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One final straw poll before the Hobey Hat Trick is revealed

Thatcher Demko stopped 60 of 63 shots in leading Boston College to the Northeast Regional championship (photo: Melissa Wade).

Our final edition of Hobey Watch for the 2015-16 season includes the final straw poll taken by our writers.

These will be our final predictions before the Hobey Hat Trick announcement on Thursday.

First, let’s revisit the 10 finalists as announced by the committee on March 16:

JT Compher, Michigan
Kyle Connor, Michigan
Thatcher Demko, Boston College
Zac Lynch, Robert Morris
Alex Lyon, Yale
Tyler Motte, Michigan
Alex Petan, Michigan Tech
Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire
Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State
Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

And here are the results of this week’s balloting by our Hobey Watch panel, which includes six writers — one covering each of the six Division I men’s conferences:

1. Kyle Connor, Michigan

The freshman assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime in the Wolverines’ 3-2 win over Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He also picked up a helper in Michigan’s season-ending loss to North Dakota in the Midwest Regional final. Connor ended the year with 71 points (35 goals, 36 assists). He leads the nation in goals and points.

2. Tyler Motte, Michigan

Connor’s linemate scored the game-winner against Notre Dame and had a pair of assists against North Dakota. He ended his junior season with 32 goals and 25 assists for 57 points. Motte is second in Division I in goals and third in points.

3. Thatcher Demko, Boston College

Demko is the only Hobey finalist that will play in this season’s Frozen Four, leading the Eagles to the Northeast Regional title with wins over Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth. The junior stopped 50 of 53 shots he faced on the weekend, and was named the most outstanding player of the regional. Demko is tied for second in the country in save percentage (.936), is seventh in GAA (1.85) and tops in shutouts (10).

4. JT Compher, Michigan

The final member of the Michigan triumvirate, Compher also assisted on Motte’s OT winner against Notre Dame and had both goals in the Wolverines’ 5-2 loss to North Dakota the following day. He ended his junior campaign with 16 goals and 47 assists for 62 points. He’s second in the nation in points and first in assists.

5. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

The lone senior of this group, Vesey ended his college career with a 4-1 loss to Boston College on the Northeast Regional semifinal. Vesey finished with 46 points, including 24 goals.

Others receiving votes: Alex Lyon, Yale; Sam Anas, Quinnipiac; Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State

Anas, whose Quinnipiac Bobcats advanced to the Frozen Four, got some votes from our writers despite not being among the list of actual Hobey finalists. Lyon’s season came to an end in a 3-2 loss to UMass-Lowell last Saturday, as did Prow’s with St. Cloud State’s overtime loss to Ferris State.

So what’s my final prediction?

I think the winner will be Kyle Connor, and not just because he came in first in every one of our straw polls over the last few weeks.

If Jack Eichel set the bar for rookies winning the Hobey Baker Award in this era last season, then Connor stacks up very well. Both had 71-point seasons, with Connor scoring more goals (35 to 26).

Michigan’s Big Ten schedule wasn’t as arduous as that of Boston University last season, but looking closer at the numbers again shows a favorable comparison. Eichel played in 19 games against ranked teams in 2014-15, scoring 11 goals and 16 assists for a points per game average against ranked teams of 1.42. Eichel’s overall PPG average was 1.78.

Connor’s Wolverines played in 13 games this season against teams ranked at the time, with the freshman posting 13 goals and 12 assists for a PPG average of 1.92 in games against ranked teams. His overall PPG was 1.87, not as marked a difference between ranked and overall as Eichel’s.

Do those numbers lose a bit of luster because 10 of Connor’s goals and four assists came in five games against Penn State? The Nittany Lions were not ranked in the latest USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, but they were in the five games against Connor and Michigan. Even with that caveat, I think he’ll walk away with the trophy.

I’m going with Compher and Demko as the other members of the Hobey Hat Trick, but with some reservations, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prow get a block of Western votes, and Vesey get credit for being a repeat finalist and sticking around for his senior year.

Our writers like Motte better than my picks, but on a line with the two other finalists, his fantastic season is, I think, still third-best among the trio.

Check back on Thursday when the Hobey Hat Trick is announced, and we’ll be in Tampa for the announcement of this year’s winner on April 8.

Connor’s big weekend helps solidify spot atop Hobey Watch straw poll

Michigan rookie Kyle Connor scored five goals and assisted on three more in two games last weekend (photo: Jim Rosvold).

This latest edition of Hobey Watch covers the latest straw poll of our writers, taken after the conference championships and before the NCAA regionals.

We’ll be making one more prediction before the Hobey Hat Trick is announced on March 31.

To recap, these are the 10 finalists as announced by the committee on March 16:

JT Compher, Michigan
Kyle Connor, Michigan
Thatcher Demko, Boston College
Zac Lynch, Robert Morris
Alex Lyon, Yale
Tyler Motte, Michigan
Alex Petan, Michigan Tech
Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire
Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State
Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

And here are the results from our writers’ votes for the top five candidates, based on performance through March 19:

1. Kyle Connor, Michigan

The freshman had a huge weekend in the Big Ten tournament with five goals and three assists to lead the Wolverines to the B1G title. Connor has 69 points, tops in the nation.

2. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

The Crimson came up short against Quinnipiac in the ECAC Hockey title game, with Vesey factoring in both goals in a 2-1 overtime win over St. Lawrence in the semifinals. Harvard will face Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional on Friday.

3. Tyler Motte, Michigan

The second of three Wolverines forwards on the list of 10 Hobey finalists, Motte had a pair of goals and a pair of assists last weekend. He and the Wolverines are in action Friday, taking on Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional.

4. Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State

Prow, the only defenseman among the 10 finalists, had two assists in helping the Huskies to the NCHC title last weekend. He continues to lead all defensemen in Division I with 37 points. Next up for Prow and his teammates: Ferris State on Saturday in the NCAA West Regional.

5. Thatcher Demko, Boston College

Demko had an off game in the Hockey East semifinals, allowing five goals on 32 shots in a 5-4 loss to Northeastern. The Eagles square off against Vesey and Harvard in the Northeast Regional on Friday.

Others receiving votes: Alex Lyon, Yale; JT Compher, Michigan; Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire

Lyon and Compher can make some more noise in the NCAA tournament, while Poturalski’s college career is over as the sophomore signed a entry-level contract with Carolina on March 8.

The other two Hobey finalists, seniors Lynch (Robert Morris) and Petan (Michigan Tech) signed amateur tryout deals with Portland (AHL) and Minnesota (NHL), respectively.

Coming off a dominating performance in the Big Ten tournament, it looks like Connor has solidified his place as the front-runner, as least as far as our writers are concerned.

The 27 members of the Hobey Baker Award committee will submit their ballots on March 28 and 29, with the Hobey Hat Trick announced on March 31.

The winner will be announced on April 8 at a ceremony at the Tampa Theatre during the Frozen Four.

A reaction to the 10 finalists named for the Hobey Baker Award

Michigan Tech’s Alex Petan was the only WCHA representative in the list of Hobey finalists (photo: Adelle Whitefoot).

Change of plans: As we were about to go to press with our pre-announcement version of Hobey Watch, the 10 finalists for this year’s Hobey Baker Award were revealed a day earlier than anticipated.

They are:

JT Compher, Michigan
Kyle Connor, Michigan
Thatcher Demko, Boston College
Zac Lynch, Robert Morris
Alex Lyon, Yale
Tyler Motte, Michigan
Alex Petan, Michigan Tech
Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire
Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State
Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

So instead of a final prediction, here’s our reaction to the 10 finalists.

The 10 include the top five that have been in earlier versions of our writers straw poll: Connor, Vesey, Motte, Lyon and Demko.
This week’s poll results dropped Demko in favor of UMass-Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle, who was not among the actual finalists.

Our writers’ final pre-announcement picks were:

1. Kyle Connor, Michigan
2. Tyler Motte, Michigan
3. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard
4. Alex Lyon, Yale
5. Kevin Boyle, UMass-Lowell

Others receiving votes: Greg Gibson, Robert Morris; Brock Boeser, North Dakota; Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State; Cam Johnson, North Dakota; Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State; Thatcher Demko, Boston College; Zac Lynch, Robert Morris; Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire.

Of all the players mentioned on our writers’ ballots, Gibson, Boeser, Kossila and Johnson were not among the finalists.

Michigan’s Compher received votes in earlier versions of our poll, but wasn’t mentioned this week by our writers, and I’m going to guess that’s because despite great numbers, it seemed doubtful that three forwards from Michigan were going to appear on the list of 10 finalists.

Petan flew under the radar of our staff, not appearing on any of our three straw polls. He was arguably the best player in the WCHA this season but didn’t seem to us to be finalist material. In retrospect, all six conference had at least one finalist.

Our writers had Connor at the top of our list each week, and he has to be considered the favorite going into the final weekend of conference tournaments.

This weekend as well as the NCAA regionals will be in play as the 10 finalists are now turned over to a 27-member committee who will submit their ballots on March 28 and 29, with the Hobey Hat Trick announced on March 31.

The winner will be announced on April 8 at a ceremony at the Tampa Theatre during the Frozen Four.

With some top contenders off last weekend, little changes in the Hobey Watch voting

Tyler Motte has held without a goal for an entire weekend for the first time since Nov. 20-21 in Michigan’s losses to Ohio State (photo: Michael Dubicki).

Not much has changed in Week 2 of Hobey Watch as our top five candidates remain the same, in the same order. There was some change in order of the others receiving votes category. More on that later.

Six USCHO writers, one covering each of the Division I men’s conferences, picked their top five players nationally, with a first-place vote counting for five points, a second-place vote providing four points, and so on.

Our panel includes current and former Hobey voters.

We’ll update this weekly as the candidates’ stock rises and falls. This week, three of the five were idle due to their teams earning playoff byes, thanks in part to their contributions throughout the season.

1. Kyle Connor, Michigan

Connor picked up three more assists last weekend and continues to lead the nation in points (57).

2. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

Vesey and the Crimson were off last week, having earned a bye in the first round of the ECAC Hockey tournament.

3. Tyler Motte, Michigan

Connor’s linemate had a pair of assists last week and remains the national leader in goals with 29.

