UMD hockey player Bill Watson (left) and coach Mike Sertich talk on March 29, 1985, at a news conference in Detroit after Watson was announced as the 1985 Hobey Baker Award winner. It was the second consecutive year a Bulldog player won the award. (John Rott / 1985 file / News Tribune)
25 years ago: UMD’s Watson wins Hobey Baker Award
Exactly 25 years ago, the Duluth News Tribune carried news of a second consecutive triumph for the UMD men’s hockey program.
On March 29, 1985 — reported in the March 30 paper — Bill Watson became the second Bulldog in a row to win the Hobey Baker Award as the season’s top college men’s hockey player.
Unfortunately, the same paper also carried news of a heartbreaking, multiple-overtime loss for UMD in a second consecutive NCAA tournament.
But focusing on the positive, here’s a column by the late Bruce Bennett, then the paper’s associate sports editor, on Watson’s win:
It was the biggest and most impressive of the five Hobey Baker Awards ceremonies. Bill Watson won college hockey’s top individual award Friday, giving UMD back-to-back winners, and 500 Bulldog fans packed the Westin Hotel’s Mackinac Room to roar their approval.
For Watson, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s two-time scoring champion, all-star and All-American selection, being named the season’s top college player was the cap to a grand Bulldog career. Almost.
“Now we’ve got to go out and win a hockey game,” Watson said after accepting the Baker trophy. He was referring to Friday night’s showdown with RPI in the NCAA semifinals.
“I’m overwhelmed by this,” said the Powerview, Manitoba, native who turns 21 today. “And I’m nervous.
He didn’t show it. He spoke easily about what the award meant to him. “I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of Tom Kurvers,” his former teammate who won the award last year. “I know what he accomplished and what he meant to the team. It’s a great thrill for me to be here today.”
“Bill Watson epitomizes what the Hobey Baker Award stands for,” said UMD Coach Mike Sertich. “He has become a complete hockey player. He has shown the hockey world he may be the most dangerous player in college hockey right now.”
Word spread fast among the maroon-and-gold-clad crowd Friday morning at the Westin complex as rumors that Watson was the Hobey Baker winner were rampant. That prospect brought Bulldog boosters to the press conference in droves.
“I want to thank the Duluth fans, my teammates, my coaches and my parents,” Watson told the assemblage. “Without any of them, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Watson, who will receive his award Tuesday night at the Decathlon Club in Bloomington, Minn., said he’d learned he won the award Thursday, after practice, when Sertich informed him of the choice.
Sertich had been aware since Monday that Watson was the 1985 selection, but he kept it under his hairpiece. “I didn’t think we could win it two years in a row,” he said. “I thought the selection was too political. I’m glad I was wrong.”
UMD’s Bill Watson walks from the equipment room at the Duluth Arena to a waiting bus that will take the hockey team to the airport for their flight to Detroit on March 26, 1985. The Bulldogs were on their way to play RPI in the national semifinals. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune and Herald)
That night, the Bulldogs fell to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 6-5 in triple overtime in an NCAA semifinal at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
It was a heartbreaking result for UMD, which the year before had lost to Bowling Green in four overtimes in the national title game.
In 1985, the Bulldogs rebounded to beat Boston College in the third-place game — yet again, in overtime.
Watson, meanwhile, signed with the Chicago Blackhawks after the season. He played parts of four seasons for the Blackhawks. He later served as an assistant coach at UMD, head coach at St. Scholastica and an assistant at Western Michigan.
He now works for Northwestern Mutual in Duluth and continues to be involved with the Bulldog men’s hockey program.