College of Science and Engineering
LeBlanc is SCSU's 1st Hobey Baker Award winner
Monday, April 15, 2013
Drew LeBlanc with the Hobey Baker Award
Drew LeBlanc’s storyline for this season has elements that would make for an epic novel.The story arc includes: a comeback from a potential career-ending injury, a decision to return to school instead of turning pro, helping his team win a share of its first WCHA regular season title, student teaching spring semester at St. Cloud Apollo High School, being the first player to be named WCHA Player of the Year and WCHA Student-Athlete of the Year in the same season and leading his team to its first Frozen Four appearance.
But this can be added to the latest chapter and it’s not fiction: LeBlanc was named St. Cloud State University’s first winner of the Hobey Baker Award on Friday at CONSOL Energy Center.
The award is given annually to the top men’s college hockey player, and it was made during a ceremony before a few thousand people at the arena. It also was televised on the NHL Network.
The other finalists for the award were Boston College sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau and Quinnipiac senior goalie Eric Hartzell.
“Coming back this year, it’s one of those things where there’s no way that this was going to happen to me,” LeBlanc told the crowd. “This is an unreal thing for me. I’m humbled, honored, blessed to be representing Hobey Baker and what he stands for.”
He thanked his coaches, the St. Cloud State staff, his parents and teammates for their help. The Huskies had their season end in the national semifinals Thursday night, but the team stayed in Pittsburgh for the award announcement and LeBlanc acknowledged his teammates in attendance.
“This is an individual award, but without those guys up there, it doesn’t happen. Thanks boys, I appreciate it,” said LeBlanc, one of the team’s captains.
Even Friday’s portion of the story had an addendum. After the award ceremony, the Chicago Blackhawks announced that they have signed the center to a one-year contract and that LeBlanc will wear No. 14 for the team.
St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko also found out Friday that LeBlanc and junior defenseman Nick Jensen became the program’s second and third players to be named to the American Hockey Coaches Association/CCM Division I West first team All-Americans.
Motzko had a wide smile after LeBlanc was announced as the Huskies’ first winner of the Hobey Baker Award.
“I think most coaches will tell you that individual awards — they’re nice, but it’s the team stuff that matters,” said Motzko, who has been a hockey coach since 1986. “But this is probably one of the more special moments in my career.
“I say that because of Drew, the type of kid he is, the type of hockey player he is and the fact that everybody benefited by him making the decision not to turn pro (before this season),” Motzko said of LeBlanc, who turns 24 in June. “He had opportunities on two different occasions (to sign).
“What he does is he helps the rest of our team enhance their experience in college,” Motzko said of this season. “To get something like this, it’s such a lesson in what the college game is about. It isn’t about how fast, sometimes, that you can get to the NHL. I believe he’s going to play in the NHL ... He’s a special man, a special hockey player and then he has a season that lifted a whole hockey program.”
He lifted that hockey program one season after he suffered a compound fracture in his leg on an innocent-looking play on Nov. 5, 2011, in a game against Wisconsin at the National Hockey and Event Center. A puck went into the boards behind the St. Cloud State goal line. LeBlanc went to retrieve it and, without another player touching him, he went into the boards hard.
LeBlanc’s father, Guy, and mother, Paula, were watching the game, standing behind Plexiglas above the ice where their son got injured.
“I heard something crack and I thought it was a stick and I looked down and his leg was (broken),” said Guy, a former St. Scholastica player and a longtime hockey coach.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘This doesn’t look good,’ ” Paula said.
Drew’s youngest brother, Jack, was sitting in another part of the arena when Drew was injured. Jack teared up remembering the injury.
“It was scary, but if it was going to happen to one guy, it had to be him because he just has the work ethic to push him through it and that’s what’s helped him be the player he is now,” said Jack, 15, a freshman at Hermantown High School.
Team trainer Bryan DeMaine came onto the ice and shortly thereafter, Motzko joined him. LeBlanc looked up at Motzko when he got there and calmly said, “Coach, my leg is broken.”
It was more serious than that. LeBlanc had surgery later that night and had screws, which remain in his leg, and a rod put in place, to help him heal. One of Guy’s former St. Scholastica teammates, Mike Neale, had a similar injury when they were in college and Guy said that Neale still walks with a limp.
“We’re sitting at the hospital and saying, are we going to have the surgery here, what are we going to do?” Paula said.
“You only get one chance to get it done right and we trusted the people in St. Cloud and it worked out,” Guy said.
The injury was on a Saturday night. LeBlanc was in class two days later, attended practices in a wheelchair that week and missed only practices when he had a doctor’s appointment for the rest of the regular season.
He said his rehabilitation started in the pool and, as the season went on, LeBlanc got back on the ice. He wore a jersey with a cross to make sure that his teammates avoided physical contact and claimed that if the team had made the NCAA tournament that he was going to try to play.
That did not happen and LeBlanc had a decision to make during the offseason.
A motor that 'doesn't stop'
In college hockey, many of the top players sign pro deals after their junior season. LeBlanc turned down an offer from Chicago to sign a pro deal after his junior season after being named to the All-WCHA third team.
An undrafted player, during the offseason, LeBlanc was invited to, and participated in, the Minnesota Wild’s prospects camp that is held in the summer. There were more pro offers and he admits that it was a tough decision.
“I lost a lot of sleep over it, whether to come back or whether to go (pro),” LeBlanc said. “After talking to coach (Motzko) and a few other people, I thought it was a good idea to come back.”
One of those other people LeBlanc talked to was Guy, whom he talked to about it several times.
“He kept asking me what I thought and I kept telling him that this was not about me,” Guy said. “I told him that I’ll support you whatever you do, but make sure you’re 100 percent sure about it or it’s going to eat you up and spit you out.”
While his decision delighted the team and its fans, it also was LeBlanc setting another example for his brothers. Brian LeBlanc is a 19-year-old defenseman who played junior hockey this season. Brian worked out with Drew over the summer and had a difficult time keeping up.
“He’s nuts,” Brian said of his brother’s work ethic. “I don’t know how he does it, but I wish I had it. He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop.”
“Once he made the decision that he was coming back, his training consumed his life,” Motzko said of LeBlanc’s offseason. “He’s one of those guys who has to have a carrot in front of him. You give him incentive and he’s going to achieve it.”
LeBlanc leads Division I in assists and, in the process, led the Huskies to their most storied season as a Division I program. He said in the news conference that he would gladly trade the college game’s top award for a chance to be playing in today’s national championship.
But make no doubt, the award is something special to him.
“To come back and have a senior season like this, it’s not something that you plan for. I was just hoping to come back and contribute to a good team,” LeBlanc said. “What unfolded was something really special.
“It’s been a great year. I don’t regret coming back. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It just goes to show you that staying loyal and working hard can lead to good things.”
“It’s been a season of firsts for St. Cloud State and this is a good one to add to it.”
Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times, April 13, 2013