PROVIDENCE — Boston College had just defeated St. Lawrence in dramatic fashion to advance to a national championship game against North Dakota. The Eagles were celebrating in the locker room.
BC coach Jerry York got everyone’s attention and told them to make sure the door was closed.
“This doesn’t leave the locker room,” he said. “You can’t tell anyone.
“But Mike Mottau won the Hobey Baker.”
The locker room erupted. Jubilant cheers echoed through the room as the team voiced its pleasure at the selection. Each player moved over to Mottau, and one by one he hugged his fellow Eagles.
“I cried,” said the senior captain. “My emotions got the better of me. It was an unbelievable experience. It was a real special time. I’ll never forget it.”
With a lesser individual or a different mix of personalities, the cheering might have been more muted or at least not quite so unanimous.
For only the second time in the award’s history, a team had not one, not two, but three finalists. Senior Jeff Farkas and junior Brian Gionta had joined Mottau on the Hobey committee’s list of the top 10 candidates.
Many teams might have broken into a factions, each supporting their best buddy of the three. But not the Eagles.
When Gionta and Farkas were asked at the award ceremonies if Mottau’s coronation had contained just the slightest bittersweet taste since it meant that they had not won, the two teammates practically fell over each other quashing the notion.
“No, not at all,” answered Gionta at the same time that Farkas said, “Absolutely not.”
“Neither of us think that,” continued Farkas.
“It’s great for him,” said Gionta, interrupting. “He’s a great kid. We’re best friends with him. It’s a great honor for him.”
The tag-team endorsement switched to Farkas.
— BC coach Jerry York on Mike Mottau
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “The kid is my roommate. I’ve lived with him for three years. It’s almost the same as me being up there or Brian being up there getting it.
“That’s how we all feel. We’re a tight team. Him winning it means a lot to us. We’re really proud of him.”
Such unity in a potentially divisive situation speaks volumes of the character of Farkas and Gionta as well as the undivided respect that Mottau has earned from his teammates.
And it sure doesn’t hurt that Mottau deflects so much attention away from himself. He offers a humble willingness to share the credit that nips envy in the bud.
It took only the third sentence of his acceptance speech for him to say, “I’m really proud of the two guys on my team who were finalists, Jeff Farkas and Brian Gionta.”
He continued spreading the praise.
“I’d like to thank my teammates,” he said. “We all have to keep in mind that hockey is a team game. This is an individual award, but there’s no possible way that this could be accomplished without great teammates.”
Of course, even Tinseltown phonies lay down thick layers of praise and thanks when accepting Oscar awards, only to show their true colors away from the spotlight.
But with Mottau, the attention he deflects and the generous praise he offers to his teammates is genuine.
“That’s just the kind of person that he is,” said Farkas. “He doesn’t want to put too much attention on himself. He’d rather let everyone else have the limelight. But he deserves to be in front of everyone today.”
When asked about his reticence to take his share of the bows, Mottau offered his parents as the reason.
“That’s the way I’ve been brought up,” he said. “My parents haven’t so much instructed me one way or another how to act. But the way that my father acts and my mom acts — I just respect them tremendously as people.
“I’d rather be known by everyone else as a better person than a better hockey player. The stats — the goals and the assists — will be there, but to let people know that I’m a better person is what I’m looking for. That lives a lot longer than the stats.
“Deflecting the attention isn’t something I try to do. It’s just the way I am.”
In his speech, Mottau offered a touching tribute to his older brother Rob, who preceded him by five years into the collegiate ranks, where the elder Mottau played for the since-disbanded University of Illinois-Chicago.
“I’d like to thank my brother Rob, who’s been my idol since I was really young,” said the younger Mottau. “He’s still my idol today. I’d just like to thank him for everything he’s done for me, letting me become the person that I am and the player as well.”
Mottau also thanked his sisters, Charlene and Kimberly, for their support, saying with a wide grin, “I had to go to their dance recitals. It was a tradeoff because they had to go to the rinks.”
With a class act like Mottau, it’s small wonder that York heaps high the praise for his captain.
“Mike Mottau is a real ambassador for college hockey,” said York. “Mike has a real presence about him. He’s a very charismatic figure. On our campus, he is so well thought of by the professors, by the coaches in all the different sports, by our student body and particularly by his teammates.
“He has a real influence on how they conduct themselves in practice and how they conduct themselves on the road.
“He’s a difference-maker. He makes a difference in the game. He makes a difference in the locker room. He makes a difference, I think, in college hockey.
“When you look at Boston College and all the tremendous sports figures that we’ve had, Mike is going to be right with Doug Flutie, Dana Barros and David Emma.”
That’s one illustrious group. But it’s also one in which Mottau fits quite nicely indeed.