Union College pushing Hobey Baker candidates

'Union Power Stick' being distributed
A phone charger is being sent out to promote Union College's two Hobey Baker candidates.
A phone charger is being sent out to promote Union College's two Hobey Baker candidates.

SCHENECTADY — The hockey sticks of Union College’s Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo have produced 54 points each so far this season, among the best in the country.

That puts them in the mix for college hockey’s most prestigious individual award, the Hobey Baker.

As of today, the Union sports information department will be trying to score some points with a stick of its own.

The school’s athletic department is distributing what is called the “Union Power Stick” (“Always charged. On and off the ice.”), a charger for electronic devices that bears information about the Dutchmen’s top two stars as they pursue consideration for the Hobey Baker Award.

That’s college hockey’s equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy, and the senior captain Vecchione has been a leading candidate to win it since not long after the start of the season, with his junior teammate Foo joining the discussion by sheer force of his equally spectacular scoring.

Toward that end, the school ordered 175 of the USB chargers and is sending them out to coaches, media and officials to promote its two star players.

Besides photos of the two — the backdrop for Vecchione is Union’s iconic Nott Memorial — the exterior of the charger stick publicizes a website, www.UnionAthletics/HOBEY and the Twitter hashtag #BringHobey2Union.

It’s part of the marketing process that goes hand-in-hand with winning big awards like this.

Often, it’s not enough just to have eye-popping stats. There’s a sense of competition off the ice, too, to get your player’s name out there among the various candidates and to supplement their performance on the ice with some good old fashioned advertising.

In Union’s case this year, the school tried to come up with something that leaves an impression beyond that of a useless trinket that voters would tend to toss in the circular file.

“When we were looking for something, this leaped off the page to me,” Union assistant director of athletics (sports information) Eric McDowell said. “It ties into the players, an intern came up with the slogan and we feel like it will make an impact on the coaches and media.”

Vecchione and Foo are in the running for the Hobey Baker because they’ve been two of the best players in college hockey all season, until two games ago playing on the same line for the nationally ranked Dutchmen.

Vecchione has had one of his more spectacular goals appear on SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays of the Day, and he has broken the school record for career points while leading the Dutchmen on the ice and in the locker room as captain. Union, which won a national championship in 2014 when Vecchione was a freshman, is in first place in ECAC Hockey and has clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs with two regular-season games left.

Phase one of the award process was a survey of the 60 Division I coaches, who were asked to submit top three picks from their respective conferences and the top three nationally.

In phase two, a selection committee of 27 coaches, print and electronic media and referees will vote to produce a list of 10 finalists, and the top three will be announced  as the Hobey Baker Hat Trick. The winner will be announced at the Frozen Four in Chicago in April.

There is also a fan voting component, although its impact on the final outcome typically is not significant.

Past winners include Paul Kariya, Chris Drury, Ryan Miller, and, in the last three years, Johnny “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau (who played against Union in the Frozen Four semifinals in 2014) of the Calgary Flames, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers.

“You look at the last three guys, they’re all exceptional guys and doing fairly well in the NHL,” Vecchione said. “I’m just trying to go out there every night, have fun, play my game and let all that stuff play out at the end. I think you’ve heard me say it a bunch of times, I’m focused on the team and what we can accomplish, because there’s something special going on there.”

“It’s truly exciting to see this process and look at the players who have won it in the past,” McDowell said. “Spencer has become worthy of being considered, and Mike has been one of the key players who have brought national attention on the program and the school.

“He was in a unique situation considering whether to skip his last year and go pro, but he came back to get a tremendous degree, he’s an excellent student and a wonderful person and easy to vote for. Then you look at his stats, and it only adds up to a great candidate.”

A Hobey Baker Award would bring invaluable publicity to Union.

Like the residual effect of the national championship, the award could help with recruiting and increase the profile of the hockey program.

“It was only a few years ago that we went to the NCAAs for the first time, and on a national level, we’re still in our infancy to some extent,” McDowell said. “Now you see more scouts at our games, and we have more players playing professionally.

“The Hobey Baker is the hockey Heisman, its the sport’s most famous award. It’s a ticket for the players’ future, but also for the program.”

“To have all this hype now, with the voting going on and a lot of people texting me and tagging me to go vote for Mike Vecchione, it doesn’t sink in until it actually happens,” Vecchione said. ” I’m just going out there, doing my thing and not really worrying about it. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to continue to play good hockey.

“If I did end up winning it, it would be a huge honor. I never thought I’d be in a situation to make it that far. Everything’s getting pretty emotional coming down to the end of my senior year, so ‘m trying to savor every moment of it.”

Categories: Sports

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