PITTSBURGH — At this time last year, Johnny Gaudreau and his Boston College teammates were readying themselves for the national title game, which they would win. Not this year. With BC having lost to Union in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Gaudreau’s trip to Pittsburgh this weekend was purely ceremonial — for the Hobey Baker award announcement, and nothing else.
“It’s difficult,” Gaudreau said. “It’s hard to watch these games when your team’s not in it. It was a really fun weekend last year in Tampa. I know these guys are probably having a great time right now.”
The other two finalists were in uniform this weekend, senior goalie Eric Hartzell with Quinnipiac and senior center Drew LeBlanc with St. Cloud State.
Hartzell is still playing, after his Bobcats won Thursday to set up a matchup with Yale for the title on Saturday. But it was LeBlanc who took home the award, getting a nice consolation prize after his Huskies lost to Quinnipiac.
LeBlanc came back as a medical redshirt after breaking his left leg in a game Nov. 5, 2011, and missing the rest of the season. The St. Cloud captain led the nation with 37 assists, and added 13 goals for 50 points, seventh-best in the country.
A few hours after winning the award, LeBlanc agreed to a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Just six underclassmen have won the award in 33 years, with North Dakota sophomore Ryan Duncan taking it most recently, in 2007.
“I think it’s a great compliment [to Gaudreau] because the other two players are seniors,” said BC coach Jerry York, who was in attendance for the ceremony after taking 14 hours’ worth of train rides (because of ongoing eye problems).
“It’s more of a senior award. For him to be one of the final three, I think it’s well-documented just how good of a player he is.”
Gaudreau, who had 21 goals, led Hockey East in points (51) and assists (30), and his 1.46 points per game were the best in the country.
“As a sophomore, I never thought I’d get the chance to be in this kind of room, be in this kind of environment with two other great players,” Gaudreau said. “I’ve just been taking it all in.”
As LeBlanc joked after the ceremony, Gaudreau sat there “unflappable.” The other two showed their nerves, bumping legs and sweating it out. Gaudreau? “He has ice water in his veins,” LeBlanc said.
Perhaps it’s because he knows he’ll have at least one more chance to win.
Gaudreau, who is returning to BC for his junior season, is the presumptive favorite for the 2014 award. The ceremony, like the Frozen Four, will be held in Philadelphia next season — just 20 minutes from where Gaudreau grew up in Carneys Point, N.J.
“I think he feels that each day he can get better,” York said. “He wants to be that much better of a player. He’ll get better defensively, he’ll get better strength-wise. He’s not content where he’s at.”
Gaudreau mentioned his defense, citing it as a reason that BC didn’t make it to Pittsburgh this year. That’s why he wants to come back.
But there’s another reason Gaudreau has for staying in school: His younger brother Matt will be joining him at The Heights next year. Gaudreau called it one of the biggest factors in his decision.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been on the ice with him,’’ he said. “I think that might keep me motivated more towards the whole season, just being around him.”
And it’s not just his brother.
“We have an extremely great freshman class next year,” Gaudreau said. “My two years here have been pretty special so far, and I just want to make sure we try to make it special for those young guys, and hopefully get a chance to come to Philadelphia.”
. . .
LeBlanc, Hartzell, and Gaudreau were named first-team selections of the CCM Hockey All-America team. Joining them on the first team were junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (UMass-Lowell), sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire), and senior forward Steven Whitney (Boston College). Notable members of the second team included freshman goalie Jon Gillies (Providence), junior forward Mike Collins (Merrimack), and senior forward Andrew Miller (Yale).