Each year during the NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey season, anticipation of who will win the Hobey Baker Award escalates. But what is the Hobey Baker Award, when is it awarded and who is it named after?
Since 1935, college football has given the Heisman Trophy to the most outstanding player in the country; likewise, since 1981, college hockey has bestowed the Hobey Baker Award to the best player on skates. The award is given at a ceremony during the weekend of the Frozen Four. The two semi-final games are on a Thursday, and the Hobey Baker Award is Friday, a day before Saturday’s NCAA Championship game.
Hobart “Hobey” Baker
The award is named after former Princeton University multi-sport athlete, Hobart “Hobey” Baker. Hobey is considered one of the best athletes of his time. While in college, Hobey played hockey and football for Princeton from 1910-1914. Sadly, on December 21, 1918, Hobey Baker died in a plane crash while serving in the U.S. Army during World War 1. Hobey was the first American to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and is the only person inducted in both the College Football and United States Hockey Hall of Fames. After a thorough selection process, the award goes to a player who exhibits Hobie’s legendary athletic skills, integrity, sportsmanship and strength of character.
Since the inaugural Hobey Baker Award in 1981, there have been 41 winners of the distinguished award. The state of Wisconsin has produced three homegrown Hobey Baker Award winners. Each grew up in Wisconsin and played youth and/or high school hockey in Wisconsin. Let’s take a look at the three Hobey Baker Award winners who comprise “Wisconsin’s Hobey Hat Trick.”
In 1989, Lane MacDonald became the 9th Hobey Baker Award winner. Lane MacDonald was the first winner of the Hobey Baker Award from Wisconsin. Lane played Wisconsin high school hockey for University School of Milwaukee (USM). Early on it was clear Lane was special. In the early 1980’s, at one of the Milwaukee Admirals optional practices, Lowell MacDonald, USM coach at that time, brought his son Lane to a practice. At the end of the practice, Cal Roadhouse, longtime USM head coach and professional player for the Admirals at that time, asked Lowell “What D-1 college does your son Lane play for?” The response that Lane was still in high school shocked Cal. ”I couldn’t believe how good Lane was as a high school player. The first time I watched him, I knew he was special.”
Lane led the USM Wildcats to two WISAA state championships. Lane was considered by many to be the most dominant player in Wisconsin high school hockey during those years. However, because private schools were not members of the WIAA at that time, Lane never competed in WIAA playoffs or state, and consequently many WIAA coaches and players never witnessed his exceptional abilities.
After high school, Lane went directly to Harvard. While at Harvard, Lane had immediate success, tallying 52 points in 32 games as a freshman. Following his third season at Harvard, Lane played for Team USA in the 1988 Calgary Olympics, leading the team in goals. Following the Olympics, Lane returned to Harvard for the 1988/89 season. Lane averaged nearly two points per game, broke Harvard’s all-time records for career goals, power play goals and shorthanded goals. Lane was also team captain, named MVP of the Beanpot, led Harvard to the NCAA Championship and capped his tremendous final season of college hockey by winning the Hobey Baker. Lane graduated from University School of Milwaukee in 1984, Harvard in 1989, and then earned a business degree from Stanford University. Lane is currently a successful investment manager. In 2005, Lane was inducted into Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. While at USM, Lane was coached by his father, Lowell MacDonald, longtime NHL player and winner of the Masterton Trophy.
In 2017, Will Butcher was the 37th Hobey Baker Award winner. Will Butcher, the only defenseman of the “Hobey Hat Trick” grew up in Sun Prairie, played youth hockey for Sun Prairie and Madison Capitols. He then played his final two years in high school for USA Hockey’s NTDP. Will’s long list of accomplishments include; winning a gold medal with Team USA in the 2012 IIHF Under 18 Championships, serving as Team USA captain, and was awarded Top Defenseman at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Tournament.
