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PITTSBURGH, Pa. — At the head of the Hobey Baker autograph line that snakes down the mezzanine from Section 118 to Section 120 sits a hockey player with shoulder-length dark hair and a shy, but steady smile.
Approaching in the line is a freckle-faced boy and his mother. LeBlanc slaps the cloth-covered table top with his palm and says “Come over here.” He tucks his arm around the boy’s waist, pulling him closer. The mother snaps the photo.
This is Drew LeBlanc, the nation’s best college hockey player, winner of the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
After 45 minutes of chatting, signing and posing, LeBlanc rides the elevator down to rink level and then walks with his fellow finalists out the resurfacing door to center ice at CONSOL Energy Center.
Then comes the stuff his coach, Bob Motzko ’89, calls “the hoopla” — remarks, video presentations and interviews. He watches his father, Hermantown High School math teacher Guy LeBlanc, do a live interview on NHL Network.
And then the moment arrives.
The announcer, a former Pittsburgh weathercaster, says Drew’s name. And the St. Cloud State fans roar.
Reporters and photographers crowd closer as LeBlanc begins his acceptance speech.
The Hermantown native dons a headset for his live interview, joking with the broadcast director about how it is messing his hair, responding at one point with a bit of small town Minnesota: “Alrighty.”
The interview is followed by hugs. Hugs with his family. Hug and a hand shake with Motzko. Enthusiastic but awkward hugs with his uber-male teammates. A full-bodied, sustained hug with Bryan DeMaine, the trainer who helped LeBlanc off the ice on that terrible night in 2011, when he suffered a gruesome compound leg fracture.
At the press conference that follows LeBlanc talks about the injury. “Right when I hit I knew I broke it. I rolled over, tried to get up. My leg was literally laying on the ice.”
He fields reporters’ questions with self-effacing ease, but jokes about his nervousness: “I was so nervous, and still am, and my stomach is still in knots. My legs are still twitching.”
In an aside, he claims his hands are too clammy to allow him to pick up the heavy trophy that rests on the press conference dais.
One of his last answers sums up LeBlanc’s work ethic and speaks to the accomplishments of the historic 2012-13 men’s Husky Hockey team.
“A lot of rink rat hours went into this trophy.”