The Michigan hockey team’s first line has been making headlines for a while now. And on March 16, it made another.
Last Wednesday, the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award were announced — and it’s no surprise Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte were among them.
The trio has set the Big Ten ablaze this season, with Connor leading the nation in goals and points, and Compher first nationally in assists. Motte has been exceptional himself, trailing Connor’s scoring total by just four goals.
The announcement marked just the third time since the award’s inception in 1981 that three players from the same team broke the top 10, fitting for a line that has been so dominant.
The last year it happened was 1994, when Michigan assistant coaches Brian Wiseman and Steve Shields donned the maize and blue sweater with fellow nominee David Oliver.
Though Connor, Compher and Motte have largely pushed the award to the backs of their minds, having their names written below their coaches’ in the history book is still something they can appreciate.
“(Being grouped with) the three guys, it’s just an honor,” Compher said. “It’s not the goal of our team, and that’s to win NCAA games and make the Frozen Four. (But) we thought about it for a couple minutes, congratulated each other. We had practice that day and it was back to normal.”
The original Michigan trio was nothing short of phenomenal in 1994 on the way to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Wiseman led the Wolverines in scoring with 69 points, Oliver scored 28 goals with 40 assists and Shields held a 2.66 goals-against average.
On top of the individual achievement, they were freshmen when Michigan’s streak of 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances began.
Now, the current top line has a chance to jumpstart to a new streak, and one of them may have the opportunity to take home one trophy that Wiseman, Shields and Oliver couldn’t. But to do so may be even more difficult than usual with all three in contention.
Back in 1994, none of the Wolverines won the Hobey Baker. In retrospect, Shields and Wiseman agreed that the three of them making the top 10 might have hurt Oliver’s chances.
“He was Player of the Year in the CCHA that year,” Wiseman said. “He was a dominant player, a dominant goal scorer. If David Oliver was the only one, I think the outcome might be different.”
Added Shields: “(My nomination) was probably based on my career, but David Oliver had the best year of any college player. I don’t know how the voting gets split or whatever, but the guy who won — and no disrespect to him — but David Oliver was the best player in the country. It was too bad for David, but Wiseman was the other best player in the country, and I was (just) happy to be on the list.”
Their experience in 1994 raises the question if history will repeat itself.
After being put together in early December, the trio, now dubbed the “CCM line,” has wrought havoc on the Big Ten. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Connor, Compher and Motte are first, second, and fourth in points nationally, respectively.
Even with numbers that could make the award committee do double takes, 1994 may be evidence: two is company, three’s a crowd.