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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

1990s Hobey Baker Award winners

In the 1990s, college hockey had existed in the United States for the better part of the 20th century, but it was only beginning in the 1980s that players would frequently graduate from the college ranks to the NHL. Three players featured in this post played college hockey before joining the pros, with one of them, Neal Broten, winning the first ever Hobey Baker award.

The award, first given on in 1981, is awarded to a US college hockey player that: exhibits strength and character, both on and off the ice; contributes to the integrity of his team; displays outstanding skill in all phases of the game and; shows scholastic achievement and sportsmanship.

With this in mind, I decided to look at the Hobey Baker winners from the 1990s. Upon a quick examination of their careers, they seem to fall into three categories (with one outlier):

Superstar/above average NHLers:

  • Paul Kariya (1993), Brendan Morrison (1997) and Chris Drury (1998). Kariya is the best of the bunch, having won two Byng trophies and being a Hall of Famer. Drury also won a major trophy (the Calder in 1999) and Morrison played the second most NHL games of any 1990s Hobey Baker winner (934).

Average NHLers:

  • Kip Miller (1990), Scott Pellerin (1992) and Brian Holzinger (1995). All three played between 449-547 games, with two of them (Pellerin and Holzinger) surpassing 200 career point totals; Miller just misses out at 198 career points.

Cup of coffee:

  • David Emma (1991), Chris Marinucci (1994) and Brian Bonin (1996). Emma leads the way in career games played (34) and points (11) among these three.

The outlier:

  • Jason Krog (1999). Krog can't easily fit into the above categories. He played in 202 games, much more than a cup of coffee, but he only scored 59 points during that time. For a player who was a top scorer in college and the minors, that is a bit of an underachievement.

Card 232 - Neal Broten

A centre, Broten was drafted 42nd overall by his home state Minnesota North Stars in the 1979 draft. The eldest of the three Broten brothers, Neal was a bona fide star of American hockey before he even entered the pro ranks. He won two NCAA titles with the University of Minnesota, an Olympic gold in 1980 as part of the Miracle on Ice, and was the first ever winner of the Hobey Baker Award for most outstanding US college hockey player.

Broten turned pro in 1980-81, playing three regular season games with the North Stars, scoring two goals. Minnesota would make a run to the Stanley Cup Finals that season, with Broten playing 19 games and scoring eight points. In his true rookie season, he would score 38 goals and 98 points, finishing fourth in Calder Trophy voting. Over the next four seasons Broten would score 28+ goals and 77+ points each season, leading the North Stars in scoring three times. 1985-86 would be a career year, scoring 29-76-105, with Broten finishing eighth in Hart Trophy voting.

From 1986 to 1989 Broten would miss a significant number of games each season, topping out at 56 points. in 1988-89. He would lead the North Stars to their second Cup Finals appearance in 1991, scoring 22 points in 23 games as Minnesota would be defeated by Pittsburgh in six games. The following season Broten would sit out the start of the season due to a contract dispute, playing briefly in Germany before returning to the NHL.

After moving with the franchise to Dallas, Broten would be traded in February 1995 to New Jersey for Corey Millen. Broten would return to his scoring ways with the Devils, racking up 28 points in 30 regular season games and 19 points in 20 playoff games as he would win his first Stanley Cup in the spring of 1995.

Following one more season with New Jersey, he would be traded to Los Angeles in 1996, playing 19 games with the Kings before being claimed off waivers by Dallas. Broten would play 20 final games for the Stars before retiring after the 1996-97 season.

In 17 seasons Broten played in 1099 games, scoring 289 goals and 923 points. He played in two all-star games (1983 & 1986) and is the only hockey player to have won the Hobey Baker, Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup. In 1998 Broten was awarded both the Lester Patrick Trophy and had his number retired by the Dallas franchise, and in 2001 he was inducted in the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

YouTube clip: the tribute video from Broten winning the first Hobey Baker Award. Broten is also one of two NHL players to ever fight Wayne Gretzky.

Card 233 - Bobby Holik

A native of Czechoslovakia, Holik was drafted 10th overall by Hartford in 1989. He would make his NHL debut in the 1990-91 season, with the centre scoring 21 goals and 43 points in his rookie season.

After his second season in Hartford, Holik would be traded to New Jersey with a second round draft pick for Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich. In his first season as a Devil, Holik would score 20+ goals for the third straight season. A key part of the defence-first philosophy Devils coach Jacques Lemaire installed, Holik would not score more than 13 goals in a single season for three straight seasons, but would win a Stanley Cup in 1995.

