Neal Broten Recalls First Hobey
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. PAUL, Minn. When Neal Broten was recognized during Friday's Hobey Baker Award ceremony as the first winner, he almost reminded everyone that it shouldn't have been him.
Broten was a star for the Minnesota Gophers, winner of the 1979 national championship, before going on to be a member of the 1980 Miracle On Ice gold-medal-winning team, and long-time prolific NHL player. But in 1981, the Hobey's first year, Broten's brother, Aaron, was the better player.
"Aaron should've definitely won the trophy," Neal Broten said Friday. "I feel a little guilty because he definitely had by far the better year. And he was the better student too. I feel funny about the award actually."
Broten returned to The U. for a second season after the Olympics, and scored 17 goals and a whopping 54 assists for 71 points. A great year by modern standards — Andy Miele just won it with 24 goals and 71 points.
Aaron Broten? He scored 47 goals and 106 points. Thirty more goals and 35 more points than Neal.
"We don't think about it, but when there's something like this, it comes up again," Neal Broten said. "I'm not big on individual awards. But when we look back, if I had to pick a player that should've won, I'd pick Aaron."
Of course, Neal is proud of the honor, as he should be. The whole thing has become merely a footnote now, but an interesting one, something to look back on with a chuckle, really.
"It's a great honor," Neal Broten said. "It's nice for myself and our family. Individual awards are because your teammates played well with you and helped you out. It's not like you took the puck and went around everyone. Hockey's a great team sport, and individual awards don't mean much to me."
Broten went on to a tremendous pro career, scoring 289 goals and 923 points in 1,099 games, mainly with the hometown Minnesota North Stars. He had some advice for guys like Miele and North Dakota's Matt Frattin, who are jumping now straight to the pros.
"It's a long time ago since I went to the pros," Broten said. "But any time you're playing in the NHL you're nervous and excited. And it's something you thought about since you were five years old, or 10 years old. But just try to play the way you've always played. ... They're used to playing the whole game, they'll probably only get five minutes of time. But just try to play your game."
Of course, with the Frozen Four in Minnesota, legendary Gophers and U.S. coach Herb Brooks was a topic of conversation. It's hard to ask Broten a question that hasn't been asked about his old coach, but you wonder whether he was always as tough as he's been portrayed.
"Herb was a tough coach, I always liked tough coaches," Broten said. "But if someone would've been in trouble, or Herbie had to stick up for one of his players, he did. He loved his players. He was tough on us, he worked us hard, and our conditioning was fantastic. And sometimes you were skating those Herbies and you did eight or 10 of them, you were saying (stuff) under your breath. But he was a great coach.
"He relaxed a little bit on the Olympic team. He seemed a little tougher when I was a freshman. I never really had any run-ins with him or anything. But the guys that weren't playing up to the way Herbie thought they could play, he let 'em know it. And sometimes it hurt guys' feelings. But when you're in college, you're not in position (to argue)."
Broten now runs a family farm in Minnesota, and hasn't had much to do with hockey since retiring from the NHL in 1997. Consequently, he hasn't really seen a Frozen Four, and how far this tournament, and the Hobey ceremony, has come since his college days.
"This is something else," Broten said, amid the Fan Fest taking place Friday night, which included brothers Aaron and Paul sitting next to him signing autographs, along with other Minnesota greats like the Michelletti and Hankinson brothers. "I've been away from hockey for a while. This is a pretty neat deal here."