matt Carle already had a successful college career heading into his junior season at Denver. He was a part of the national championship teams in 2004 and 2005, and was taken in the second round of the 2003 draft by the San Jose Sharks.
Regardless, Carle exploded in offencive production, scoring a career-best of 53 points. While his 11 goals were down from his previous season, his 42 assists are the most by a Denver blueliner in a single season. His 122 career points rank him fifth all-time among Pioneer defencemen.
3. Cale Makar (University of Massachusetts, 2019)
He is one of the brightest new stars in the NHL now, but back when he was playing with the Minutemen, Cale Makar turned heads with an incredible sophomore season. In 2018-19 his efforts are what helped drag a surprise UMass team to the national championship game.
After a promising freshman season, the Colorado Avalanche blueliner scored 49 points, with his 33 assists becoming the second-most in a single season by a UMass player. Makar finished third in the entire NCAA scoring, while finishing second in plus/minus with an incredible plus-32 in 41 games played.
2. Jordan Leopold (University of Minnesota, 2002)
Another defenceman whose highest point totals came before his Hobey Baker season, Jordan Leopold was the captain of the Gophers and the best blueliner in the NCAA in the early 2000s. His senior season saw him solidify himself as one of Minnesota’s best defencemen of all-time.
After a junior season that saw the former Calgary Flame score 49 points, Leopold tallied 20 goals (an all-time Gophers’ single-season record) and 28 assists for 48 points. Leopold helped the Gophers to their first national championship in 23 years by helping set up the overtime winner.
1. Tom Kurvers (University of Minnesota-Duluth, 1984)
One of the best seasons by any defenceman in NCAA history belongs to the first Minnesota-Duluth player to win the Hobey Baker Award. In the late ’70s, the Bulldogs were not quite the powerhouse they are today. That started to turn around in the early ’80s thanks to a talented defenceman named Tom Kurvers.
Kurvers had put up over 40 points over the two seasons prior to the 1983-84 season. In his senior season, the eventual Stanley Cup Champion’s numbers went into the stratosphere. He scored 18 goals while helping the Bulldogs out with 58 assists, adding up to a grand total of 76 points, the sixth-most in a single season by any blueliner. He finished seventh in the country in scoring that season, and helped Minnesota-Duluth to the championship game.
These nine defencemen sit in a class above the rest. They are the select few among many great blueliners who have played the collegiate game to have been recognized as one of the best not just at their position, but in all of college hockey. Who will be the next d-man to win the award? We will just have to wait and see.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.