4. Alex Lyon, Yale

Lyon also was off last week thanks to a bye in the ECAC tournament.

5. Thatcher Demko, Boston College

Boston College was idle, earning a bye in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.

Others receiving votes: Kevin Boyle, UMass-Lowell; JT Compher, Michigan; Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State; Greg Gibson, Robert Morris; Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State; Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire; Michael Garteig, Quinnipiac; Zac Lynch, Robert Morris.

These were the same as last week, in a slightly different order. Boyle and Gibson moved up while Garteig dropped slightly.

And finally, an update on the real Hobey voting: Ballots from the 60 Division I head coaches were due on March 4, and the results announcing the 10 nominees will be released on March 17.

Voting by the selection committee happens on March 28 and 29, with the Hobey Hat Trick announced on March 31.

The winner will be announced on April 8 at a ceremony at the Tampa Theatre during the Frozen Four.

Another freshman leads the way in mock balloting

Kyle Connor leads the country with 54 points (photo: Michael Dubicki).

We’re kicking off Hobey Watch with a panel of USCHO writers voting the top five contenders for this season’s Hobey Baker Award.

Six USCHO writers, one covering each of the Division I men’s conferences, picked their top five players nationally, with a first-place vote counting for five points, a second-place vote providing four points, and so on.

We’ll update this weekly as the candidates’ stock rises and falls.

1. Kyle Connor, Michigan

Could a freshman win the award for the second year in a row? Connor is certainly making his case, leading the nation with 54 points on 26 goals and 28 assists. His 1.80 points per game is slightly ahead of the pace that Jack Eichel set last year (1.77).

2. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard

The lone holdover from last season’s Hobey Hat Trick, Vesey has seen his numbers fall a bit below last season’s. Still, he’s 10th in the nation in scoring and has five game-winning goals.

3. Tyler Motte, Michigan

Connor’s linemate, Motte leads the nation with 29 goals. He’s also strong in his own end, recording 57 blocked shots so far.

4. Alex Lyon, Yale

When will another goalie take home the Hobey? It’s been 15 years since Ryan Miller was honored in a season that saw him post a .950 save percentage and a 1.32 GAA. Lyon’s numbers are in the same ballpark, leading the nation in save percentage (.941) and GAA (1.51).

5. Thatcher Demko, Boston College

The junior has posted nine shutouts this season, tops in Division I. He’s tied for third in wins (23), and is alone in third for save percentage (.937) and GAA (1.77).

Others receiving votes: JT Compher, Michigan; Kevin Boyle, UMass-Lowell; Michael Garteig, Quinnipiac; Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State; Andrew Poturalski, New Hampshire; Jake Guentzel, Omaha; Greg Gibson, Robert Morris; Ethan Prow, St. Cloud State; Zac Lynch, Robert Morris.

Our panel includes current and former Hobey voters.

The 10 nominees as selected by a vote of coaches and a separate fan vote will be announced on March 17. Voting by the selection committee happens on March 28 and 29, with the Hobey Hat Trick announced on March 31.

The winner will be announced on April 8 at a ceremony at the Tampa Theatre during the Frozen Four.

An effort to narrow the Hobey list to 10 ahead of Thursday’s announcement

Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey leads the country with 27 goals (photo: Melissa Wade).

USCHO staff writers discuss this year’s Hobey Baker Award race before Thursday’s announcement of the 10 finalists.

It’s time for us to make our predictions of who we think will be on the list. As always, it’s a difficult task to narrow down the list of potential finalists to just 10, but here are our takes.

Chris’ picks

In alphabetical order:

Daniel Ciampini, senior forward, Union — He’s been near the top of the goal-scoring list for the entire season, and ended with 26 goals and 24 assists.

Jack Eichel, freshman forward, Boston University — He’s had the best season, and, despite being a rookie, I think he’s going to win the award. He’s certainly a shoo-in to be one of the 10 finalist spots with 61 points so far (20 goals and 41 assists), which is tops in the nation.

Matt Garbowsky, senior forward, RIT — The leading scorer in Atlantic Hockey with 50 points (26 goals and 24 assists), he’s factored in 45 percent of RIT’s goals this season.

Zach Hyman, senior forward, Michigan — He leads the Big Ten in scoring with 49 points so far. He also was nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

Tanner Kero, senior forward, Michigan Tech — The leading scorer in the WCHA has 19 goals and 25 assists so far.

Joey LaLeggia, senior defenseman, Denver — He’s had a fantastic senior season to cap off a fantastic career. My pick for player of the year in the NCHC.

Alex Lyon, sophomore goaltender, Yale — There are several goalies to choose from who have had great seasons and similar stats: Lyon, Jamie Phillips (Michigan Tech), Jon Gillies (Providence), Stephon Williams (Minnesota State) and rookie Kyle Hayton at St. Lawrence. I’m going with Lyon and …

Jamie Phillips, junior goalie, Michigan Tech — See Alex Lyon.

Mike Reilly, junior defenseman, Minnesota — I’m going with two defensemen in my top 10, and this one was close between Reilly and Notre Dame’s Robbie Russo. Just a gut-feeling pick of one over the other.

