TAMPA, Fla. — At first blush, Jack Connolly is not a complicated man. He’s soft-spoken but friendly, sharp but not cerebral, confident but not cocky. He’s your classic “good guy,” universally comfortable, welcome, and yet undervalued.
Good guys don’t demand the spotlight, so they don’t get it. It’s just the nature of things.
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The WCHA’s top scorer, 2011 national title-winner and the pride of his hometown of Duluth, Minn., Connolly was honored with the 32nd annual Hobey Baker Award at MacDill Air Force Base on Friday. The award put him in the center ring of a media circus, when he’d likely prefer to be anywhere else.
“I was very emotional. It kind of took my breath away,” he said from the center of a journalistic swarm. “I guess I thought there was an outside chance that my name would be called … but just to hear it, it’s pretty much unexplainable. It was pretty surreal.”
It actually took the stunned center a moment to stand up when his name was called. Did he think he was dreaming, or was he trying to postpone his stardom one heartbeat longer?
“He’s a hard kid to read,” said his head coach, Scott Sandelin. “Obviously when he gets real happy he starts to get emotional, as you saw at the national championship and tonight. But that’s the kind of kid he is; he’s that type of person.
“I think Jack started crying because his mom was crying,” Sandelin said.
Now, Connolly’s no agoraphobe; he just happens to be more comfortable in a starting lineup than at a nationally televised award ceremony. Correction: A nationally televised individual award ceremony.
“This is just as much theirs as it is mine,” he was quick to say about his teammates and coaches.
Brother Chris Connolly, himself a ring-bearing title-winner with Boston University in 2009, explained that their mutual success can’t be seen within an individual scope.
“We like to attribute a lot of the success we’ve had to the people of Duluth,” he said. “The support we’ve had, it’s such a big hockey community, we like to say we learned everything we know from just rink rattin’ outside. That’s kind of where it all started for us.”
Jack elaborated: “Being in my hometown, the Duluth community supports the men’s hockey program a lot. They give a lot of their time and dedication to the program. Best fans in college hockey, in my opinion, and you know what, whatever I can do to give back to them, I’m more than happy to do it. Whatever it may be, I’m more than happy to do it, because I know how much they’ve given the men’s hockey program.”
The next step for college hockey’s newest star might surprise some, as he has found European opportunities far more alluring than North American ones thus far.
“It’s never something you expect,” Chris said about his brother’s achievements. “To have the success that he’s had there, to have meant so much to their program and helped them to their first national championship … it’s something you never dream of. For Jack to step up in his senior year and really lead a team that was in the top five almost the whole time, and be awarded the Hobey Baker is really surreal.”
Though he may not have realized it, the elder sibling captured his brother from two different angles simultaneously. Yes, Jack’s accomplishments have been unexpected, surreal, the stuff of dreams.
But Jack Connolly has been a dream as well, to the people of Duluth and the fans of Bulldogs hockey. A dream fulfilled, a dream personified; a dream that ends so much more sweetly than one would ever dare to imagine.
“It’s certainly something you never dream of,” Chris repeated, almost to himself.