Buffalo, N.Y. (WMTV) -- Senior defenseman Jake Bunz of the Wisconsin men's hockey team was named the 2019 Hockey Humanitarian Award recipient, which was announced on Friday afternoon at the Harborcenter as part of the Men's Frozen Four weekend.
The Middleton, Wisconsin native is the 24th winner in the award's history, which was first awarded in 1996.
The other four 2019 award finalists were Cam Beecy (Norwich), Annie Pankowski (Wisconsin), Tommy Parran (Ohio State) and Luke Rivera (SUNY-Fredonia).
The Hockey Humanitarian Award is given each year to college hockey's finest citizen — a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team, but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism.
After traveling on a mission trip to Haiti in 2012, Bunz returned home motivated to do more for an orphanage in Fond Blanc, a small mountain village located nearly several hours outside of Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince. As a catalyst in the formation of The Fond Blanc Foundation, Bunz began with the goal of providing funds for medical supplies, food and education for 40 orphans: it now serves over 60.
Additionally, the Foundation helps provide education to over 400 children, with further aims of nutritional and medical self-sufficiency for those it serves. He's led fundraising here, inspired a dozen other student-athletes to make the trip, and has made 12 trips to Haiti himself. All told, Bunz has been integral in helping raise over $250,000. As a result of his leadership, time and passion, roads have been repaired, teacher housing and school rooms have been built and hundreds of children lead happier, healthier lives.
"I don't look at it as I'm doing something crazy to help the world, I enjoy it," Bunz said. "I really like going down there. I don't see it as being a humanitarian, I just really enjoy serving and bringing other people down to experience what I've experienced. It is tough, but it is really, really rewarding.
"Those kids, they don't have anything. They are getting by. They have way less than us, but they are so happy in what they have. How they support each other and live amongst each other is amazing to see."
Bunz recently wrapped up his Wisconsin playing career, finishing with five assists in 32 career games played. Described as an all-around team player that every team should have on its roster, he is a three-time Academic Big Ten skater as a real estate major.
"When I committed to Wisconsin, it was my dream to play for the Badgers," Bunz said. "I wanted to be a superstar, a top-six defenseman, but my career over four years didn't really pan out that way. Then I realized as the Foundation picked up and got bigger and more people got involved, I kind of stepped into the role of being an ambassador for the Foundation getting the word out and using my platform as a student-athlete because it is a really powerful thing."
"It has been unbelievable to see multiple communities rally around the Foundation – our church community, the Middleton community where I live, the student-athlete community, the Fiji Fraternity community. It gets a lot done. It is really exciting seeing people getting on board and wanting to help out."
Apart from his time in Haiti, Bunz has spent more than 30 hours volunteering with various organizations through Wisconsin's Badgers Give Back program over the course of his career at UW.
Bunz was the fourth Wisconsin men's skater to be tabbed a finalist for the award, and the first since Andrew Joudrey was nominated as a top-five candidate in 2007. Former Badger defenseman Dan Boeser was a finalist in 2004, while Erik Raygor won the award in 1998. In addition, Wisconsin women's hockey player Brittany Ammerman was the award's 2015 winner.
"I read about all the other finalists this year to see what other people were doing," Bunz said. "It is amazing to see how much people are donating their own time, serving and doing things for others."
The award was presented as part of a broader celebration of the Frozen Four and college hockey, which included the presentation of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation also presented Bunz with a check for $2,500 during the ceremony, which will be donated to Fond Blanc Foundation. All five HHA finalists received $500 for their respective designated charities. These donations from the HHA Foundation are possible through the generous support of the award's partners and donors.
Bunz is the 11th Division I male athlete to win the Hockey Humanitarian Award, including the first since 2016 when Chris Dylewski from the United State Air Force Academy was bestowed the honor.