DURHAM -- It was one of the most magical moments -- a priceless moment -- in a year jam-packed with them.
The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team knocked off Michigan State in a semifinal game of the NCAA championships in Anaheim, Calif., and along with preparing for a battle against rival Maine for a national title the next day, there was a little business to be conducted.
The Wildcats and their traveling party and many others gathered in a ballroom for a special announcement on April 2, 1999: And here it was. Jason Krog, was named the winner of the 1999 Hobey Baker Award as the best player in all of NCAA hockey.
He was the first Wildcat to win the award since its debut in 1981. To this day, he’s the only one to take it home.
UNH coach Mike Souza, a sophomore forward on that team, and the rest of the Wildcats joined Krog on stage in short order.
“It was awesome,” Souza recalls. “In the great history we’ve had in this program, you look at all the great players we’ve had, and we’ve had one guy win that award. I think it really summed up not only that year for us, but his career for Jason. ... I have a picture in my office of him with the award. I happen to be behind him with the rest of the guys. It was just really cool.”
It was a moment to remember, to be sure. An emotional moment to savor.
“I try to convey this to our players all the time,” Souza said. “You don’t realize how cool some of these experiences are that you have when you’re here. They may not be duplicated. You may not be part of something like that ever again. It’s been 21 years since and I haven’t been.”
Sure, that 1998-99 season ended with an overtime loss to Maine that stung in the worst way. Still stings, in fact.
But there’s no denying that 21 years ago this season, Jason Krog -- a clever centerman from the outpost of Fernie, British Columbia, a town better known for its powder skiing than its ice hockey – led his team on a marvelous ride.
“It was a great year,” Souza said. “Jason led the way. He led the way not only with his play on the ice, but with the way he conducted himself off the ice. He was an unbelievable student when he was here, one of the top students in the Whittemore School of Business (now Peter T. Paul College of Business & Economics). He’d be the guy in the locker room doing extra pushups and sit-ups. He was the guy who was the best player in the country doing all this extra work after practice and you certainly weren’t going to sit around. You followed him.”
Krog did it all. On the ice, he scored 34 goals and had 51 assists for 85 points, the third-highest single-season point total in UNH history. For his career, he had 94 goals and a school record 144 assists for 238 points, which is second by five points to Ralph Cox on the all-time points list.
And he did it all quietly.
“He seemed like he was getting two or three points every night that year,” Souza said. “You almost came to expect him to do something. He just had a way about him. It was the way he conducted himself. He was very humble. He doesn’t have an air of arrogance about him.”
Two years ago, Krog and former Wildcat teammate Derek Bekar stopped by the Whittemore Center to say congratulations and share stories and memories with coach Dick Umile as he headed toward retirement.
Asked to share his top UNH memory or two, Krog never said a word about Hobey Baker or piling up points. Didn’t even bring up that senior year and the trip to the championship game, in fact.
“One of the amazing memories was the first time we went to the Frozen Four when we beat BU in overtime in Albany,” Krog said. “BU was always up there. I just remember coming into the locker room after the game and it was kind of like, ‘Wow.’ It was going somewhere we had never been before, and just seeing how happy everyone was.”
Here’s the kicker.
Krog’s role in that best memory, in particular the goal that Mark Mowers scored in overtime – with assists to Mike Souza and Dan Enders?
“I was in the penalty box,” he said.
He had been called for high-sticking. UNH’s defenders were trying to kill off his penalty and keep their season alive when they turned the tables.
Mowers scored a shorthanded goal and the Wildcats were headed to the NCAA semifinals for the first time in 16 years.
The next year, they went back to the Frozen Four and advanced to that 1999 championship game. The Wildcats went to the Frozen Four again in 2002 and 2003.
It’s not lost on Krog, what a run that was.
“Winning a title is such a fine line,” he said. “After playing for whatever number of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to win a few times. It’s such a fine line. There have been teams that I’ve been on that have lost that were better than the teams that have won and the opposite is true, too. You have to have so much luck and everything. It’s quite a feat just to get to the tournament and get to the Frozen Four and have an opportunity.”
Four times UNH got to the Frozen Four in that six-year span.
The first two times, Krog was a major piece of the journey.
“He was so gifted with the puck,” Souza said. “His hockey sense was uncanny. He was very deceptive. He’s a guy who could hold onto the puck and guys would try to hit him and he’d knock them down. He had great balance. He was in such good shape and he was so strong on his skates. He was a special player.”
A tremendous scorer of both goals and assists in college, in the American Hockey League and later in Europe, Krog found ways to chip in whether he was scoring or not.
“He adapted,” Souza said. “That’s really a testament to the type of player he was and type of athlete he was. He goes to pro hockey and he was a prolific scorer at the minor league level, but when he went to the National Hockey League, I remember the year he played in Anaheim going to the Stanley Cup finals against New Jersey and him taking all the key faceoffs in the D zone. He was an unbelievable centerman. We had the puck all the time because he won the faceoff all the time. . . . That’s something that probably gets overlooked at this level. People are always just transfixed on stats. They don’t ever ask how good you were away from the puck. Or how you were in other areas of the game that maybe your teammates recognize. He was real good in all areas.”
Thus, a memorable day in Anaheim and a Hobey Baker Award.
“Jason was a tremendous asset to our university,” Souza said. “People in WSBE (now the Peter T. Paul College of Business & Economics) would say the same thing. (Professor) Bill Knowles always marvels at him. He conducted himself like a pro on and off the ice. We still use him to this day as one of the iconic figures. When we talk about UNH hockey he’ll forever be one of those guys: Great role models for all of us, for all our present and future Wildcats.”