Don Granato, NTDP coach of Will Butcher for two seasons, shared with me “Will is exceptionally intuitive; he finds a way with his hockey sense, competitiveness, and resilience.” Don Granato also said “Coaching Will really makes you appreciate him. One of Will’s great qualities is that he is consistent as a person and that makes him consistent as a player. You really see that when you coach him.”
After NTDP, Will played collegiately four seasons at Denver University. As a testament to his consistency and hard work, Will improved each season, increasing his point total and plus/minus statistics every season. In his final collegiate season, Will had 37 points, and was named Male Athlete of the Year for Denver University. In addition, Will led the Pioneers to the 2017 NCAA championship and won the Hobey Baker Award. Steve Miller, a coach and the primary recruiter of Will to Denver University, told me “Will’s hockey IQ is off the charts which enables him to excel in all situations. He has an elite ability to run a power play and create offense from the blueline, and he is a great kid from a great family.”
On October 7, 2017 Will Butcher played his first NHL game. It was a storybook beginning to an NHL career. Will Butcher was the first New Jersey Devils player in franchise history to score three points in his first game. He had a spectacular first NHL season and was named to the All-Rookie team after tallying 44 points in 81 games. In spring 2021, Will completed his fourth NHL season with the New Jersey Devils. Will was coached in youth hockey by his father, Joe Butcher, a two-time NCAA Championship player at UW Stevens Point.
On April 9, 2021, Cole Caufield became the 41st Hobey Baker Award winner. Cole Caufield grew up in Stevens Point and at an early age displayed an extraordinary ability to score goals. As a freshman in high school, he played varsity for Stevens Point Area High School (SPASH) and averaged more than a goal per game. He ended his first high school season with 64 points in 25 games. As a sophomore, Cole gave many goalies nightmares by averaging more than 2 goals per game. He ended his sophomore season with 53 goals and 34 assists in 25 games!
After his sophomore year in high school, Cole took his game to the national stage. He moved away from Stevens Point and his family to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP). The
question when any player goes to a higher level is whether he can make the jump? Cole did more than make the jump, he set a new standard for goal scoring. He set the NTDP record for career goals with 126 in two seasons, which broke Wisconsin native Phil Kessel’s prior record of 104 goals. In addition, Cole also set the single season record for goals with 72, which broke Auston Matthew’s prior record of 55. Cole also earned the tournament MVP award in the 2019 IIHF U-18 World Championship. He accomplished all of that prior to graduating high school!
Within weeks after high school graduation, Cole was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2019 NHL draft. Prior to joining the Canadiens, Cole spent two seasons at University of Wisconsin. He entered college hockey with high expectations, and he did not disappoint. During his freshman season, Cole had 24 points in 24 games, and led the Badgers and the Big 10 Conference in total points.
After a tremendous freshman season, speculation existed whether Cole would return to the Badgers for a second season. Tony Granato, head coach for University of Wisconsin, shared with me “Cole returned for his sophomore year and it was really beneficial for him. Cole really grew in his development both as a player and his maturity. He led the Big 10 in scoring again. Cole was a real difference maker in games, and he made his teammates better.” In his second and final season with UW, Cole helped the Badgers to a regular season Big 10 title, plus he earned a gold medal with the US National Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior Championship in January, 2021, and won the Hobey Baker Award.
Within days of receiving this year’s Hobey Baker Award, Cole joined the Montreal Canadiens and has made an immediate positive impact in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With success coming so quickly, the fans of Cole Caufield are excited for the future and are confident he will someday hoist the Stanley Cup! Cole was coached in youth hockey by his father, Paul Caufield, three-time NCAA Championship player, and all-time leading goal scorer at UW Stevens Point.
The common thread connecting all three of our Hobey Baker Award winners is more than just talent. Each has been described by former coaches as a high character person with a tremendous work ethic. Each spends countless hours working to improve their hockey skills. Also noteworthy is that each player has a father with an impressive hockey background that coached and fostered the hockey development.
Who will be our next Hobey Baker Award winner from Wisconsin?