Jimmy Vesey, junior forward, Harvard — Right now he’s the leading goal scorer in the nation and coming off a series against Yale where he had both game-winners.

I’ve run out of finalists spots, but if I had 11 I would go with BU senior forward Evan Rodrigues. He’s not going to win, but I think he will be a finalist. I’m just not sure who to kick out.

Candace’s picks

1. Jack Eichel, Boston University — He’s pretty much a shoo-in not just for the finalist nomination, but the Hobey Hat Trick as well. He leads the country in scoring and has been a huge part of the Terriers’ resurgence.

2. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard — See Eichel above re: Vesey’s importance to the Crimson. He’s third in the country in scoring, and second in points-per-game average. I also think he’s a strong choice for the Hat Trick.

3. Daniel Ciampini, Union — A proven point producer who had a very solid senior year.

4. Zach Hyman, Michigan — He’s already been nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, and I think he adds to a memorable senior season with a Hobey finalist nomination as well.

5. Joey LaLeggia, Denver — I may be biased because I see LaLeggia play a lot, but he’s an electric player who is a producer at both ends of the ice. He doesn’t have as many points as Minnesota’s Mike Reilly, but their points per game figures are almost identical, and I think LaLeggia plays in a tougher conference. He’s also fourth in the NCHC in scoring.

6. Matt Garbowsky, RIT — Possibly the best player in Atlantic Hockey, and tied for fourth in the country in scoring.

7. Austin Czarnik, Miami — Czarnik leads the NCHC in assists, and is sixth overall in that statistic. His senior success has been important to Miami’s ability to regroup from last year’s horrible regular season.

8. Tanner Kero, Michigan Tech — He’s 10th in the country in scoring and was both the WCHA player of the year and student-athlete of the year.

9. Evan Rodrigues, Boston University — He may get overshadowed by Eichel, but he’s a big part of Eichel’s success, and he’s second in the country in scoring. I have a really hard time leaving him off the finalist list; he replaced Minnesota’s Reilly for me.

10. Stephon Williams, Minnesota State — I think that at least one goalie has to make the list. I don’t see Michigan Tech getting two players on the list, and Kero is a lock. Lyon could be the pick instead of Williams, but Williams has a better won-loss record and has been really important to Minnesota State all year. Lyon couldn’t get it done against Harvard in the ECAC playoffs, so I’m going with Williams.

Candace: So let’s debate some of these. We have a few differences: You have Phillips, Reilly and Lyon on the list; I picked Czarnik, Rodrigues and Williams. We agree on the other seven. What do you think the chances are for your three vs. my three?

Chris: I can’t argue with your logic about Phillips and Lyon, and you have seen Williams more than I have. Goalies are always a crap shoot come Hobey time. The bar is set incredibly high for a winner, but I can make a case for two on the list of finalists. Czarnik was another tough call for me, like Rodrigues.

I’m conflicted between picking who will be on the list of 10 finalists and who should be on the list. I think mine is more of a personal preference while yours is probably closer to the way the 59 coaches will vote. We’ll know for sure on Thursday.

Candace: I understand your reasoning for the players you chose differently than me; if I had to pick one player from that troika that will replace one of the three I picked differently, I’d say it’s Reilly from Minnesota.

The hard part when looking over this is that there are so many worthy candidates, and it’s a shame to leave any of the list. North Dakota’s Zane McIntyre was on the initial ballot, and is not only on the current top team in the country, he leads all goalies in wins. Granted, he’s played more games than any other goalie except Ferris State’s CJ Motte, but it’s still an impressive stat.

I’d actually look to Mark MacMillan on North Dakota. He has been injured and will be out the rest of the year, but his points per game is right there with Drake Caggiula and Michael Parks.

We’ve already talked about Reilly, for whom you could make a strong case. Notre Dame’s Russo has also had a great season. On the offensive side, how do you not recognize Union sophomore Mike Vecchione, who has the same amount of points as Ciampini? It’s hard, but again the voters likely will pick only one Union player, and I’d say it’s Ciampini.

Talking through some of the candidates for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award

Michigan’s Zach Hyman is tied for fourth nationally with 48 points (photo: Melissa Wade).

USCHO staff writers discuss this year’s Hobey Baker Award race before the March 19 announcement of the 10 finalists.

Chris: Last season was a one-man show for Hobey, with Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau tabbed early as the overwhelming favorite to win the award. Is it a two-man race this season between Michigan senior Zach Hyman and Boston University rookie sensation Jack Eichel?

How confident do you feel that one of these two will walk away with the trophy?

Candace: I don’t think it’s necessarily a two-horse race, though those two names certainly seem to come up a lot. Gaudreau had an amazing year last year, but the year before, he finished as a Hobey runner-up, so he was pretty established. Eichel has been astounding in his first year, but in the 34 years since the award has been given, only one freshman, Paul Kariya, has won it, so Eichel is fighting history.

I can think of a few others in contention, such as Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams and Denver’s Joey LaLeggia. On the initial 10, perhaps Rochester Institute of Technology senior Matt Garbowsky might get a nod. Do you think it’s a two-horse race?

