As Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State University stood in the middle of Consol Energy Center to receive the Hobey Baker Award Friday night, an old man eagerly watched 900 miles away in Bloomington, Minn., with still-vivid memories of how a vision was slowly nurtured to reality.
Chuck Bard, 87, streamed the live feed on his computer at home. When he gave out the first 40-pound bronze sculpture in 1981, the ceremony wasn't televised, and he and his friends from the Decathlon Athletic Club in suburban Minneapolis weren't sure their award for college hockey's most outstanding player would have staying power.
In the late 1970s, college hockey was so small-time that it did not have such an award. There were only three Division-I conferences, one out west (WCHA), one in the Midwest (CCHA) and one out east (ECAC), and there wasn't much inter-regional cooperation.
Mr. Bard, a banker, wasn't even a hockey fan. He devoted much of his time to the Decathlon Athletic Club, made up mostly of businessmen who wanted a place for their families to swim and play tennis while they grappled with important back-room decisions. The club would start the journey to becoming much more than that when Mr. Bard took a trip to Los Angeles in 1978 to attend the Club Managers Convention.
It was there that Mr. Bard discovered that the L.A. Athletic Club had created the Wooden Award, given annually to college basketball's best player. The LAAC had modeled its award after the Heisman Trophy, given annually by New York's Downtown Athletic Club to the best player in college football. Mr. Bard didn't know much about college hockey, but he believed the sport's best players deserved proper recognition. That it would come from Minnesota, a hockey-crazed state, only made sense.
Mr. Bard came home to Bloomington and couldn't shake the idea. He attended several Heisman banquets and, after a year, convinced the club it was worth looking into seriously. Eventually, he would have to answer the most important question: After which former hockey great would they name the award?
Mr. Bard reviewed the list of inductees from the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, studying their stories to find the perfect mix of candidates. He settled on four players who had all played college hockey before World War II: Frankie Brimsek, Moose Goheen, John Mariucci and Hobey Baker.
The first three names were all Minnesota-born. Baker hailed from Bala Cynwyd, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia.
In his native Minnesota, Mr. Bard felt pressure to choose one of their own, especially Mariucci, who was one of his neighbors and had played and coached at the University of Minnesota.
But Mr. Bard became enamored with Hobey Baker's story, which was the stuff of legend.
Hobart Amory Hare Baker was an All-American in football and hockey at Princeton and described as being the perfect gentleman while starring as one of the great athletes in American history. Baker was known for taking the most vicious hits during a game and then going to the opposing team's locker room after the game to congratulate them on a game well-played. Meanwhile, Baker was said to have committed just one penalty in his entire college career.
"John Mariucci was a very deserving person," Mr. Bard said, "but once I read the history of Hobey Baker, I just thought he was more deserving. He epitomized just exactly what we were looking for."
It was not only the way Baker lived but also the way he died. In 1917, Baker joined the American war effort as a fighter pilot. On Dec. 21, 1918, after nobly serving as the commander of his own squadron and being awarded the French Croix de Guerre, Baker received orders to return to the United States.
Legend has it that Baker, who loved to fly, wanted to take one more flight. He was given a plane that was recently repaired, and, as commander, he felt that only he should be the one to test it out. During the flight, the plane's engine failed, and Baker was unable to land it safely. It crashed, and he was killed at age 26.
"Almost mythical, huh?" said Cy Laurent, a member of the Decathlon Athletic Club, who like Mr. Bard was a founding member of the Hobey Baker Award Committee.
Baker's mythology only would increase as time passed. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald attended Princeton at the same time as Baker. His first novel, "This Side of Paradise," was released in 1920, and one of the characters, Amory Blaine, was based on Baker.
To Jeffrey Hart, a former professor of English at Dartmouth University who studied Fitzgerald's work extensively, Baker personified an American sense of vitality and integrity.
"Of course, he was drop-dead handsome," Mr. Hart said, "and an all-around great athlete, spectacular at what he did. Some of that fed into the circumstances of how he died. He insisted on test-flying it."
Mr. Bard went forward with the Hobey Baker Award. It felt like the right choice, and it didn't hurt that Baker was from the East Coast.
"We wanted to make absolutely certain that it was a national award," said Jack Carlson, who was chairman of the Hobey Baker Award Committee in 2001, "and someone didn't get the idea that it was a local, Minnesota award."
The Decathlon Athletic Club was so worried about this possible perception that, when University of Minnesota forward Neal Broten won the inaugural Hobey Baker Award in 1981, they wondered if it was all over before it even began.
"We thought we were done," said Mr. Laurent. "This is going to be viewed as an event for the West."
Yet, the award survived, and the winners, from all over the country, kept showing up in Bloomington for the yearly May award banquet dinner.
"The Decathlon Club really did a unique thing and had quite a big vision," said Mark Fusco, the 1983 Hobey Baker Award winner from Harvard. "They achieved what they set out to do."
In doing so, the club immortalized Hobey Baker for hockey fans around the world. Mr. Fusco did not know who Baker was until the award was created.
"You don't really hear about people like this anymore," Mr. Fusco said.
In 2000, a fire broke out at the Decathlon Athletic Club, damaging much of the building, which stood across from the Mall of America. The club soon closed, and the Hobey Baker Award Committee moved its headquarters to the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, where the Minnesota Wild play.
Today, on the grounds of the Decathlon Athletic Club stands a Radisson Hotel. There is no mention of the DAC. But the club's efforts will be forever remembered, engraved on the hockey stick in the Hobey Baker Award trophy.
"We've been very happy with our choice," Mr. Bard said. "It certainly has been received well."