Duncan accepts Hobey Baker amid controversy

Updated: April 13, 2007, 6:42 PM ET
Associated Press

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- At the school where a nickname controversy has been lingering for years, University of North Dakota sophomore Ryan Duncan watched his nickname change overnight. He went from "Dunc" to "Hobey" after winning college hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy.

The Hobey Baker Award winner wants his old nickname back.

"I would rather just be one of the guys," Duncan said this week while sitting in the stands of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, home to the University of North Dakota and thousands of Fighting Sioux logos. "I don't like being singled out like that. It makes me a little uncomfortable.

Ryan Duncan
Elsa/Getty ImagesDuncan was more surprised than most to be named the 2007 Hobey Baker award winner.

"At the same time," he said, softening his voice, "it's nice to be recognized."

Linemate T.J. Oshie said Duncan wanted nothing to do with the nickname change.

"We were just chirping at him in a good way," Oshie said. "But he definitely deserves the award. I don't think he gives himself enough credit."

Duncan's award and UND's third straight appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four kept the school from being overshadowed by a state lawsuit against the NCAA over the use of the Fighting Sioux logo. The case is scheduled for trial in December.

The school's last Hobey Baker winner, Tony Hrkac in 1987, called Duncan to offer congratulations.

"I didn't recognize the phone number, but picked it up anyway and it was Tony Hrkac," Duncan said. "He didn't have to do that."

Duncan's rise to the top of college hockey was a surprise to most, including himself. Most of the preseason attention went to his linemates and first-round NHL draft picks, Oshie and Jonathan Toews. The undrafted Duncan said he didn't expect to be nominated for the award.

"There's no way I would be receiving this award if it wasn't the play of my teammates," he said. "I definitely benefit from playing with T.J. and Jonathan, and every one else on the team for that matter."

Oshie, drafted by the St. Louis Blues, announced earlier this week he was staying in school rather than joining the pros. He and Duncan will likely be among the candidates for next year's Hobey Baker Award.

"All year this year Dunc didn't talk about the Hobey. Never said one word about it. I'm going to learn from him," Oshie said.

The 5-foot-6, 158-pound Duncan scored 57 points this season and wound up second in the nation with 31 goals. Oshie said he makes up for his size with great offensive skills and hard work. Besides daily workouts, he gets up before dawn on most days to shoot pucks.

"He's gritty," Oshie said. "His offensive ability is a gift. He was a powerhouse on our line when Jon and I weren't playing well."

Duncan said he's also been in the right place at the right time.

"I've worked hard, but I've found luck along the way, for sure," Duncan said.

Duncan's father, Bob, has handled most of the communication with scouts about his son's career. Ryan said one scout told his father -- when Ryan was 13 years old -- that he was too small to play.

"That was just one person's opinion, I guess, but it was something that stuck with me," Ryan said.

"Good players come in a lot of different packages," said Dave Hakstol, the UND head coach. "He may not be the prototypical NHL draft pick, but he's a complete hockey player. The best compliment I can give him is that he has a history of making players around him better."

Duncan has the genes. His father was a forward on the Sioux hockey team in the early 1970s. His mother, Debbie, is from Roseau, a perennial contender for the high school championship in hockey-crazed Minnesota. Two of her brothers played college hockey, at UND and Minnesota, and her father was a goalie for the Gophers.

Duncan's godparents are Murray and Karin Heatley, parents of NHL star Dany Heatley.

"I think Ryan has been very fortunate of being around people and programs that emphasize teamwork and unselfish play," Bob Duncan said.

The elder Duncan said this week he was still in shock about the Hobey Baker Award. "It's just now starting to sink in how big of an award that is," he said.

Ryan said he saw inspiration every day when his father went to work as a firefighter in Calgary, Alberta. His father has just started his 30th year on the job.

"He's putting his life on the line every time he goes to work and helping save other people," Ryan said. "It's really courageous. I look up to my dad in a lot of ways. He's my best friend."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press