Commentary: Throwing open the door to Starzies Award nominations

In the spirit of everything sports these days, let’s open up the nomination process for the fourth annual Starzies Awards to the frenzied, passionate and unbiased fans of NCAA hockey. Believe it or not, we want your opinion.

We know you won’t campaign for your favorite player or choose a player to win an award because he plays for your team. We also realize there will be no grudges against players who play for your rival. We expect a ton of support from East Lansing when we consider Shawn Hunwick for the Ken Dryden Award as top goalie. Likewise, I’m sure no one in the Twin Cities will oppose Jack Connolly of Minnesota-Duluth as a potential top forward recipient. 

Now that we have acknowledged there will be absolutely no ballot stuffing or agendas in your voting, those of us at CBS Sports Network now open the platform to you to nominate your choices. Each award is named after someone who represents what the award means. The player namesakes of the awards are players who played all four years of their college eligibility and made a strong impression in the category they represent. The awards and the names attached to them are the handiwork of myself, Matt McConnell and the late Mike Lockert.

Our goal is to hammer this out before the weekend of March 2-3, when Hockey East and the WCHA are wrapping up the regular season and Atlantic Hockey, the CCHA and ECAC Hockey are starting the postseason. The awards will be presented between periods of the CBS Sports Network broadcast of Vermont at Boston College on Saturday, March 3.

We ask that you limit your nominations to two or three players per category. Add them in the comments below or tweet them @DaveStarmanCBS.

The awards are …

Ken Morrow Award

Presented to college hockey’s best defenseman.

This award is named after the stalwart defenseman for Bowling Green in the late 1970s who also was the first player ever to win Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same year. Morrow was a member of the Miracle On Ice team in 1980 and won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships with the New York Islanders from 1980 to 1983. That team was the last one in American pro sports to win four consecutive league championships and won 19 straight playoff series from 1980 to 1984. He is still with the Isles, handling pro and amateur scouting.

Ron Mason Award

Presented to college hockey’s coach of the year.

The award is named after the legendary coach whose 924 NCAA wins sits alone at No. 1 on the career wins list. Mason won the national title with Michigan State in 1986 and kept the Spartans a perennial threat during his tenure at Munn Arena. He has a legion of players that have gone on to play and coach at the NHL and NCAA level, with a few Stanley Cup winners along the way and two who won the Hobey Baker Award. His grandsons will play at MSU in the near future and another, Tyler Walsh, son of the late Shawn Walsh, is the video coach at Maine.

Dave Poulin Award

Presented to college hockey’s best freshman.

Fresh out of Timmins, Ontario, Poulin racked up 28 goals and 31 assists in 37 games in 1978-79, his first year at Notre Dame. After an impressive four-year career and a stop with the AHL’s Maine Mariners, Poulin embarked on a long and successful career in the NHL as a player. The longtime captain of the Flyers and Bruins (he ended his career in Washington) racked up 530 NHL points in 724 games and another 73 in the postseason. He played in (and lost) three Stanley Cup finals, all against the Edmonton Oilers, in 1985, 1987 and 1990. He is now the vice president of hockey operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was the first coach to get Notre Dame to the NCAA tourney, losing to his former ND teammate and current Minnesota coach Don Lucia.

Ken Dryden Award

Presented to college hockey’s top goaltender.

This legendary and unique player was a member of the Big Red of Cornell in the late 1960s. One claim to fame of his is being the only player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (1971) as MVP of the playoffs before he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year (’71-’72). Dryden backstopped Cornell to the 1967 national title and three straight ECAC tournament titles. He was a member of five Stanley Cup winners in Montreal during the 1970s.

Rick Meagher Award

Presented to college hockey’s top defensive forward.

This veteran NHL forward was a three-time All-American at Boston University before playing for pay. Not anywhere on BU’s radar at the time he was approaching college hockey, Meagher had an older brother who had played on the freshman team under then-BU assistant coach Jack Parker. Parker knew that Rick was supposed to be a pretty good player and asked his brother if he would ask Rick what his interest would be in a scholarship to BU. Rick said he was interested and he joined Mike Eruzione as part of that recruiting class at BU. The rest, as we say, is history. Rick was a terrific offensive player who also excelled on the defensive side of the puck, one of the many things that contributed to his long NHL career.

Bavis Brothers Award

Presented for hustle by a college hockey player.

When you talk to people in the NCAA and mention the words work ethic, it’s amazing how many people mention Mike and Mark Bavis. The twin brothers both played for BU and appeared in the NCAA tournament four times with three trips to the semifinals and one championship game against Northern Michigan in 1991. Mike has gone on to a successful coaching career as a longtime assistant to Jack Parker and was a member of the staff that won the 2009 NCAA title. Mark went onto a brief minor pro playing career before joining the Los Angeles Kings as a scout in 2000. He was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the plane he was on hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. 

Brian Gionta Award

Presented to college hockey’s top forward.

Gionta was a dynamic forward at Boston College from 1998 to 2001, winning a national title in his time there. While at the Heights he racked up 232 points in 164 games. Gionta has gone on to a tremendous career in the NHL and was indirectly a reason BC won the 2008 national title. Nathan Gerbe was a huge Brian Gionta fan, and because someone like Gionta could achieve so much while being an undersized NCAA player, Gerbe left his home in Michigan to play his college hockey at BC. He was the unquestioned MVP of the 2008 Frozen Four with eight points in two games. Gionta continues to excel at the NHL level after four tremendous years at BC, one of the most successful careers in NCAA history.

Dee Rizzo Award

Presented to college hockey’s unsung hero.

Rizzo epitomized work ethic and blue-collar hockey. A player that wasn’t as talented as some of his bigger name teammates at Michigan State in the early 1980s, he made up for it in every other area, including leadership, determination, work ethic and being a good teammate. He was the guy doing all the little things teams needed to do to be winners. Former teammates love to talk about Rizzo and his penchant for making big plays at key times, including his famous goal in the 1985 CCHA playoffs that propelled MSU past Ferris State. Now a player agent based in Pittsburgh, Rizzo continues to make his mark in the hockey world. He is a fitting choice as our perpetual unsung hero.