UPDATED: April 9, 2016, at 12:45 a.m.
Jimmy Vesey, the outgoing co-captain of the Harvard men’s hockey team, was named the recipient of the 2016 Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top player in college hockey on Friday evening during a ceremony in Tampa, Fla.
One year after finishing as a runner-up for the award, Vesey beat out Michigan freshman forward Kyle Connor and Boston College junior goaltender Thatcher Demko to become the fourth player in Harvard history to win the Hobey Baker.
In 33 games for the Crimson this year, Vesey logged 24 goals and 22 assists, placing him seventh in the country in points per game (1.39). He averaged 4.48 shots on goal per contest, good for fifth in the nation, and finished with five game-winning goals.
In his acceptance speech, Vesey called winning the award a huge honor, but the senior spent the majority of his time on stage at the Tampa Theater delivering thank-yous to his family, coaches, and teammates. “No one wins an individual award without a supporting cast,” he told Wally Shaver of the Hobey Baker Award Committee.
Vesey had some special words for senior Kyle Criscuolo and junior Alexander Kerfoot in particular, with whom he has played on Harvard’s top line for each of the last two seasons.
"I’ve got a lot of the spotlight the last two years, and those guys took a back seat and never complained once,” Vesey said. “My teammates are my best friends, and I’ve had a great four years with those guys.”
The widely sought after NHL prospect had already accumulated plenty of hardware in recent weeks, including the Leonard Fowle Award as the New England Hockey Writers’ Most Valuable Player and the Walter Brown Award, given to the top American-born player in New England. Vesey was also named a First-Team East All-American by the American Collegiate Hockey Association on Friday and Player of the Year by both the Ivy League and the ECAC.
But one individual award missing from Vesey’s trophy case was the Hobey Baker, which eluded him in 2015. Despite leading the nation in scoring with 32 goals, Vesey finished a runner-up, as the award was handed to then-Boston University freshman Jack Eichel, who led the NCAA with 71 points in his lone collegiate season before joining the Buffalo Sabres.
At the time, Eichel became just the second freshman to win the Hobey Baker in its 35-year history. Yet, most college hockey pundits predicted a rookie was going to receive the award for the second year in a row on Friday.
Connor, Michigan’s freshman scoring sensation, led the nation in goals (35) and points (71) in 38 games for the Wolverines while skating on the most productive line in college hockey. Connor’s linemates, juniors J.T. Compher and Tyler Motte, finished right on Connor’s heels with 63 and 56 points, good for second and third in the country, respectively.
Nonetheless, strength of schedule may have put the biggest dent in Connor’s chances. As a member of the Big Ten, Michigan plays each of the other five teams in its conference four times, and only two of those teams boasted overall records above .500. Meanwhile, eight of the 12 teams in the ECAC—Harvard’s conference—finished above the .500 mark, and all eight currently rank among the top 25 teams in the PairWise rankings.
The other member of the Hobey Hat Trick, Demko topped college hockey with 10 shutouts, recording a .935 save percentage, a 1.88 goals against average, and a 27-8-4 record in goal for the regular season champion of Hockey East—Boston College. Demko also had a hand in bringing the Crimson’s season to a halt, stopping 32 of 33 Harvard shots in BC's 4-1 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 25.
With both their teams having been eliminated from the NCAA tournament, Demko and Connor have decisions to make this offseason regarding whether to return to school or sign professional contracts. Demko was selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the 36th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and Connor was selected 17th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2015.
Vesey faced a similar situation last season when the Crimson was bounced from the NCAA tournament by Nebraska-Omaha, as the Nashville Predators were prepared to insert their prized 2012 draft selection into their lineup right away.
But Vesey ultimately chose to return to Harvard for his senior season—a decision that may have helped him secure some additional votes this time around. The Hobey Baker is said to value not only on-ice statistics, but character, sportsmanship, and scholastic achievement among other qualities embodied by the award’s namesake, a former Princeton star in the early 20th century.
“I know who my vote went to for Hobey,” said Rensselaer coach Seth Appert on March 12 after Vesey scored twice in a game that eliminated RPI from the ECAC playoffs. “I think [Vesey’s] the Hobey Baker winner. That’s how good I think he is.”
“We’re happy he’s going to graduate finally,” joked former St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel a week later after the Crimson topped the Saints, 2-1, in the ECAC semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Vesey joins Mark Fusco (1983), Scott Fusco (1986), and Lane MacDonald (1989) in Harvard’s club of Hobey Baker recipients. Harvard is the only team from either the Ivy League or the ECAC to have produced a Hobey Baker winner, and nationally, Minnesota Duluth is the only school that has produced more (five).
Meanwhile, Vesey also becomes the third consecutive Hobey Baker recipient to hail from one of the four Beanpot schools, as Eichel won the award in 2015 and Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau, now a forward for the Calgary Flames, brought it home in 2014.
—Check TheCrimson.com for updates.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.
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