Photo courtesy Charles Krupa, Associated Press

Photo courtesy Charles Krupa, Associated Press

By: Dan McLoone

All due respect to Ryan Donato and Henrik Borgstrom, but they never stood a chance. The Hobey Baker Award was always destined to go to Adam Gaudette.

A 27-member selection committee confirmed something on Friday night in St. Paul that Northeastern fans have been witnessing all season in Boston – Gaudette is the best college player in the nation. For Gaudette, the Hobey Baker Award is the culmination of three scintillating years on Huntington Avenue. Three years of flexing his muscles as the scariest power play scorer in the nation. Three years of firing home one-timers while camped out at his favorite spot on the left dot. Three years of development that turned him from a nice complimentary scorer on a Hockey East Championship squad into one of the most dangerous open-ice skaters in the nation.

Northeastern has been fighting for decades to prove itself, desperately searching for the consistent success that would put it on the map as not only an afterthought when discussing the best teams in Boston, but into an actual bonafide NCAA hockey power.

Gaudette’s achievement is the crown jewel from three years of hard work for a program that has entrenched itself as a consistently dominant offensive force, immortalizing the forward in Husky lore and securing his status as one of the best players to ever wear the red and black.

Kevin Roy laid the foundation with a spectacular career and a Hockey East title. Zach Aston-Reese took it a step further by leading the nation in scoring last year to earn a Hobey Hat Trick nomination. But Gaudette is the one who scaled the mountain.

Roy captained an incredible team, but never produced the numbers needed to find himself in the Hobey discussion. Aston-Reese put up a gaudy stat line, but was beaten out by a player in Will Butcher who captained the National Champions in Denver. Gaudette was the first to combine both the eye-popping personal stats with the overall team success needed to reach the pinnacle of individual awards. And when the Hat Trick of Gaudette, Donato and Borgstrom was announced, there was never a doubt that the Braintree native would get his due recognition.

How certain was his coronation as the top player in the nation? I wrote this column on March 29th, eight days before Gaudette took the stage in Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

This isn’t to say that Borgstrom and Donato weren’t the right choices. But neither had the necessary stats or team success to dethrone Gaudette. Borgstrom, a Panthers draft pick, scored 23 goals to go with 29 assists for Denver, earning him NCHC Player of the Year recognition. But the reigning champs were bounced in their regional final by Ohio State, and the one extra round of tournament hockey wasn’t enough to dethrone Gaudette. Donato had the storyline factor going his way, scoring 26 goals for Harvard before potting five for Team USA at the Olympics and then proceeding to score five points in his first five games with the Bruins. But he only played 29 games for the Crimson due to international duties, and was unable to lead them to the NCAA tournament.

And then there’s Gaudette. The junior made Hockey East foes look foolish all season, leading the nation with 60 points on 30 goals and 30 assists. He scored a hat trick in the Beanpot Final to give NU its first title in the competition since 1988. He subsidized his nose for goal with a dominant presence on both sides of the ice, logging significant minutes on the penalty kill unit while creating numerous rushes the other way with his relentless backcheck pursuits. And the team success came with it, as the Huskies picked up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Granted, Gaudette certainly couldn’t have achieved the peak of individual performance alone, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. His on-ice chemistry with Dylan Sikura developed on the third line during his freshman year and slowly blossomed into one of the most dynamic scoring duos in the nation. Nolan Stevens’ ability with the puck on his stick opened up so many more lanes for Gaudette and Sikura to take advantage of out wide when they played together. Stevens brand of quiet leadership allowed Gaudette to be a more vocal presence. Sikura, always the bridesmaid and never the bride, has been one of the nation’s top playmakers for two years with two Hobey Baker nominations, but has been overshadowed by the superior goal scoring numbers of Aston-Reese and Gaudette. You could argue that Sikura’s skill allowed those two to make the jump into the nation’s elite.

But Gaudette was able to capitalize on the immense skill that he was surrounded with, finishing as NU’s all-time leader in power play goals and surpassing 100 career points in his junior season. He played a pivotal role in erasing the pain of 1988 altogether, spearheading the team’s first Beanpot title since then. He served as an excellent ambassador for both the Northeastern hockey program and the university overall. And now, he’s living out his NHL dream with the Vancouver Canucks. Not bad for a local kid from Braintree.

For Northeastern, having a Hobey Baker winner as an alum fits perfectly into the plan that head coach Jim Madigan outlined after the Huskies won Hockey East in 2016 – the Huskies are back. We’ve already seen the effects of the 2016 title in Northeastern’s recruiting classes over the past two years. Adding a Hobey Baker winner to the trophy case will only increase NU’s ability to compete on the national scene for years to come.

Josh Manson started it, countless other players have helped along the way, and Adam Gaudette will be immortalized forever for securing the final piece to the puzzle. Northeastern hockey is back in the national discussion. Thanks be to Gaud.

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