MILWAUKEE — According to the Hobey Baker selection committee, a Hobey Baker Award winner should “exhibit strength of character” and possess “oustanding skills in all aspects of the game.”
According to Michigan head coach Red Berenson, this year’s Hobey Baker winner is “an excellent person” who “shares his success with his teammates.”
And this year’s winner is “the same child today as he was when he was five years old,” according to the ultimate authority on Brendan Morrison: his mother.
“He has basically the same friends at home as the ones he grew up with,” says Deb Morrison. “He’s always kept in contact with them. He’s always treated everybody as an equal.”
Morrison’s linemate, Jason Botterill, echoed Deb Morrison’s sentiments. “He gets all this media attention, but whenever you’re just talking to him, he never feels above you, and you never seem to feel below him. He’s always very warm and very humble. He’s been like that to every player on this team. His respect for other players and other people is what sets him aside.”
“Nothing has changed,” says Morrisons mother. “Even his personality is exactly the same. He’d be the first one to walk up to you, introduce himself, but not talk about himself.”
The native of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, could tell you a lot about himself and his career at the University of Michigan. Morrison’s statistics at Michigan are impressive: tied for eighth for career goals (101); most assists (182); most points (283); tied for seventh in NCAA Division I points (283).
The Hobey Baker is just one of Morrison’s awards. This year, Morrison was named the CCHA Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. This year marks his third time selected to the All-CCHA First Team. He became the first player in the 32-year history of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament to be named Most Valuable Player three times.
And then there was that overtime goal that gave the Wolverines the NCAA Championship last year.
Not bad for a kid who “couldn’t even skate when he was five years old.” Says Deb Morrison, “He was all over the ice, but he did go for the puck all the time.”
“As far as Brendan Morrison is concerned,” says Berenson, “he’s been a player where what you see is not always what you get. When I first saw him, he was a scrawny kid. I had no idea that he was going to be the player that he has become. And it’s not just because of his size or the kind of kid he is; he had something special in him that made him want to be better than the average player.
“He just hasn’t had a Hobey Baker season, he’s had a Hobey Baker career. To lead the country in scoring as a sophomore, that’s a statement in itself.”
When the Hobey Baker Award winner was announced, Berenson praised Morrison’s desire to come back to captain the Wolverines his senior year after the team had won the national championship in 1996.
That chance at a second consecutive national championship was denied Michigan when the Boston University Terriers beat the Wolverines 3-2 in a semifinal game the day before Morrison was announced as the Hobey Baker winner.
“Brendan would be the first to tell you that he’d trade in a victory (Thursday) for this award,” said Berenson. “Last year, the shoe was kind of on the other foot. We won the championship; Brendan didn’t win the Hobey. And he was fine with that.”
When he accepted the award, Morrison said, “I know some of the guys are disappointed with the outcome of the game last night, but we have nothing to hang our heads about. We had a successful year, and we did all the little things along the way, and sometimes the best team doesn’t win.”
At the ceremony, Morrison thanked the Michigan coaching staff, the equipment manager and athletic trainer and their assistants, his parents Ron and Debbie Morrison, his sister Jennifer, his uncle, his grandmother, his girlfriend Erin, and the Michigan fans. And, of course, his teammates.
“I’d like to thank the senior class,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Its been a tremendous four years with those guys. Its going to be extremely tough to top those four years.”
As hard as it was for Morrison and the Wolverines to lose in the semifinals, saying goodbye to this year’s senior class may be even harder.
“You could take one of us out,” said senior Blake Sloan, “and it takes a little piece of everyone away. I have never been associated with good players and good people in all my life, like the eight other guys in my class. To have guys like that click like that is incredible.”
While nothing can make up for losing to Boston University, Sloan says that at least the seniors can gain some satisfaction from this award.
“Particularly for the senior class, we each take a little bit away from it,” he said.
The Hobey Baker ceremony provided at least some sense of closure for this Michigan senior class, the final appearance the nine seniors would make as teammates. Berenson, meanwhile, exuded pride in Morrison and his eight classmates.
“I think as much as you’re sad to see them go, I think it’s good that they’re going,” said Berenson. “It’s their time to go. They’ve done everything they can do at the college level. They’ll all leave with their degrees, and they’re ready for the next step, whatever that step is, whether it’s hockey or it’s not hockey. Their time has come. That’s the way it should be.
“For us, there will be an awful hole in our program. Well have to find other Botterills and Morrisons, so-called unknown players that are going to make themselves known at Michigan. And that’s our job.”
After the Wolverines won the national championship last year, there was speculation that their nine juniors would forego a senior year in college for professional hockey. All nine came back.
“I made the decision that I wanted to come back and be with these other eight guys,” said Morrison. “I have absolutely no regrets. It’s been the best year of my life.”
And from among the best — runner-up Chris Drury, Mike Crowley, Jason Blake, Mike Harder, Randy Robitaille, Martin St. Louis, Brian Swanson, Todd White, and his teammate, John Madden — Brendan Morrison has been named the best in 1997.