His Time To Shine

After Shawn Horcoff picked up conference honors in an unprecedented five categories, Billy Jaffe quipped, “Thank you for coming to the 2000 Shawn Horcoff Awards–I mean, CCHA Awards Banquet.”

Horcoff could be a household name around the CCHA, but the rest of the nation may be asking: Shawn who?

Horcoff, the Spartan senior captain from Castlegar, B.C., spent three years in the shadow of another Michigan State great and current New York Ranger, Mike York.

But you won’t hear the centerman complain. It’s not in his nature.

“For the last three years, I’ve played behind him and learned a lot, and I knew the whole time I was here that I was just waiting for my opportunity. I knew that in my senior year I’d be a player who would play in the same situations as Mike York.

“I wanted to prove to myself, to my teammates, and to the rest of the league that I could play at the high level I was expected to when I came in as a freshman.”

And prove himself he did. Horcoff ended the regular season with the league scoring title (44 points in 28 conference games), was named the CCHA’s Player of the Year, had a hand in 45.6% of Michigan State’s goals (the highest percentage in the nation), earned 48 assists (another nation-leading stat), and led the Spartans in plus-minus (+23), earning him the league’s award for Best Defensive Forward.

And his GPA is 3.41.

Too good to be true? How about this?

“I just want to finish with as good grades as I possibly can,” says Horcoff. “Both my parents are teachers, and they instilled a strong premise of education in me, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

Not surprisingly, Spartan head coach Ron Mason can’t say enough about both Horcoff, the player, and Shawn, the nice, articulate kid from British Columbia.

“Shawn’s had to earn his way here. He’s gotten better each year,” says Mason. “I think he was overshadowed last year by Mike York, but was a great player himself, too. This year he’s had a chance to be in the limelight, and I think he’s looked up to in a big way.

“He’s the kind of player who’s easy to respect. He plays the game hard, and takes what the game gives him. He’s not the kind of player who’s moaning and groaning. He’s a hard-working kid.

“I appreciate him because he’s a 3.4 student. He’s the hardest worker on our team, both on and off the ice. He leads by example. He’s not afraid to say things. He’s a good spokesman for college hockey and for Michigan State hockey.”

Horcoff himself is a human handbook for hockey players who want to break the stereotype of the dumb jock, cement-head, or goon. After a tough game against Ferris State in October, Horcoff said, “We got a taste of what it’s like to play against us tonight. It’s very frustrating.”

And he takes the attention he’s receiving as a Hobey Baker Finalist in stride.

“My teammates make sure it never gets to my head, too, because they are always kidding me about things like the website,” he said. The Spartan athletic department has a page devoted solely to Horcoff.

“Having spent three years here with guys like Mike York, Chad Alban, Sean Berens, and Tyler Harlton, I learned how to deal with success. We have done so well as a team that every year some individuals are rewarded.

“One constant has been that team success leads to individual awards.”

York, Alban, Berens, Harlton. Heady company, and four more names on the list of well-respected former Spartans.

That kind of reputation, says Mason, is no accident.

“I think you go through spells in your program where you’re able for one reason or another to have a great group. Sometimes that sustains itself because of leadership. Juniors and seniors act and do things in a certain way, so the freshmen and sophomores follow. If you can keep that going, it’s a lot easier for me as a coach.

“We’ve had teams where we’ve had our individuals who weren’t players that I like to work with, but in the last three or four years here, it’s been really good. We’ve had the right leadership and the kind of players you want for your team.

“I try to teach them to respect the game, respect themselves and their peers, people they deal with every day. If they do that, they’ll get it back in return.”

Horcoff is certainly among those who perpetuate the cycle of leadership at Michigan State.

“When I came down here, I knew this was the place for me. I never felt like a rookie here. I was never on the outs, I was always on the in. That something, as a senior captain, I’ve really tried to instill and build upon.”

Another quality that Mason tries to instill in his players is common courtesy. He’s fond of saying, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

Niceness is another attribute Horcoff possesses, evidenced by his praise for his linemates Adam Hall and Brian Maloney for the success of his own senior season.

“I can’t think of anyone in this league better than Adam Hall in front of the net. For Brian Maloney to come in as a freshman and contribute the way he has is very impressive. I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for those guys.”

While Horcoff praises his linemates, he’s not above talking about his own progress this season and the satisfaction that it has brought him.

“We’re a team that really prides itself in his defense. As a player, I’ve had to learn that good offensive chances come from defense. I think that showed in my game this year. A lot of chances for my line started at the defensive end.

Many times this year [offense] has been a struggle. We’re a team that doesn’t really score that many goals. To be there at the end with the scoring title–that’s something I’m really proud of.”

Offense, defense, brains, courtesy…all of this begs the question: Is this kid real?

He dominates the game, excels at academics, personifies leadership, but for all of Horcoff’s public persona, he can sound like any typical 21-year-old college student.

“I’m a big movie buff. I like to hang out with my friends and my girlfriend. I like to play ball–things any normal guy likes to do. I definitely do like older movies, like from the ’80s and ’70s.”

That’s the 1980s, 1970s. “Older.”

Well, nobody’s perfect.