Chris: I do think Eichel and Hyman probably will be sitting next to each other in Boston, but the occupant of the other “Hobey Hat Trick” seat is anyone’s guess.

Focusing on forwards first, Garbowsky has had an amazing year and I’ve seen it mentioned that he’s the strongest candidate to be “Atlantic Hockey’s representative” on the list of the 10 Hobey finalists. But there is no such thing as an AHC “representative” — the list of finalists will be determined by the ballots of the 59 Division I coaches, period.

But speaking of Atlantic Hockey, the league I cover, I thought Robert Morris’ Cody Wydo was snubbed last season and that may help him this year, despite not having as brilliant numbers (19 goals so far versus 31 last season). It may be only because I have seen Garbowsky play a lot more than any other candidate this season, but I think he should be in the top 10. No player has meant more to his team this season.

Other forwards that I think will make the list of finalists? Vesey, as well as Union senior Daniel Ciampini, because Hobey voters love goal scorers and both of those guys can light the lamp.

And most of the guys we have mentioned have linemates that complement them, like Evan Rodrigues with Eichel at BU, Dylan Larkin with Hyman at Michigan and Kyle Criscuolo, who’s on Vesey’s line at Harvard. You might see one of them on the list of finalists as well, but despite fine seasons I think they’ll be seen in more of a supporting role.

What are your observations on likely forwards, and then who do you see besides LaLeggia as a possible finalist among blueliners?

Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey is second nationally in goals and points (photo: Melissa Wade).

Candace: I think Vesey is a strong possibility; he’s second in the country in scoring, second in points per game, and he goes to Harvard, so that plays into “scholastic achievement and sportsmanship” part of the award. I think the Harvard aura might also play in with “strength of character, on and off the ice.”

I don’t know if any blueliners will make the Hat Trick list. LaLeggia definitely is a possibility. Other defensemen to look at include Notre Dame’s Robbie Russo and Minnesota’s Mike Reilly.

What about netminders? I mentioned Williams. Alex Lyon at Yale is having a fine season. Are there any goalies you think might at least make the finalist list, if not the Hat Trick list?

Chris: Williams is a huge reason why Minnesota State is enjoying its best season ever. Lyon and rookie Kyle Hayton from St. Lawrence are the best from ECAC Hockey. With so many netminders posting minuscule numbers, it’s easy to overlook Ferris State’s CJ Motte, who has a lower GAA than he did last season, when he was a Hobey finalist. He’s a captain as well, a rarity among goaltenders.

You bring up an interesting point about the criteria, which includes off-ice traits like character and academic success. Hyman was nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award this season for his work promoting childhood literacy. How much will something like that factor into his chances?

The 27 members of the committee are given loose guidelines as how to evaluate the candidate holistically. They are permitted to give the criteria any weight they want, so it’s difficult to predict a player’s chances other than by using what really is, year in and year out, the dominant factor: success on the ice.

Candace: I think it always comes down to success on the ice first, and then if two players are really close, other factors come into play, such as leadership, scholastic achievement, etc. To my mind, there might always be people who long for college athletics to be more about the college part first, but I think it’s moved far beyond that, especially as you see more and more collegiate players leaving for the pros. I mean, will BU even have Eichel back next year? Even if not every player who is a pro possibility should jump, there’s always that temptation.

You made an interesting point about Motte, who is a senior. Even with more players leaving early, it does seem that more often than not, the award goes to a senior. Of the 34 winners, 23 have been seniors, five have been juniors, five have been sophomores, and one has been a freshman. That upperclassman experience also factors into the leadership criteria. However, I don’t think Motte will be even in the final 10; he is only at 21st nationally in GAA; there are two other seniors above him, Sean Cahill of Alaska and Ryan Massa of Omaha, the latter of whom has been important to his team’s success.

I think you also could make a strong argument to recognize Jamie Phillips of Michigan Tech, a team that is having its best season in years, in no small part due to Phillips’ play. When it comes to the final list, however, Phillips might be overshadowed by teammate Tanner Kero, the WCHA player of the year.

There are other interesting possibilities. Omaha’s Austin Ortega has set the NCAA record for game-winning goals. Might an intangible like that get a player on the initial finalist list?

Chris: I agree about the intangibles. They can help to break a tie in the voters’ minds. I like to look at plus/minus to see if anything pops out, and this season Shane Hanna of Michigan Tech leads all defensemen in that category (plus-28), and is third overall behind Eichel (plus-36) and BU teammate Danny O’Regan (plus-31). I don’t think we’ll see Hanna on the list of finalists, but that’s an impressive number.

In the end, I think the committee will weigh giving the award to a freshman for just the second time against going with an upperclassman with a greater body of work. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be all about this season and this season only, but an overall great career may be one of those tiebreakers that we discussed.

Candace: Where it gets interesting to me further is how much postseason play will factor in. The Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top player in women’s Division I, has voting for the winner done before the semis and finals of the conference tournaments are done. For the Hobey Baker, the committee votes for the only time after the NCAA regionals, so there’s room for a player to really assert himself as key to his team’s postseason success, something I think might factor into consideration with Hobey voters.

