Blake Geoffrion was forever going to be a touchstone in the long, accomplished history of the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey program.
That status was secured April 9, 2010 when he was named the school’s first winner of the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the best college player in the land since 1981.
Geoffrion was an all-around dynamo that season — scoring goals, delivering hits, winning faceoffs, killing penalties, dispensing postgame quips, setting the emotional tone as captain — while helping guide the Badgers to the NCAA championship game.
Of course, winning the Hobey fit nicely within the Geoffrion legend. Blake’s grandfather, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, and great-grandfather, Howie Morenz, are Hockey Hall of Famers who won multiple Stanley Cups with the storied Montreal Canadiens.
Blake happened to be employed by the Canadiens on Wednesday when he became an even more important reference point to elite student-athletes that show up at UW. At age 25, he informed club officials that he’s contemplating retirement and is close to making a final determination.
If Geoffrion does call it quits, he’ll do secure in the knowledge he made a wise decision to not only stay in college four years, but to actually get his degree in the process.
The idea of retirement is being driven by a frightening on-ice incident in an American Hockey League game in Montreal four months ago. Geoffrion was playing for Hamilton, the Canadiens’ top farm team, when he was hip-checked viciously — but legally — by Syracuse defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote.
When Geoffrion fell to the ice, the back part of his head left unprotected by his helmet landed on the rear tip of Cote’s skate blade. Geoffrion left the Nov. 9 game under his own power and was taken by ambulance to a Montreal hospital, but ultimately went into convulsions during a CT scan. Emergency surgery was performed in which a battered portion of his skull on the left side was removed and replaced by a titanium plate.
Geoffrion’s parents, Danny and Kelly, were warned that their son could have permanent brain damage. Instead, Blake made a relatively quick recovery. He was in Madison in December to serve as honorary captain when the Badgers hosted Alabama-Huntsville — brothers Brice and Sebastian play for the Chargers — and as late as last month spoke of playing again.
Yet it sounds as though Geoffrion is moving closer to a decision that no professional athlete in his prime — in a sport that has such deep roots in the family — should have to make. In short, the risks appear to outweigh whatever rewards he might derive from playing again.
The fact Geoffrion has a degree in consumer science — making him the second in his family with a sheepskin on his resume — surely helps with the decision-making process. He’s a bright, personable kid. He has options.
Every college athlete, especially those on draft boards and agent rolls, should see Geoffrion as a cautionary tale about what could go wrong.
Everyone is different and no two scenarios are exactly the same when it comes to leaving school early to turn pro. What appealed to Geoffrion about staying at UW — he was a second-round NHL draft pick of Nashville in 2006 — might not to someone else. It’s hard to argue with millions.
But his situation is worth more than a passing thought. Geoffrion is the first UW player to answer to Hobey, but he’s also an example of how quickly a dream can be derailed.