By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Jesse Hubenschmidt is one of the best athletes in University of Michigan-Dearborn history.
He was the first member of the American Collegiate Hockey League’s Hall of Fame.
But it isn’t the numerous personal accolades that bring the most pride to Hubenschmidt; it’s what his UM-Dearborn teams accomplished, and now, the opportunity to share hockey with his daughters.
That was evident on Oct. 9 when Hubenschmidt returned to UM-Dearborn for the first time in over a decade. Michael Macari’s number was being retired and Hubenschmidt, formerly the owner of the hockey program’s lone retired number, was in attendance with wife Jeni and daughters Allie, 12, and Avery, 8, to celebrate the occasion.
“It’s like it’s never changed. You see a lot of familiar faces that were here when I was here,” Hubenschmidt said. “The thing I think about right away when I see those faces, all the good times and good memories we had and we created.”
Though not the main act, Hubenschmidt was also honored; a No. 25 banner was raised next to the Fieldhouse’s north scoreboard. His number was retired in 1997, but the only sign of it was inside a glass display case on the Fieldhouse’s concourse.
“He was the key guy,” former UM-Dearborn hockey player and coach Joe Aho said after the ceremony. “The challenge Jesse always had was that every team we’d play, they would gameplan around him. They would put their top center against him, their top D-pair… When he’d get three points a game, he did it the hard way because they’d game plan around him.”
Hubenschmidt was a prolific player at UM-Dearborn. He burst onto the scene in 1992-1993, scoring 90 points for an ACHA freshman scoring record, and added a UM-Dearborn record eight short-handed goals.
A shoulder injury delayed his sophomore season until December 1993, but he came back stronger as a junior. It’s when his true potential was untapped.
“By the time he got to his junior, senior year, he was flat out carrying the team,” Aho said.
Hubenschmidt scored an ACHA record 128 points (71 goals, 57 assists) as a junior. He earned Player of the Year honors that season and was a finalist as a senior, when he scored 110 points.
“He wouldn’t go into slumps,” Aho said. “He was very consistent.”
As good as Hubenschmidt was — he’s one of the top players in ACHA history — his teams were perhaps better. UM-Dearborn never finished lower than sixth in the ACHA national tournament during his four-year career.
“I’m proud of the guys that I played with and I’m proud of the memories that we made here,” Hubenschmidt said. “When you look at those banners, we were kind of here for the golden years.”
“He’s more proud of those (team) banners up there than he is of that (retired number) one up there,” Aho added. “That’s just how he was. He’s a team-first guy.”
Hubenschmidt remained close to hockey even after his playing career ended. Aho gave him an assistant coaching gig, which he held from 1996-1999.
The opportunity set Hubenschmidt up for the next chapter of his life: coaching his daughters. He coaches both Allie’s 12U HoneyBaked team and Avery’s Michigan Ice Breaker team. Allie’s teammates were at UM-Dearborn in support of Hubenschmidt.
“It’s kept me involved in the game,” Hubenschmidt said. “It’s definitely helped me be the coach I am now with Joe giving me the opportunity of seeing the game. I just love giving back to the game and I love giving back to the girls.”
“He’s not your typical, “dad” coach,” Jeni added. “When they’re on the ice, you have no idea he’s their dad. He takes in his whole team like they’re his own daughters, hence why they’re all here tonight.”
How big was the transition from coaching college-age men to young girls?
“Night and day and past that,” Hubenschmidt said. “With college, it’s more scheming and game planning. With girls hockey at 8, 9, 10, 11-years-old, it’s more of making sure they got sweat off their eyebrow, and their knee doesn’t sweat, and making sure they feel good so they can play good. It’s totally different realm that you can imagine, but at the same time, it’s probably more rewarding to coach girls than it is college boys sometimes.”
Jeni thought she and Hubenschmidt would have pom pon girls. Not a chance; pink hockey gear won over Allie and Avery.
“I was coaching high school competitive pom pon. I would have had two pom pon girls,” Jeni said. “When he brought home pink skates, pink laces, pink jerseys, I thought, ‘I’m done. I’ve lost the battle.’
“They have the same passion for the sport that he does and he doesn’t push it on them. They love it on their own. He helps them thrive in what they love doing.”
It took 18 years, but Hubenschmidt has a banner honoring his personal accomplishments and his daughters and people from the glory days were there to support him.
“It’s cool for me now, of course, having kids,” Hubenschmidt said. “I’m happy I can represent my family name up there, and more importantly, for my daughters to see it and know that Dad was kind of a decent hockey player.”