A Leg Up: LeBlanc Wins Hobey
Fifth-Year Senior Comeback from Leg Fracture Complete
by A.J. Curry/CHN Reporter
PITTSBURGH Although St. Cloud State’s season ended with its NCAA semifinal loss on Thursday to Quinnipiac, its unquestioned leader – fifth-year senior Drew LeBlanc – earned college hockey’s top individual award on Friday. LeBlanc was named the winner of the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
LeBlanc, ironically, grew up just miles from the 2012 Hobey winner Jack Connolly (Minnesota-Duluth).
"Something in the water up there, I guess," joked LeBlanc, sitting by the Hobey trophy.
This season, in helping St. Cloud earn its first-ever trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, LeBlanc led the nation in assists (37) and was 10th overall in points (50). Winning the Hobey marks the culmination of an arduous recovery from a crippling injury in 2011.
Seventeen months ago, in an early November home game against Wisconsin, the senior co-captain suffered a devastating leg fracture – for LeBlanc, the unfortunate result of, in fact, very bad luck. On the play, LeBlanc’s left skate got caught in the ice, and he fell awkwardly, fracturing both his fibula and tibia, with bone fragments puncturing the skin.
For some perspective, Huskies head coach Bob Motzko compared it at the time to former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s infamous injury following a Lawrence Taylor tackle in 1985.
Needless to say, LeBlanc missed the rest of the season – but he applied for a medical redshirt to ensure that he could return for a full senior season. And that he did, playing in all 42 of St. Cloud’s games this season. Again a captain, and centering the top line, LeBlanc has played with a metal rod in his leg and helped lead the Huskies to its most successful season in program history – following up their first-ever WCHA regular season title with the first Frozen Four appearance in program history.
"It was sad," said LeBlanc, recalling his horrific injury. "Right when I hit, I knew I broke it. I rolled over and tried to get up. My leg was literally laying on the ice. As it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise. To play along those guys all year – we had a tremendous ride. It was incredible."
As for the journey back, that proved to be the most challenging part of the experience — maybe even more so than taking his team to the Frozen Four.
"Rehab was – it took a long time," said LeBlanc. "It’s a big bone. Took a long time to go back together. I started in the pool, just swimming. Some light jogging under the water… It took a tremendous amount of heard work to get back, to be ready to go for this season. It’s funny how things work out."
LeBlanc, repeatedly looking at the trophy in disbelief — "I'm in shock and awe," he said — credits the community in St. Cloud for supporting him.
"The community takes great pride in St. Cloud State hockey," said LeBlanc. "They’ve been by my side the whole way. It’s kind of funny because they’ve meant so much to our program, our students who show up every night… It says a lot about our community at St. Cloud, and how they really around our University. It’s an honor to represent them."
Beyond the team’s success, the individual accolades for the Hermantown, Minn., native are long and illustrious – in addition to winning the Hobey, he was named the 2013 WCHA Player of the Year as well as the WCHA Student-Athlete of the Year. No player in WCHA history has ever won both awards in the same season. He led nation in assists – a typical pattern for LeBlanc, as 105 of his 147 career points have been helpers.
He’s also sixth on the all-time points list, trailing recent St. Cloud graduates Ryan Lasch (first all time with 183 points) and Garrett Roe (178).
Beyond his on-ice accomplishments, LeBlanc has spent much of his free time teaching at a nearby elementary school and a nearby high school — all part of his efforts to complete his Math Education degree.
That experience, LeBlanc says, has given him inspiration — and solidifed a goal for his future.
"They made me laugh every day. They made my job fun... When my hockey career’s done, I can’t wait to go back and teach. Be part of someone else’s life and help them be the best they can."
LeBlanc earned the Hobey over fellow Hat Trick finalists Eric Hartzell (Quinnipiac) and Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College).