In February of 1978, Charles Bard, CEO of the Decathlon Club of Bloomington, MN, attended a convention at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. There, he learned of the development plans for the Wooden Award, created to honor the outstanding collegiate basketball player of the year.
He learned about its beginning, how the trophy was designed, and the early successes and failures with the progress of the idea. He discussed how the Wooden committee patterned their award after the Heisman Trophy, which originated in the 1920s. He then concluded that his Decathlon Club could do the same thing for hockey.
The process of establishing the award began and, eventually, came the time to give it a name. Suggestions and biographies were solicited from members of both the Canadian and USA Hockey Halls of Fame.
After reviewing all of the inductees, four names stood out to the committee. They were Frank Brimsek, John Mariucci, Frank “Moose” Goheen (interestingly, all from Minnesota) and, of course Hobey Baker, a Philadelphian.
Brimsek was perhaps the greatest goaltender of his generation. Before ascending to his historic netminding career with the Boston Bruins, Frank tended goal right here in Providence with the Reds from 1937 thru 1939.
Brimsek held the NHL record for most wins and shutouts recorded by an American netminder at the time of his retirement. His wins record stood for 54 years while his shutouts record stood for 61 years. He was a charter inductee into the RI Reds Hall of Fame in 1963, entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1966, (the first American-born goalie to be inducted), and in 1973 he was an inaugural inductee of the US Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Mariucci name was synonymous with the growth of amateur and professional hockey in Minnesota for over 40 years. He was the major reason why the game spread as fast in the Gopher state as anywhere else in the USA. John played for our RI Reds in 1941 while the property of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Like Brimsek, Mariucci was inducted into the inaugural class of the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973 and later into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985.
“Moose” Goheen distinguished himself as a hockey player at Valparaiso University before leading his St. Paul (MN) Athletic Club to the US Amateur Hockey Championship in 1916. After a tour of duty serving in the Army in WWI, Goheen returned to captain the very first US Olympic hockey team, winning Silver in Antwerp, Belgium.
In the end, it was Hobey Armory Baker whose exploits won the day. The son of an aristocratic Philadephia family, Hobey began his hockey career at St. Paul’s prep school in Concord, NH. He would later star at Princeton, universally recognized as the best amateur hockey player in the United States. I was the age of 7-man hockey – no forward passing or substitutions allowed. And at a time when low scoring games were the rule, Hobey set new standards, averaging more than four goals per game. He was penalized only twice in his college career.
In the winter of 1916 he took up flying, believing American involvement in the World War was close at hand. The following year, Hobey was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army and was among the first American pilots sent to France.
Following the armistice, his orders to return home in hand, Hobey decided to make one last flight. His engine quit in flight. The plane crashed and Hobey Baker died at age 26.
With his death in France, the old‑fashioned virtues Hobey Baker personified took on legendary qualities. He was one of the first Americans selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, in 1945. In 1973, along with Brimsek, Mariucci, and Goheen, the US Hockey Hall of Fame included Hobey Baker as a charter member.
The first Hobey Baker Award winner was Neal Broten of the University of Minnesota. A black tie award banquet was held to honor Broten at the Decathlon Club on March 30, 1981. Gordie Howe was guest speaker and the legendary Ray Scott was Master of Ceremonies at the long awaited and sold out event.
Since that eventful night, 10 players with Rhode Island ties have been finalists for the Hobey Baker with Bishop Hendricken All-Stater and Boston College star David Emma winning the coveted award in 1991. (More to come on David in a future article).
The following is a list of honored Hobey Baker finalists with RI roots:
Randy Velischek – PC runner-up 1983
Kurt Kleinendorst – PC finalist 1983
Gates Orlando – PC finalist 1984
Tim Army – PC finalist 1985
Chris Terreri – PC finalist 1986
Dave Capuano – ME finalist 1988
Dave Capuano – ME finalist 1989
Rick Bennett – PC finalist 1990
David Emma – BC Winner 1991
Rob Gaudreau – PC finalist 1991
Yann Danis – Brown runner-up 2004
In 2003, the Hobey Baker High School Character Awards were created to honor high school hockey players who exemplify the Hobey Baker ideal that “Character Builds Excellence.” Candidates for a High School Hobey Baker Award are selected by their coaches, based on coachability, strength of character, integrity, commitment, teamwork, community leadership, and sportsmanship.
Each year, a single senior hockey player from each participating high school is selected by his or her coach to be honored by teammates and celebrated by the school and the community for outstanding individual performance on and off the ice. Each year, the RI winners are honored by the Providence Bruins at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Winners receive a personalized commemorative plaque – and a distinction shared by some of the top players to ever hit the ice: Hobey Baker winner.