DETROIT — Blake Geoffrion made history Friday night amid tears, hugs and a hilarious revelation from his childhood that is sure to follow him for years to come.
In the process, the senior center and tri-captain for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team showed why there is great virtue and reward in patiently staying the course.
Geoffrion became the first player in Badgers history to win the Hobey Baker Award, given annually since 1981 to the best college player in the nation.
The nationally televised announcement at Ford Field brought a huge roar and a standing ovation from an audience that included UW players, coaches, administrators and several hundred fans who made the trip from Madison.
It’s a big deal to be sure, but it’s not why Geoffrion resisted the urge to turn pro — he was a second-round NHL draft pick of Nashville in 2006 — and decided to return to the Badgers for his senior year.
“It’s great to win this award and everything, but my ultimate goal — I’ve said this over and over — is to win a national championship,” Geoffrion said. “I want to do it for my team and my teammates.”
That opportunity will come Saturday night at Ford Field when the second-ranked Badgers face Boston College seeking their seventh NCAA championship.
Geoffrion will try and become the sixth of 30 Hobey recipients to win a national title in the same year, a group that includes defenseman Matt Gilroy of Boston University in 2009, defenseman Jordan Leopold of Minnesota in 2002, center Paul Kariya of Maine in 1993, center Lane McDonald of Harvard in 1989 and center Tony Hrkac of North Dakota in 1987.
Geoffrion was one of three Hobey Hat Trick finalists along with New Hampshire right winger Bobby Butler and Maine right winger Gustav Nyquist. Butler leads the nation with 28 goals and Nyquist is the top scorer with 61 points, but Geoffrion was chosen for his multi-faceted influence on the Badgers.
Geoffrion has 28 goals, including a national-best 15 on the power play. But he also wins more than 60 percent of his faceoffs — which is comparable to the top pivots in the NHL — has a lead shift on the penalty kill, plays in all critical situations, is assigned to defend the opponent’s top line and is an elected team leader.
“He’s very deserving,” UW coach Mike Eaves said.
The fact the Badgers had never had winner — eight were nominated prior to this season — was a source of comic resignation for many followers of the program given its highly successful profile.
Center Steve Reinprecht and goaltender Brian Elliott were runners-up in 2000 and 2006, respectively, while goaltender Duane Derksen was third in 1992.
Geoffrion was joined on the list of 10 Hobey nominees by teammate Brendan Smith, but the junior defenseman didn’t make the final cut despite being the top-scoring blue-liner in the nation. His worthiness was further measured Friday when he and Geoffrion were named first-team West All-Americans.
“There are some great names that have come through Wisconsin,” Geoffrion said, rattling off the likes of Eaves, Mark Johnson, Dany Heatley and Brian Rafalski. “I don’t think I put myself in that category, but it’s an honor to win the award and I’m just happy to bring this back to the Wisco family and we’re all going to enjoy it.”
Geoffrion comes from one of the most famous of all hockey families. His grandfather, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, and great-grandfather, Howie Morenz, are in the Hockey Hall of Fame and had their uniform numbers retired by the Montreal Canadiens.
“I don’t think this can even compare to what they accomplished in their hockey careers,” Blake said.
Blake and his late grandfather were very close, which led to a teary moment courtesy of Blake’s father Danny, who was a first-round NHL draft pick of Montreal in 1978.
“I wish so bad that my dad was here to see this,” Danny said. Boom Boom Geoffrion died in March 2006 at age 75, on the day his Montreal jersey number was retired and shortly before Blake began his UW career.
Pappy, as Boom Boom was known, no doubt would have laughed along with everyone else at Ford Field when Kelly Geoffrion told everyone how her son had other interests beside hockey growing up.
Blake had a thing for cowboys, which included watching videos of John Wayne and Davey Crockett, wearing boots and having a stick pony. He later revealed that he once asked his parents to buy him a bale of hay for his birthday so he could feed his horse.
“I’m definitely going to get a lot of crap for this,” Blake said with a good-natured laugh.
Geoffrion decided in December of 2008 that he would return to UW for his senior season. He did so because he wanted to win a NCAA title and get his degree in consumer affairs, which he will secure next month.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Geoffrion said. “I never thought I’d win it for sure.”
Eaves said he will “carry this story forward” to help other underclassmen with NHL pedigrees decide what’s best.
In the meantime, there’s one more item on Geoffrion’s to-do list.
“That’s all I’ve got on my mind,” he said of Saturday night’s title game. “I believe in my team and my coaching staff and I’m sure we’ll be ready to play.”