Duncan's Win Bittersweet
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS Standing at center ice of the Scottrade Center, his head barely poking over the Hobey Baker Award podium, a tidal wave of emotions were crashing through Ryan Duncan's head.
He had just won college hockey's top individual award, the first Fighting Sioux player to do so since Tony Hrkac's eye-popping 116-point campaign in 1987. He should be jubilant. But he wasn't.
Something was missing.
"I'm extremely proud, but it's a bittersweet moment for me," said a clean-shaven Duncan, having trimmed his playoff beard after last night's season-ending, 6-4, loss to Boston College. "Individual awards are just a bonus for me, and obviously we didn't accomplish what we set out for as a team, so it is definitely a big pill for me to swallow."
Duncan, who beat out fellow finalists — Notre Dame goaltender David Brown and Air Force forward Eric Ehn — enjoyed a bit of a home-ice advantage during Friday night's ceremony, as a contingency of Fighting Sioux fans came to cheer the sophomore on.
At one point, the ovation grew so loud the live broadcast had to be delayed until the cheers subsided.
His wins means that, although the WCHA's streak of consecutive national champions will end this season, its streak of Hobey champions does not. It dates back to 2001 when Michigan State goalie Ryan Miller earned the award.
Establishing himself as one of college hockey's most prolific goal scorers, Duncan's Hobey stock rose steadily throughout the year, as he played alongside a pair of first-round draft picks in Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie. And in true Hobey Baker spirit, Duncan was quick to deflect his individual accolades — which included 57 points in 43 games, WCHA Player of the Year, and First Team All-American — as he emphasized his winning of the award to be a team, not individual honor.
"Our line played great together all year and I definitely share this award with my linemates, Jonathan and T.J.," Duncan said, who was without the two during Friday's ceremony, as the team's charter returned to Grand Forks earlier in the day. "But even more than that, I think the award is a reflection of the great second half of the season our team has had; I was just fortunate enough to receive the individual honor representing our entire team's success."
Undrafted, Duncan's stock is surely to rise after Friday's Hobey announcement. He has made a career proving wrong conventional wisdom that says a player must be big to succeed at the elite level of the game. UND head coach, Dave Hakstol, was especially vocal about the deceiving nature of Duncan's 5-foot-6, 158-pound frame.
"You know, just because you're not the prototypical NHL draft pick doesn't mean that you're not a great hockey player," said Hakstol, who has watched Duncan's skills develop over the past two years with the Fighting Sioux. "To play this game it requires skill, ability, but it also requires heart, and I guess that's a stat that's pretty hard to quantify when you take a look at a young man, and I think Ryan Duncan proves good played come in a lot of different packages. Simply because he wasn't a first round draft pick doesn't mean he's not equipped to play at that level, and he receiving the Hobey Baker tonight is a testament to the changing nature of the game."
With the heart Hakstol referred to still aching, Duncan swallowed the lump in his throat back down into his stomach, and made the best out of a disappointing week in St. Louis. After all, despite being unable to keep the national championship within the WCHA, he at least did his part in keeping the conference's stranglehold on the Hobey Baker.
It may not be the trophy he wanted, but it will have to do.
It now remains to be seen whether Duncan will become the first Hobey winner since Miller in 2001 to return to school. Miller was a sophomore that year, and left after his junior year.