I’m wondering what conferences might be represented. The NCHC, which I cover, had 12 players on the initial ballot. In addition to LaLeggia, ones from that list that I think might be finalists are Miami’s Jay Williams, Omaha’s Massa and Miami’s Austin Czarnik. Of those four, I think Czarnik and LaLeggia are the most likely to be on the top 10 list.

You cover the AHC. Wydo was on the initial ballot, although I can’t find any consideration for Air Force senior Cole Gunner, who is eighth in the country in scoring. Do you think at least one AHC player might make the finalist list?

Chris: You make a great point about timing. Atlantic Hockey has had a Hobey finalist seven out of the 11 seasons it’s been in existence, and never more than one. As I said earlier, I think forwards Garbowsky and Wydo are the front-runners in the AHC, but if Gunner can help take Air Force all the way to the NCAAs and put up numbers like he did last weekend (four goals and two assists), a case can be made.

Some final thoughts before Johnny Gaudreau gets the award

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau (center) scored his 36th goal of the season on Thursday and ended with 80 points (photo: Melissa Wade).

Happy Hobey Day, everyone! That’s right, the Hobey Baker Award will be presented Friday in its namesake’s hometown of Philadelphia, and that brings us to the final edition for 2014 of the USCHO Hobey Watch.

Of course, there isn’t much drama surrounding Friday’s announcement, because Johnny Gaudreau has had this award locked up for at least a month.

The only real question I had heading into the Frozen Four was whether Gaudreau could become only the sixth player in the history of the award to win the Hobey and the NCAA championship on the same weekend (and the first since Matt Gilroy five years ago with Boston University).

That, of course, won’t happen … and congratulations are certainly in order to the Union Dutchmen and coach Rick Bennett on reaching the national championship game.

That having been said, we’ve had a sense for some time that Gaudreau would be leaving Philadelphia with at least one trophy, and we can count on two things being retired in the near future: Gaudreau’s No. 13 jersey at BC (since that’s what happens with Hobey winners at the Heights), and my blog posts about how the small forward from BC never wins the Hobey.

Beyond that, however, I was quite surprised by the other members of the Hobey Hat Trick: St. Cloud State’s Nic Dowd and St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey. When the announcement came out, I stared at my computer for a few moments in disbelief, then dashed off an e-mail to a colleague with the subject heading “I Can’t Even….”

I was so sure that the regional performances of Shayne Gostisbehere, Kevin Hayes and Adam Wilcox had served as such excellent “closing arguments” for the Hobey voters that I thought we’d have a Hobey first, with all three members of the Hat Trick participating in the Frozen Four.

So much for that.

All of that said, however, I’m not complaining.

The more I think about it, the more I recognize what an extraordinary season Greg Carey had for St. Lawrence this year, going from his team’s primary goal-scorer to the most prolific setup man in college hockey and finishing with more points than he did a year ago.

It’s not every player who can make such a dramatic shift in the nature of his game from one year to the next and be even more productive. I had my doubts about how far that might get him in the Hobey voting because of how much St. Lawrence has struggled despite Carey’s efforts.

But I think Carey’s presence in the Hat Trick speaks to both the impressive nature of his achievements and, possibly, a growing respect for ECAC Hockey, which has now been represented in the Frozen Four for three years running and will have a team in the championship game for the second consecutive year.

As for Dowd, he may not have had the eye-popping numbers of some of the other forwards in the field, but when you take into account the nature of this season, it makes what he and the Huskies accomplished this year all the more impressive.

For as much impact as the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference has had on our sport, the formation of the NCHC is, in its own way, even more remarkable. I can’t think of any other sport in which a group of schools would form a conference based on their mutual commitment to excellence in the same sport.

For as much as we hear about the SEC in football, for example, there’s still a Mississippi State or a Kentucky that tends to struggle and not really keep pace with the Alabamas and the LSUs. The NCHC doesn’t have that.

In this first season of conference play, Miami — a perennial NCAA tournament team in recent years that’s been to two Frozen Fours in the previous five seasons — finished last in the regular season (and then nearly made the tournament anyway, to boot).

In that kind of environment, the Huskies’ regular season championship has to be recognized as a significant achievement, and Dowd’s role in St. Cloud’s success probably balances out the difference between his excellent statistical performance and the superlative numbers of a Kevin Hayes (for example).

And yet, maybe, at the end of the day, I overestimated the cases of Wilcox, Hayes and Gostisbehere. Wilcox was top 10 in both save percentage and GAA but didn’t lead in either. Hayes was the No. 2 scorer in the country, but also played on the same line as No. 1, which probably didn’t work in his favor during the voting.

Gostisbehere had what some (myself included) considered to be a real “Hobey moment” in the regionals against Providence, but while his overall game commands a great deal of respect, it’s not like his statistical profile was any more compelling than Dowd’s.

In the end, there’s a certain balance between individual and team success that I feel makes a Hobey candidate, and each member of the Hat Trick hit it in his own way.

Of course, Thursday’s disappointment notwithstanding, Johnny Gaudreau had both in spades this year, which is why he’ll win Friday night.

One tough decision in predicting the 2014 Hobey Hat Trick

Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox shut out St. Cloud State in the West Regional final (photo: Jim Rosvold).

