Drew LeBlanc was humbled and nearly speechless Friday night after he was named winner of college hockey's prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial Award in a ceremony at Consol Energy Center.
LeBlanc and the St. Cloud State Huskies were ousted from the Frozen Four Thursday in a 4-1 loss against Quinnipiac, but the soft-spoken center will leave Pittsburgh with some impressive hardware.
LeBlanc was one of three finalists with goalie Eric Hartzell of Quinnipiac and forward Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College.
"I still don't believe I won it. I'm still kind of in shock and awe," said LeBlanc. "Honestly, I'm humbled and honored to be a part of this and glad there's a couple of people out there that thought the same way."
LeBlanc had 13 goals and 37 assists this year for St. Cloud State and has been considered the team's leader since returning from a gruesome leg injury in November 2011.
His story sent a shudder through college hockey when he crashed feet first into the boards and rolled over with his leg at a disturbing angle. He fractured his tibia and fibula and underwent a long rehab to return for his senior year.
There was some pull to leave college early in order to turn pro, but, instead, LeBlanc was granted a medical redshirt and returned for his senior year.
"I lost a lot of sleep over it, whether to come back, whether to turn pro," said LeBlanc. "This is the dream to come back and have a senior year like this ... I don't regret it for one second. It goes to show you that staying loyal and doing the right thing, good things happen."
The big trophy was his just before 6:30 p.m., when chants of "Drew" rang through the arena.
"It's tough to put into words. It's obviously a tremendous honor," said LeBlanc. "I'm just honored to be in the mention with him [Hobey Baker]. I'll take tremendous pride in representing him."
LeBlanc, held without a goal in three NCAA tournament games, expressed one regret.
"I'd still trade this trophy now to play for that national championship. No disrespect to Hobey himself," said LeBlanc, as he patted the statue in front of him. "I'm sure he would too."
Gaudreau, who scored 20 goals and had 31 assists for Boston College this season, was the only finalist whose team did not reach the Frozen Four. The Eagles were knocked off by Union in the East Region final.
He was joined by coach Jerry York, who took a 14-hour train ride to Pittsburgh to be with his young forward because an eye injury would not allow him to fly.
Hartzell, whose leg bounced up and down for much of the 30-minute ceremony, said he sighed in relief when the announcement was made, not because he did not win the award, but because he was glad to have the announcement out of the way so he could turn his focus to the national championship game tonight.
"Well, obviously, our goal as a team here is to win a national championship. I'm completely honored to be a Hobey Baker finalist," said Hartzell.
Hartzell said LeBlanc was an impressive opponent: "Not only was he WCHA player of the year, but he was a great student."
Voting for the award is done by five league coaches, five league supervisors of officiating, three NHL scouts and 10 members of the media.
Keeping it a secret until the night before the national title game is of paramount importance, said Scott Pollack, a member of the Hobey Baker Foundation.
"We take that very seriously," said Pollack.mobilehome - frozenfour
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.