In the spring of 1999, Dan Kerluke and his teammates on the University of Maine hockey team stood in an empty NHL arena in California and watched as Steve Kariya was honored as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in Division I college hockey.

Now, as an assistant coach at Maine, Kerluke will have another chance to watch another Black Bear contend for one of the loftiest awards in college sports.

On Wednesday afternoon, sophomore Gustav Nyquist was named one of the three finalists for this year’s Hobey Baker Award.

Joining Nyquist are New Hampshire forward Bobby Butler and Wisconsin forward Blake Geoffrion. Nyquist, Butler and Geoffrion — designated as the Hobey Hat Trick Finalists — were selected from a field of 10 and announced by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation.

“All of those guys are great players,” Nyquist said. “They’re guys who mean a lot to their team.

“I didn’t expect this. Bobby Butler and Blake Geoffrion are great players, and I have great respect for all the finalists. And even the guys who didn’t make it but were on the original list of candidates, they had tremendous seasons, too.”

The Hobey Baker Award will be presented April 9 at Detroit’s Ford Field, site of this year’s Frozen Four.

“To be honored among those three, and from a Maine perspective, to be among those names, it’s very special,” said Kerluke, who recruited Nyquist. “Very few players ever get to be related to those kind of names. I hope he has a great pro career when that time comes, but he’ll look back on this forever.”

Nyquist, a right wing from Malmo, Sweden, is college hockey’s leading scorer with 19 goals and 42 assists.

But Maine Coach Tim Whitehead believes Nyquist is one of the primary components in Maine’s return to the national stage of college hockey.

“To compete at a national level, you need elite players,” Whitehead said.

“I think Gustav’s the most dynamic player we’ve had since Michel Leveille. You need guys who can make plays under pressure to win big games. For Gustav to come in last year and lead the team in scoring (13 goals, 19 assists in 38 games), and to take it to another level is so impressive. Gustav’s skill and composure has rubbed off on other guys like Spencer Abbott, Tanner House and Will O’Neill, and it’s elevated his teammates’ play.”

Nyquist is Maine’s 10th Hobey Baker finalist and first since Greg Moore (2006). Paul Kariya was Maine’s last Hobey Baker winner, earning the honor in 1993, a year after Scott Pellerin won it.

This season, Nyquist helped No. 18 Maine (19-17-3) reach the Hockey East championship game, where the Black Bears lost 7-6 to No. 2 Boston College on Feb. 20 at TD Garden in Boston.

“We all felt a little disappointed that we didn’t make the NCAA tournament,” Nyquist said. “But we proved to a lot of people that this team is for real, and we put the program back on the map.”

Nyquist, who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, plans to return to Maine in the fall for his junior season.

He might come back as a Hobey Baker winner, but, more important for the program, he will be a key cog to Maine’s pursuit of returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

“It always helps when you know an elite player loves to be a part of the program, and that he’s excited about coming back,” Whitehead said. “He’s a guy who, certainly, has tremendous pro potential. To know he is developing into an elite player and enjoying that process, and he’s excited about coming back, it’s very important for us in building the program to get back to the national level.”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

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