It’s prediction time again! Welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch for our Hobey Hat Trick edition.

Where we last left our heroes, seven of the 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists were preparing for NCAA regional games, looking to secure a place in this month’s Frozen Four in Philadelphia. Now, four of them have succeeded, which leads me to my first prediction of the day.

I predict that this year’s Hobey Hat Trick will consist entirely of players participating in next weekend’s Frozen Four.

With all due respect to Joel Rumpel, Nic Dowd and particularly CJ Motte, who turned in a valiant effort in the Bulldogs’ heartbreaking regional final loss to North Dakota, I think that the players who remain alive in the tournament have the most impressive cases for those top three spots. Of course, one of those spots will go to the presumptive winner, Johnny Gaudreau, so we’re really talking about two spots, and that leads me to my second prediction.

I predict that Adam Wilcox will be in the Hobey Hat Trick.

Accepting my initial premise that all three members of this year’s Hat Trick will be Frozen Four participants — which would be a first in the 13-year “Hat Trick” era, by the way — we’re left with three candidates from the East and one from the West.

It’s not unheard of for three candidates from the same region to comprise the Hat Trick, and in fact, the 2009 Hat Trick consisted entirely of players from Hockey East, but I can’t see the voters overlooking a top 10 goaltender from a team that earned the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and advanced to the Frozen Four.

So, with Gaudreau already in, adding Wilcox leaves us with one spot left to award, and that will lead to the trickiest prediction I have to make this week. So, let’s see what we have, shall we?

In Kevin Hayes, we have the nation’s No. 2 scorer in terms of points per game, a senior who sits fifth in the country in goals with 27. He also turned in a seven-point weekend at the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass., scoring three goals and assisting on four more in the Eagles’ wins over Denver and Massachusetts-Lowell.

His chemistry with Gaudreau and Bill Arnold is undeniable and has even sparked talk of the Calgary Flames finding a way to acquire his NHL rights from the Chicago Blackhawks in order to reunite him with Gaudreau and Arnold (both Calgary draftees). That, of course, is neither here nor there when it comes to the Hobey Hat Trick, but I still think it’s interesting, and this is, after all, my blog.

Hayes has a lot of what Hobey voters traditionally like in terms of being a senior and a goal-scorer, but it’s not necessarily a given that he’d be in the Hat Trick. Hayes and Gaudreau would be just the third pair of teammates to advance to the Hat Trick in the same year, so it can’t be treated as a given.

Now, in Shayne Gostisbehere, we have a very different player. Gostisbehere wasn’t on the score sheet in Bridgeport and has had just one point in the last two weeks, an assist in the Dutchmen’s ECAC Hockey championship win over Colgate.

However, Gostisbehere turned in his own memorable performance in last weekend’s regionals, stepping in to stop three shots while Union goalie Colin Stevens was out of position in a crucial first-period sequence against Providence.

Gostisbehere has garnered praise throughout the season for his all-around game, having built on his All-American nod as a sophomore, and it really isn’t hard to see him as the third member of the Hobey Hat Trick, either.

So, which way do I go? Well, it’s a tough call, and I really wouldn’t be surprised either way (although I would be stunned if anyone other than these four players makes the top three). However, I think that in the end, Gostisbehere will benefit from being the lone member of his team in contention, and your 2014 Hobey Hat Trick will consist of Johnny Gaudreau, Adam Wilcox and Shayne Gostisbehere.

We’ll know shortly whether I’m right or wrong. Either way, I’ll see you next Friday for my final prediction (also known as the most predictable blog entry I will ever write).

Where the predictions missed, and what’s at stake before the vote takes place

Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel has a chance for a Hobey Hat Trick spot if he’s impressive enough during the NCAA regionals (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Hello again, and welcome to your NCAA tournament edition of the Hobey Watch!

We’ll get to this weekend’s regionals in a moment, but first, I think it’s appropriate to see where I went wrong last week, when I managed just six out of 10 correct predictions for this year’s finalists.

In case you missed it, I had Connor Hellebuyck, Cody Kunyk, Sam Brittain and Austin Czarnik among my finalists, occupying spots that actually went to Ryan Dzingel, CJ Motte, Josh Archibald and Nic Dowd.

So, where did I go wrong? Well, as far as Motte goes, I went wrong when I picked against my gut, predicting that the WCHA player of the year would be the pick out of the WCHA. It seems kind of obvious, but my gut liked the most significant player from the conference’s strongest team to that point in the season, and that was Motte.

Plus, when I had a chance to talk to Kevin Czuczman last week after the former Lake Superior State defenseman had made his NHL debut with the New York Islanders, he seemed to think that Motte was the right choice as well. That one is completely on me for going against my instincts.

As for the NCHC guys, I wasn’t entirely surprised to be wrong about Czarnik. Miami struggled so much this season, and even with that late-season run to the NCHC title game, I don’t think that Czarnik’s outstanding individual numbers and status as a returning Hobey finalist could overpower the RedHawks’ lack of team success.

That was an instance of me trying to pick a surprise and picking the wrong surprise.

