Gorman: Amazing comeback for St. Cloud State player
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Drew LeBlanc forced himself not to watch replays of Louisville's Kevin Ware breaking his leg in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The St. Cloud State hockey star admits seeing a photograph of Ware's compound fracture gave him a “little tingly” feeling in his own left leg — right where the bone came through his skin.
“I feel sympathy for him,” LeBlanc said of Ware. “I feel really bad knowing what's ahead of him, the hard work and dedication. He'll be back as good as new before he knows it.”
LeBlanc spoke from experience Friday evening at the NCAA Frozen Four at Consol Energy Center, some 17 months after suffering a compound fracture of his own.
In front of him was the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman. Imagine Kevin Ware winning the Naismith next year.
“It's almost a dream come true, really,” LeBlanc said. “A lot of rink-rat hours went into this trophy, that's for sure.”
And after a lot of rehabilitation, as well as some soul searching, LeBlanc completed one of the most remarkable comeback stories in sports. He broke his left leg in two places when he slid into the boards with 29 seconds left in the second period of a game against Wisconsin in November 2011. St. Cloud State fans chanted his name as he was carried off the ice on a stretcher.
It proved, LeBlanc said, to be a blessing in disguise.
The fifth-year senior center became the first player in the 52-year history of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to be named Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year and Player of the Year.
LeBlanc compiled 50 points and a nation's-best 37 assists to lead the Huskies on a magical ride to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history.
The strength of character and determination LeBlanc showed in recovering from his injury combined with his off-ice accomplishments made him a sentimental Hobey Baker favorite.
The 23-member selection committee, comprising Division I coaches, NHL scouts and media members, knew it picked the right man when his St. Cloud State teammates packed the carpet runway to congratulate LeBlanc. They continued their celebration by posing for a team photograph.
“There's almost a moment when we knew we found the right guy,” Hobey Baker committee chairman Hans Skulstad said. “To me, that picture represents what's awesome about college hockey. That's what it's all about.”
It was apt that LeBlanc won the award just a few miles from Point State Park. That's where Baker played his final hockey game in a Pittsburgh-Philadelphia all-star exhibition at Winter Garden at Exposition Hall in March 1917, scoring all three goals in a 3-2 overtime victory. A year later, he was killed at age 26 when his plane crashed while piloting a test flight for the U.S. Army in Toul, France, during World War I.
“It's tough to put into words,” LeBlanc said. “It's obviously a tremendous honor, for everything Hobey Baker stands for and what he did, not only for college athletics but the country, as well, and kind of being a figurehead of that time period. To be mentioned with him and what he represents, I'll take tremendous pride in representing him.”
Despite his glowing resume, LeBlanc was something of a dark horse for the Hobey Baker Award.
The favorite was Boston College sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau, a whirling dervish nicknamed Johnny Hockey who scored 21 goals in back-to-back seasons. Quinnipiac senior goaltender Eric Hartzell made a strong case with his 1.53 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and 30 victories, including a 4-1 win over a scoreless LeBlanc and St. Cloud State in the semifinal.
“Drew LeBlanc is well-deserving of the honor,” Hartzell said. “He's a dynamic player. He's offensively and defensively sound. Anytime he's got the puck on his stick, you've got to make sure of where he is.”
LeBlanc couldn't believe where he was Friday, sitting with the Hobey Baker Award in front of him on the dais at the Frozen Four. He had to laugh to keep from crying, to pinch himself to make sure it was real. This was the culmination of an amazing comeback, even if it ended one game short of his ultimate goal.
“I'd still trade this trophy in to play for that national championship, no disrespect to Hobey himself,” said LeBlanc, stroking the clean-shaven face that was covered by a beard only a day earlier. “I'm sure he would, too.”
To me, that picture is what's awesome about college hockey. That's what it's all about.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fire victim’s ex-boyfriend jumps from Tarentum Bridge
- Steelers rookie says Sam, his former roommate, has changed
- Steelers aim to create more turnovers this year with speedier defense
- Rossi: Buying trust is a must for Pirates
- Two cars strike horse near Fayette fair
- Pirates’ attempts to bolster roster at deadline a fruitless endeavor
- Locke gets rocked as Pirates are knocked off by Diamondbacks
- Steelers notebook: Shoulder pads get technological boost for Ravens game
- Sewickley Township fraud case reopens old wound for New Stanton woman
- Pa. senator investigates Rocky Mountain high at taxpayers’ expense
- Bridge rehab is largest Mon-Yough project