As long as hockey has been played, it has been a tradition for the coach of the winning team to award the game puck to the player who contributed the most to the squad’s on-ice success. Whether it be stellar net-minding, precision passing or netting a few clutch goals, the puck is usually presented to a player who got into the stat book one way or another. Unfortunately, Head Coach Enrico Blasi’s RedHawks hadn’t been doing much scoring as they ushered in 2013, and he knew that had to change – enter the Warrior Award.
The idea came to Blasi and associate head coach Brent Brekke one afternoon while jogging early in January.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen video of the story I tell about the warrior,” Blasi said. “We just started talking about that and came up with an idea of building a shield and giving it out as an award after every game to the guy that sacrifices the most.”
The shield is more accurately described as a chest plate, reminiscent of one worn in ancient Rome. After a few calls around Oxford, Blasi had his armor constructed, and he introduced it at the RedHawks’ first home game of 2013.
The move is an inventive one, as it highlights the play of individuals that is not glorified on the scoreboard – rather, it brings attention to the behind-the-scenes efforts that often aren’t noticed by the fans: blocked shots, hustle on the back-check, poise and puck control in the offensive zone, etc.
“It’s something other than the guy that scored the goal,” Blasi said of the player who is awarded. “Maybe a guy blocks a shot, or takes a big hit. Whoever plays his heart out for his team that night gets rewarded.”
The players have bought into this mentality as well. Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik won the award at its inception, and it has been well-received in the locker room, most likely in part because the award is given from its former recipient to a new player.
Some of the guys have even taken to wearing the plating into the post-game press conference as a badge of honor.
“Whoever was the hardest worker and who he thinks deserves it, [Blasi] will give it to that guy and it just goes down the chain, that guy gives it to another guy,” Czarnik said. “I just think it’s been really good for us. I think there’s been no repeat [winners] so far, so guys are working for it for sure.”
Though the actual date that the Warrior Award was first presented is not definitive, the on-ice results since its creation have been positive, as the RedHawks are winners of their last five contests. Senior captain Steven Spinell said that while the award isn’t the reason for the winning streak, it does add to the focus and goals that the players and coaches have set for the season.
“It’s important to recognize players that are working hard,” Spinell said. “They’re doing the gritty stuff … that people don’t always pay attention to. It just adds to the atmosphere of having fun with it, it’s another element. And it’s an honor, because it’s your teammates giving it to you.”
In the past few weeks, Spinell and Czarnik have both been recipients. Other winners include senior forward Marc Hagel, freshman forward Kevin Morris, freshman goaltender Ryan McKay and sophomore forward Cody Murphy.
Blasi noted that he plans to keep this tradition around the rest of the season and beyond, so the armor will grace the shoulders of players for years to come.
But for now, as the Brotherhood heads to Kalamazoo this weekend to face off against conference rival Western Michigan, the Warrior Award will make the trip with them, waiting to be worn by the next RedHawk deemed worthy.