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A Slam Dunc

ST. LOUIS For all of the highly touted recruits and the first-round draft picks in college hockey, the top individual award belongs to a 5-foot-6, 158-pound undrafted, unassuming sophomore from UND.

ST. LOUIS For all of the highly touted recruits and the first-round draft picks in college hockey, the top individual award belongs to a 5-foot-6, 158-pound undrafted, unassuming sophomore from UND.

Ryan Duncan, dressed in a black suit, stepped up to the podium Friday night in the Scottrade Center and accepted the Hobey Baker Award in front of a partisan UND crowd that took up half of the lower bowl.

"This is definitely surprising to me," said Duncan, who was one of three finalists at the event alongside Air Force junior forward Eric Ehn and Notre Dame senior goaltender David Brown. "Realistically, even when I was sitting there, I didn't think I had a chance. I'm still in shock. I was pretty surprised that my name was called and it really means a lot to me. I don't take it for granted."

All along, Duncan insisted that he didn't think he had a chance and deflected the credit to teammates. But as the season progressed, it became evident that he was a top candidate.

Only finalist in

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the Frozen Four

Duncan won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's player of the year award the same day he was named one of 10 finalists. The next weekend, he was the only player of the initial 10 to lead his team to the Frozen Four.

Friday, one day after his team bowed out in the national semifinals, Duncan joined Tony Hrkac as the only Hobey Baker Award winners from UND. Hrkac won the award 20 years ago and coincidentally didn't receive his ring until this fall in a ceremony during UND's Hall of Fame weekend.

"Tony was a dynamic player a special person and a special player," said UND coach Dave Hakstol, who joined Duncan at the ceremony. "Ryan Duncan is no different. He's a special player and certainly a special person.

"I feel he's truly a deserving winner of this award, if you look at all the criteria. His ability on the ice is obvious. But it's the character, leadership and competitiveness when you talk about Hobey Baker (the person) and what he brought to the table. Ryan Duncan personifies that."

Duncan is the youngest player to win the award since 2001, when Michigan State sophomore goaltender Ryan Miller beat out UND senior forward Jeff Panzer.

That also was the last time a WCHA player didn't win the trophy.

A scoring machine

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Duncan was a consistent force for the Sioux. He finished second in the NCAA with 31 goals, one behind Niagara's Ted Cook. He also added 26 assists for 57 points in 43 games. Duncan was a first-team all-conference pick and was placed on the All-America first team Friday.

Before the season, many speculated that UND may have a Hobey Baker Award contender in first-round draft picks T.J. Oshie or Jonathan Toews. But it was their linemate, Duncan, who wound up racking up the points and the accolades.

"Good players come in a lot of different packages," Hakstol said. "Just because you're not the prototypical NHL draft pick, it doesn't mean you're not a great hockey player. It requires skill and ability. It also requires heart."

Duncan's father, Bob, joined him at the ceremony and watched the press conference from the back of the room. But he wasn't the only person in the arena pulling for Duncan. Many fans who came to the Frozen Four to watch the Sioux ended up staying, even though UND lost 6-4 to Boston College the previous night.

Supporters on hand

He received a huge ovation when ESPN's Mike Hall named the three candidates at the start of the show and there was another eruption when Duncan was announced as the winner.

"I can't thank the fans enough," Duncan said. "I can't believe so many stayed behind. Hearing the reception I got when they announced my name at the start, I had chills running up and down my spine. It's amazing how well fans of North Dakota travel and support the team."

Ehn and Brown, both joined by their coaches at the ceremony, congratulated Duncan for winning the prestigious trophy.

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"I'm definitely not surprised," Ehn said. "Watching video clips of him (at the ceremony), I kept leaning over to Dave (Brown) and saying 'Wow' . . . then the next one, 'Wow that was nice' . . . then the next one, 'Wow I wish I could do that.' He's a tremendously talented player and he deserves everything he got tonight."

In front of the audience, Duncan once again questioned whether he was the most deserving candidate, as he's done all year.

"I look at Tony Hrkac as the only other player from North Dakota to win the award," Duncan said. "He had 116 points. I had 57. He had more than twice as many as me. So, I don't think I can be put in the same company as that."

That's already been done for him.

Reach Schlossman at 780-1129, (800) 477-6572 ext. 129 or bschlossman@gfherald.com .

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