The right surprise would have been Dowd, who has had a great year, but not truly superlative from a numbers perspective. It goes back to that question of strong numbers on a very good team or superlative numbers on a struggling team.

The answer isn’t always the same (see also: Carey, Greg), but in this case, I had the wrong answer.

On the other hand, I honestly thought that Denver’s win over Nebraska-Omaha in the conference playoffs would swing momentum in Brittain’s favor. I certainly agree that one weekend’s performance shouldn’t be enough to overturn a season’s worth of results, but I thought Brittain was more than worthy as a Hobey finalist, given his performance in the Pioneers net.

It just goes to show that Hobey does indeed love goals … much more than he loves goalies.

Which brings me to Hellebuyck. This was the most surprising omission for me, as I had considered Hellebuyck a mortal lock as the owner of the best save percentage in the country, playing for an NCAA tournament-bound River Hawks team.

There were two factors I overlooked, however. The first was that Hellebuyck wasn’t the River Hawks’ full-time starter until the second half of the season, and not playing as much as other netminders in the field hurt him.

I’ve been telling myself that the coaches would pick Hellebuyck anyway, as they did Cody Reichard in 2010, but as I often point out, no Hobey candidate exists in a vacuum, which brings me to the other factor: a glut of well-qualified candidates from Hockey East.

I think it’s somewhat surprising that a conference that has five teams in this year’s tournament produced just two Hobey finalists, both from the same school. But then again, those five teams — not to mention a couple that just missed the cut — put forth candidates who could easily split votes.

At various times this year, I considered the following Hockey East players as Hobey candidates: Clay Witt from Northeastern, Chris McCarthy from Vermont, Ross Mauermann from Providence, Jon Gillies from Providence, Ben Hutton from Maine, Trevor van Riemsdyk from New Hampshire and, very briefly at the end, Kevin Goumas from New Hampshire.

Given that crowded field, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that in the end, only Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes were among the top 10, as they also happen to be the top two scorers in the nation. Also, since Gaudreau’s eventual victory is pretty well sealed up at this point, I don’t think Hockey East has all that much to complain about at present.

Finally, there’s Ryan Dzingel, who occupies the slot I had earmarked for Hellebuyck. There’s no doubt of his credentials, given the 22 goals and 24 assists he’s posted for the Buckeyes this season.

At the same time, however, I was wary of going too big on the Big Ten, based on the fact that there are only six coaches in the conference and my sense that the coaches’ voting is heavily influenced by which players they see the most.

On the other hand, as a colleague pointed out to me in the wake of last week’s announcement, coaches had plenty of opportunities to see Dzingel thanks to the Big Ten Network. That’s particularly true in this first season of Big Ten play, since Ohio State games weren’t a naturally high priority when the network’s hockey coverage consisted of a mix of CCHA and WCHA games and the Buckeyes played Michigan and Michigan State only so many times.

None of this is a knock on Dzingel, who is certainly deserving of his spot, but it’s hard to argue that Hellebuyck wouldn’t have been equally deserving. Again, no candidate exists in a vacuum, and you never know what factors might make the difference.

So, moving on to this weekend’s regionals, I have to be honest: There really isn’t much drama here from a Hobey perspective. If Hellebuyck had been picked as a finalist, I could dream up a scenario where he backstops Lowell to its second consecutive Frozen Four, allowing him to leapfrog Johnny Gaudreau if the Eagles were to fall in the first round with “Johnny Hockey” kept off the score sheet.

Without Hellebuyck in the mix, I don’t see anyone who can catch Gaudreau now. As far as the Hobey race is concerned, everyone’s playing for second and third now.

So, who gets there after the 27-person selection committee files votes by Tuesday? Well, I really like the two goaltenders out of the Big Ten, Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox and Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel. A strong weekend and a trip to the Frozen Four could easily lock up a finalist spot for either netminder.

By the way, for what it’s worth, BC and Wisconsin played for NCAA championships in 2006 and 2010, so the calendar suggests it could be that time again. Just saying.

I don’t quite see it for Motte, although I suppose that it’s possible for him to open some more eyes by backstopping the Bulldogs to Philadelphia. Finally, there’s Union and Shayne Gostisbehere, who, by the way, just happens to be a Philadelphia Flyers draftee.

If Rick Bennett finds himself coaching a group of Pennsylvania Dutchmen after this weekend (har dee har har), I could see Gostisbehere in the mix, but I think he’d need to be particularly noticeable in the Union wins.

But then again, we may be overlooking one of the more likely scenarios: both BC players in the Hobey Hat Trick. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before: just ask Colorado College’s Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling (2005) or Boston University’s Matt Gilroy and Colin Wilson (2009).

If Kevin Hayes has a big weekend in Worcester, he’ll find himself in a familiar position — right alongside Gaudreau — when the Hobey Hat Trick is announced.

It won’t be easy, of course — after all, BC’s path to Philadelphia could go through two Mike Richter Award finalists in Hellebuyck and Brittain — but even-numbered years tend to favor BC lately, and it’s not at all hard to imagine Hayes and Gaudreau leading the Eagles on another Frozen Four run.

That does it for now. I’ll be back next week with a Hat Trick prediction. Enjoy the regionals, everyone!

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