MIDDLEBURY Middlebury College Panther fans are rejoycing over one of the recent selections of finalists for the coveted NESCAC/ECAC annual athletic award presented by New Englands Gridiron Club. The wishes of students came true when a well-respected classmate, who everyone says has the character and smarts to make a mark for himself beyond college, was awarded one of the New England regions most important college athletic award. Gridirons Al Robichaud, president of the Boston-based college sport club, announced last week that senior defenseman Tom Maldonado of Middlebury College is the winner of the eighth annual Joe Concannon Award. This prestigious athletic award recognizes New England's best American-born hockey player at the Division II-III level. Maldonado grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium but it wasnt baseball where he was to make his mark. The young player is a native of the Bronx, N.Y., and finished his career at Middlebury with an outstanding season. He led the Panthers in scoring with nine goals and18 assists for 27 points. During Maldonados senior season, the defenseman passed both the 100-game plateau as well as the 100-career- point mark. He was team captain and a first team NESCAC All-Star selection. Middlebury Head Coach Bill Beaney said, Tom has been a mainstay here offensively and defensively since the first day he stepped on campus. He has quarterbacked our power play since he was a freshman and has played in virtually every critical situation. He may be small for a defenseman at just 58 tall but he has a big heart; he plays through injuries and has shown great puck savvy on the ice. This is a special award and achievement for Tom and the school. Having known Joe Concannon, I think he would be proud of what Tom Maldonado brings as a recipient of the award bearing his name, Beaney added. Tim Costello, of the Gridiron Club, said This year has been an extraordinary season of competitive hockey at the Division II and III levels in New England. Each and every one of our nominees had terrific seasons; the five finalists from our very talented field truly distinguished themselves. They were leaders on campus as well as on the ice. Tom Maldonado demonstrated great hockey skills as well as leadership and sportsmanship. He certainly earned his place among the group of distinguished winners of the Concannon Award.