Porter Ever Humble After Winning Hobey
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
DENVER A day after his Michigan Wolverines were eliminated from the NCAA tournament, senior captain Kevin Porter was named the winner of the 2008 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, the most prestigious individual honor in Division I men's college hockey.
Porter entered this week's Frozen Four in Denver as the nation's leading scorer, finishing his 2007-08 campaign with 33 goals and 30 assists in 43 games. Porter was also the nation's active scoring leader over the last four years, finishing his career in Ann Arbor, Mich., with 183 points.
"It feels good," said Porter, who became just the second Michigan player to win the Hobey (Brendan Morrison, 1997). "This is a great individual award, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates, especially my linemates. They've been great all season."
One of those linemates was fellow senior Chad Kolarik, who dubbed himself Porter's Hobey Baker Campaign Manager mere weeks into the season. Not surprisingly, Kolarik was thrilled that his teammate won the Award.
Said Kolarik, "He's the best player in college hockey. He led the best team in the country to a great season that no one expected us to have."
"I couldn't have done it without him, on and off the ice," said Porter in response. "For the past six years, he's been my best friend. Without him, this wouldn't have been possible."
Porter seemingly willed a young Wolverines team to the Frozen Four, scoring five goals and adding one assist in the NCAA East Regional against Niagara and Clarkson. Porter was also second in the nation in power-play goals with 15, and had recorded multiple points in a game 18 times this season. He led the Wolverines with a plus-33 on-ice rating and was named the CCHA Player of the Year in March.
But winning the Hobey isn't just about the numbers. Award criteria stress a consideration of strength of character, both on and off the ice. Candidates must contribute to the integrity of the team, and often excel in scholastic achievement and sportsmanship.
Indeed, Porter has embodied these qualities all season. Off the ice, he spends time with patients at Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor and volunteers for a number of various Make-A-Wish Foundation activities.
"Those are tremendous opportunities," said Porter. "To see kids — I've gone to Mott Children's Hospital. Players from our team go every Thursday and visit children for an hour or two hours. Just to see kids in the hospital and what they've been through, it makes my life seem so easy. Going through college and playing college hockey has been a dream come true, but these kids have been in hospital beds for weeks, months, and even years."
These are the qualities that were also personified by the Award's namesake, the multi-sport Princeton star in the early 1900s. On the official Hobey Baker website, Phil Esposito writes, "Baker was a player who continually brought a crowd to its feet, whether he caught the puck on the end of his stick, or picked an enemy punt out of the air. He was not, it was written, a showman, but he did everything with a sense of showmanship because it was natural to him."
Now, Porter joins a long line of premier college hockey players to win the award, including, among many others, Paul Kariya (1993) and Chris Drury (1998). Porter also becomes the first player from the CCHA to earn the honor since Ryan Miller (2001), the former Michigan State goaltender who now starts for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
For Porter, it was an honor he earned after deciding to return to Michigan for his senior season. The Northville, Mich., native was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004.
"He came back for his senior year," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "I think that's a great tribute to Kevin and what he's accomplished because that's why you come back for your senior year. You come back to graduate, you come back to finish what you started, you come back to improve on what you've already done and your teams have done. He came back on a mission. I've never seen a player take a team in his grasp, put the team on his back, and make it happen on a regular basis — not just once in a while, but every game, every practice. He's been a tremendous leader."
Despite winning the Award, the honor remains slightly bittersweet. After all, Porter's main goal heading into the Frozen Four this week was to return to Ann Arbor with Michigan's first national championship since 1998. Instead, the Wolverines were stunned in overtime by upstart Notre Dame on Thursday night.
Said his teammate Kolarik, "He cares about the team first. He's upset that we didn't get to win a national championship. But when you're a Hobey Baker finalist, that's pretty special.
"He's done all these things to help us grow as a team and help us stay at the top of the nation as the No. 1 seed. It was his year, it was his team, and he came back for all the right reasons. "
Indeed, one of his many rewards is being awarded the Hobey trophy — forty pounds of bronze, etched acrylic, 16 inches high, detailed down to a stitched jersey and a lettered stick as described on the Hobey site — is the ultimate individual honor for a college hockey player. Coaches from all 58 Division I schools participate in the voting, and the final winner is decided by a Selection Committee composed of media members, NHL scouts, and members of the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Porter was named the Hobey winner over runners-up Nathan Gerbe (Boston College) and Ryan Jones (Miami).
"He's a great player and a dynamic player also," said Gerbe. "Off the ice, he's one of the greatest kids. He's so caring. I played with him for a few seasons at USA. I can't say enough nice things about him. He's well deserving of the award."
Added Berenson of his graduating captain, "It's great to see a young player in today's era of so much publicity and so much attention remain so humble."
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