YPSILANTI It was the least heralded presentation at this year”s Michigan hockey team banquet, but perhaps the most important.
Michigan senior defenseman Bob Gassoff, regarded as one of the grittiest and toughest players in college hockey, received a standing ovation after graciously accepting an award from the “From the Heart” program at Mott Children”s Hospital for all the Thursday nights he spent with the sick children.
“Going there every week to see their faces, their smiling faces when we show up, is a very mutually rewarding experience as much for me as it is for them,” said a choked up Gassoff. “When things aren”t going well, they really help me put things into perspective. Some of the toughest most craziest kids I”ve met ever in my life are at that hospital, dealing with battles every day of their life.”
One of the young patients Gassoff spent his time with, Brad Rutzel, presented the award to Gassoff, with a message that touched the hearts of those in attendance at the Ypsilanti Marriot on Saturday.
“You will be missed by all the kids, but, Bobby, I”ll miss you the most because you”re one of my best friends,” Rutzel said.
Also recognized by Mott Children”s Hospital was senior assistant captain Dave Huntzicker a native of Ann Arbor who spent time with the kids in an act that epitomizes what Michigan hockey is all about.
Huntzicker also received the Joseph E. Barss Award, which is the coach”s choice for the consummate team player.
But Gassoff and Huntzicker were not the only ones going home with hardware from the three-and-a-half hour banquet, which was held to honor the nine graduating seniors and the rest of the 2001 team.
While there were some repeat and expected winners, there were some surprises as well.
Senior Bill Trainor, who anchored the penalty kill unit and centered the fourth line in his tenure, accepted the Howard Colby Award for sportsmanship for the third-straight year.
“This is a really big surprise,” Trainor said with a grin. “I wasn”t expecting this at all just kidding.”
After the laughing from the crowd subsided, freshman Mike Komisarek received the Deker Club Award for the “most colorful rookie.”
As expected, sophomore Andy Hilbert won the Hazel M. “Doc” Losh Award for being the Wolverines leading scorer. Hilbert, a Hobey Baker Finalist, tallied 64 points this season.
Hilbert also pacified some of the concerns of the Michigan faithful in the audience that he may sign with the Boston Bruins in the offseason by stating he was a “soon-to-be junior” in his introductions.
Junior Jeff Jillson received two honors the Carl Issacson Award for best academic athlete and the Vic Heyliger Award for the most outstanding defenseman. Joe Kautz won the Alton D. Simms Award for most improved player.
Instead of the seniors giving their farewell speeches, the nine created a colorful, 40-minute video, showing their lives as a hockey player and what they”ll miss the most.
All nine received the coveted “senior ring” from Michigan coach Red Berenson at the end of the banquet, followed by singing a chorus of “The Victors” one last time together to conclude the festivities.