Holik would eventually reclaim his offensive abilities, scoring a career high 29 goals and 65 points in 1997-98, finishing fifth in Selke Trophy voting that season. He would go on to win a second Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000.

Following another 20+ goal season in 2001-02, Holik would sign a monster five-year, $45 million dollar contract with the rival New York Rangers. He would not live up to the money he received, although he did score 25 goals in 2003-04, the ninth and final time in his career he would surpass the 20 goal barrier.

Holik would be bought out of his contract after two seasons in New York and sign with Atlanta following the 2004-05 lockout. He would play three seasons with the Thrashers, averaging roughly 30 points per season, acting as team captain in his final season. In 2007-08 he signed with the Devils, playing one final season with the team before retiring.

In an 18 year NHL career Holik played in 1314 games, scoring 326 goals and 747 points. He played in the 1998 and 1999 all-star games and ranks third all-time in NHL games played by a native of the Czech Republic. In 2018-19, Holik was head coach for the Israeli men's national hockey team at the U18, U20 and World Championships.

YouTube clip: scoring the goal that put the Devils up 5-0 in Game 3 of 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.

Card 234 - Cam Neely

Neely, a right winger, was drafted 9th overall by Vancouver in 1983. He would play part of the following season in the WHL before jumping to the NHL for the 1983-94 season, appearing in 56 games, scoring 16 goals and 31 points.

A native of nearby Comox, Neely had a significant amount of hype following his selection by the Canucks, which naturally led to some disappointment when he would score only 21 and 16 goals in his second and third seasons. This underperformance would result in one of the worst trades in NHL history taking place in June 1986, when Neely was traded to Boston with a first round pick for Barry Pederson.

Neely’s next five seasons in Boston would be the peak of his career. He scored 36+ goals and 69+ points each season, including two 50+ goal seasons and two 90+ point seasons. In this period Neely was three times named a second team all-star.

In addition to individual success, Neely would help guide the Bruins to the 1988 Cup Finals, scoring nine goals and 17 points in 23 games. Boston would be swept that year by the Oilers dynasty, but would return in 1990 for a rematch. That year Neely scored 12 goals and 28 points, but again the Bruins would fall short to the Oilers.

The 1991 playoffs was a pivotal point in Neely's career. He had scored 16 goals in 19 games and the Bruins were up 2-0 on Pittsburgh in the Prince of Wales Conference Finals. Neely would be caught in a knee-on-knee hit with Ulf Samuelsson, and he would never be the same again. The Bruins would also lose four straight games as the Pens went on to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

The following two seasons Neely played only 21 games combined, however he did score 20 goals. In 1993-94 he authored a comeback for the ages, scoring 50 goals in 49 games, being named a second team all-star and winning the Masterton Trophy. The comeback would be short-lived, as Neely would play less than 50 games combined the following two seasons before being forced to retire after the 1995-96 season.

In a 13 season NHL career Neely played in 726 games, scoring 395 goals and 694 points. He served as an assistant captain with the Bruins from 1988 until his retirement, and played in five all-star games (1988-91, 1996). Despite his shortened career, Neely was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005 and awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy in 2010.

In 2007 Neely became the vice-president of hockey operations for the Bruins; in 2010 he was promoted to president, a position he holds to this day.

YouTube clip: a montage from local Boston TV of the 50 goals Neely scored in in the 1993-94 season. We also can’t forget Neely’s cameo appearance as Sea Bass in the 1994 Jim Carrey movie Dumb and Dumber.

Card 235 - John Cullen

Cullen played four years at Boston University, earning a Hobey Baker Award nomination during his time. Undrafted, he turned pro in 1987-88 with Flint in IHL, putting up 48 goals and 157 points (leading the league), winning rookie-of-the-year and MVP awards. After such a spectacular pro debut, Cullen would sign as a free agent with Pittsburgh in the summer of 1988.

In his rookie NHL season Cullen would score 12 goals and 49 points. His second and third NHL seasons would be the best of his career, posting scoring lines of 23-60-92 and 38-71-110; his 110 points season in 1990-91 put him fifth in league scoring. Despite his scoring exploits, Cullen was traded late in the 90-91 season to Hartford as part of a six-player deal that involved Ron Francis going to the Pens.

1991-92 would be his only season with the Whalers, and would be his last season of full health, with Cullen recording 26 goals and 77 points. Early the following season he would be traded to Toronto, and during his time as a Maple Leaf would suffer a serious neck injury. After two seasons in Toronto he would play one season in Pittsburgh and in 1995-96 signed with Tampa Bay.

Cullen would begin to return to form with the Lightning, scoring 50+ points in back-to-back seasons. Fate would deal him another curve late in the 1996-97 season, as he would be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cullen would undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, resulting in him being seriously ill for a significant period of time. He would return for the 1998-99 season, but would last only four games as his cancer battle had greatly reduced his strength and stamina. For overcoming such long odds, Cullen would be awarded the Masterton Trophy in 1999, his last pro hockey season.

In a 10-year NHL career, Cullen recorded 187 goals and 550 points, playing in two all-star games (1991 & 92). From 1998-2000 he was an assistant coach with Tampa Bay, and since that time he had worked the family business in the automotive industry in Georgia

Card 236 - Brian Bellows

A left winger, Bellows was drafted second overall by Minnesota in the 1982 draft. He jumped immediately to the NHL as an 18-year-old, scoring 35 goals and 65 points, finishing fourth in Calder Trophy voting. In nine seasons as a North Star, Bellows scored 30+ goals six times and 70+ points five times. During the 1989-90 season he scored a career-high 55 goals (third in the league) and 99 points, and was named a second team all-star. He would lead the North Stars in scoring twice, and in 1983-84 he would be named interim captain, becoming the youngest captain in league history at the time.

Bellows was a key contributor to Minnesota’s 1991 Stanley Cup Finals run, scoring 10 goals and 29 points in 23 games. One season after that run, much to the chagrin of North Stars fans, Bellows was traded to Montreal straight up for Russ Courtnall. He would score 40 goals with the Habs that year, winning his first Stanley Cup in 1993. The following season Bellows would score 33 goals, the eighth and final time in his career he would eclipse 30 goals in a season.

In the summer of 1995 he would be traded to Tampa Bay for Marc Bureau, playing one season with the Lightning before a trade to Anaheim. Bellows would start the 1997-98 season playing in Germany, and in March 1998 would sign with the Washington Capitals. The Caps would make the Cup Finals the following season, with Bellows contributing 13 points in 21 games as the Red Wings would sweep Washington.

In a 17 season NHL career, Bellows played in 1188 games, scoring 485 goals and 1022 points. He played in three all-star games as a North Stars representative (1984, 88 & 92). He is currently employed as an investment banker in Minnesota.

YouTube clip: scoring the series clinching goal in Game 6 of 1998 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals against Boston. Bellows’ other playoff overtime goal happened two years earlier, and gave Tampa Bay its first playoff win in franchise history.

Card 237 - Chris Nilan

A right winger, Nilan was drafted 231st overall by Montreal in 1978. He was actually taken in the 19th round, back when the draft continued for a ridiculously long number of rounds. Nilan would play one season of college hockey at Northeastern before turning pro in 1979; he would play 15 games with the Habs that season, playing mostly in the AHL.

1980-81 was his first full season in the NHL, recording seven goals, 15 points and 262 penalty minutes. This would be the first of nine straight 200+ penalty minute seasons for Nilan. The three seasons between 1983 and 1986 were the peak of Nilan’s career: he scored at least 16 goals each season (a career-high 21 in 1984-85) and led the league in penalty minutes twice (338 in 1983-84 and 358 in 1984-85). This stretch would be capped off with a Stanley Cup win in 1986, with Nilan recording a record 141 penalty minutes that postseason.

Early in 1988 Nilan was traded to the New York Rangers with a first round pick in exchange for the Rangers’ first round pick. He would play three seasons in New York, never appearing in more than 38 games in a single season. In the summer of 1990 Nilan would be traded to his hometown Boston Bruins. In his only full season as a Bruin, Nilan would appear in his second Cup Finals, with the Bruins losing out to Edmonton.

1991-92 would be Nilan’s final pro season; he would be selected off waivers by Montreal part way through the season, playing 17 games back where his career started before retiring. Over 13 NHL seasons Nilan played 688 games, scoring 110 goals and 225 points. He ranks ninth all-time in career penalty minutes (3043) and is the Habs’ franchise leader for time in the sin bin. Believe it or not, Nilan was also selected to play in the 1991 all-star game by his then head coach, Mike Milbury, 25 years before the John Scott controversy. This was an unpopular choice around the league, but Nilan sat out the game with an ankle injury.

Nilan dabbled in coaching in the mid to late 1990s, acting as an assistant coach with New Jersey in 1995-96 and a head coach with Chesapeake in the ECHL from 1997 to 1999. Since that time Nilan had involved himself in various ventures and media appearances, chronicled on his personal website.

YouTube clip: taking part in the infamous pre-game brawl between Montreal and Philadelphia on May 14, 1987, Game 6 of the 1987 Prince of Wales Conference Finals.

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