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Some final thoughts before Johnny Gaudreau gets the award

140410 17101536 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

2014033021 13 40146 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

20 57 074068 Where the predictions missed, and whats 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!

Enough with the watch lists; here’s an effort at picking who’ll be among the 10 Hobey finalists

18284929 Enough with the watch lists; heres an effort at picking wholl be among the 10 Hobey finalists

Which 10 players will be finalists for the 2014 Hobey Baker Award? We’ll find out Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Well, folks, the time has come.

In a matter of hours (10 a.m. EDT on Thursday), we will know the 10 finalists for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, which means that it’s time for me to take my best shot at predicting the field.

This is probably the hardest part of my job as your Hobey pundit, as evidenced by that I’ve never gotten all 10 right, and I’ve gotten nine just once.

I tried to make it easier on myself this year by using a “watch list” and paring it down, but as we get down to the nitty gritty, I find myself adding back in players whom I’d previously ruled out or had never really considered in the first place.

We’ll see if that comes back to haunt me, but in the meantime, here are my picks for your top 10 Hobey finalists:

Johnny Gaudreau, junior forward, Boston College

If you’re just dying to find a scenario where Gaudreau doesn’t win the Hobey, here it is: BC goes out in the first round of the NCAA tournament with Gaudreau held off the score sheet (as he was in the deciding game against Notre Dame last Sunday).

All of a sudden, you have a narrative of “Johnny Hockey” disappearing in his team’s biggest games, combined with the possible “system” bias against BC’s diminutive forwards, and maybe, just maybe, the Hobey goes to Connor Hellebuyck.

Even then, though, I think that Gaudreau’s performance to this point has already won him the Hobey.

Kevin Hayes, senior forward, Boston College

Still the No. 2 scorer in the nation, still a lock for the Hobey top 10. Can’t say much more than that.

Greg Carey, senior forward, St. Lawrence

Carey’s college career is over, but the St. Lawrence senior went down swinging, figuring in on three of the Saints’ four goals in their ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series loss to Colgate.

He’s a returning finalist from a year ago who adjusted his game and found a way to thrive. Can’t argue with that.

Adam Wilcox, sophomore goaltender, Minnesota

Well, what do you know? The Gophers goalie wound up finishing the regular season with better numbers than his Big Ten rival Joel Rumpel, and the Gophers are the first Big Ten regular season champions.

Add in that the Gophers have been there all season as an elite team, and he has a very good chance of winding up in the Hobey Hat Trick if things go well from here.

Connor Hellebuyck, sophomore goaltender, Massachusetts-Lowell

Hellebuyck heads to Boston as the national save percentage leader and a key player for an NCAA-bound Lowell team and a prime candidate to join Gaudreau in the Hobey Hat Trick.

And while thoughts of him winning this year are a bit farfetched, he should be an early favorite for next year as long as the Winnipeg Jets are content with him continuing his development at Tsongas Arena.

Joel Rumpel, junior goaltender, Wisconsin

Top 10 in both GAA and save percentage for a team that’s NCAA-bound. I had trouble seeing him out of the top 10 last week, and I still have trouble with it. He’s in.

Cody Kunyk, junior forward, Alaska

I was asked last week why Kunyk wasn’t on my “watch list,” a question that seemed quite timely given that he was named the WCHA player of the year.

My instinct was that the WCHA candidate would be a player whose team was in the tournament hunt, and I still wouldn’t be surprised if Ferris State goaltender CJ Motte wound up getting a nod here.

That having been said, Kunyk’s award from the conference’s coaches gives me some sense of which way the wind is blowing here.

Sam Brittain, senior goaltender, Denver

Remember how I said that Josh Archibald was the NCHC’s guy, but a Denver win over UNO could tilt the scales back in his favor? Well, guess what happened?

Brittain’s save percentage is second only to Hellebuyck’s, and he just might be able to backstop the Pioneers to the first NCHC title. Seniority is also likely to help his cause.

Austin Czarnik, junior forward, Miami

I had written Czarnik off my watch list due to Miami’s struggles, but the RedHawks knocked off NCHC regular season champ St. Cloud State, with Czarnik assisting on one game-tying goal and scoring another.

He also happens to have a top-10 scoring average, and he was a Hobey finalist a year ago as the CCHA player of the year.

Combine that with the fact that votes from Atlantic Hockey coaches could be split between Bentley’s Brett Gensler and Mercyhurst’s Matthew Zay, and I’m going out on a limb with Czarnik as a Hobey finalist.

Shayne Gostisbehere, junior defenseman, Union

I’m very tempted to sub in Kevin Goumas of New Hampshire here, but I’m sticking with Gostisbehere, partly out of respect for Union’s season and his role in it, but also partly because I have a little trouble seeing ECAC Hockey with only one finalist and Hockey East with four.

Gostisbehere is also the only defenseman on my list, and I’d be surprised to see a list made up only of forwards and goalies. The main point, however, is that Gostisbehere’s game commands respect for a Dutchmen team that continues to impress.

There you have it, folks. Ten players, and I feel very confident in six. As for the other four, well, we’ll find out.

What do you think will happen? Leave your thoughts below.

The locks, the near-locks and those playing for spots among the Hobey finalists

131101 20285596 The locks, the near locks and those playing for spots among the Hobey finalists

Northeastern’s Clay Witt is among those who could move into a Hobey Baker Award finalist spot with a strong weekend (photo: Melissa Wade).

Hello once again, and welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch.

It’s getting down to crunch time, as this weekend’s games will be the last ones played before the nation’s coaches vote to determine the 10 finalists for the most prestigious individual honor in college hockey.

And while all the relevant parties are undoubtedly more concerned with the games themselves — as they should be — it’s the last opportunity for Hobey Baker Award finalist hopefuls to make an impression.

With that in mind, I think that this is a good time to revisit the “watch list” I put together last month to determine where things stand heading into the home stretch.

Now, I put 25 names on my list and added Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel later on, giving us 26 names. This week, I have cut that list down to 18.

Of these, I consider five players to be locks for the top 10, and I’ve also identified five more whom I would expect to complete the top 10 were it announced today.

The remaining eight still have a chance, but they need a strong performance this weekend (and perhaps a not-so-strong performance by someone else). Let’s begin, shall we?

The locks

Johnny Gaudreau, junior forward, Boston College: There’s a lot that can be written about the man they call “Johnny Hockey,” and I did a bunch of that writing last week.

His case for the award is clear, and I’ll be stunned if it goes to anyone else. However, I’ll leave you with one more tidbit about Gaudreau’s remarkable campaign: The New Jersey native stands to be the first player to make back-to-back “Hobey Hat Tricks” since the Hobey committee began breaking out a top three in 2004.

Greg Carey, senior forward, St. Lawrence: The returning finalist raised his scoring average from his Hobey finalist season of a year ago, and did so while shifting to a distributor role after lighting the lamp 28 times as a junior.

His Saints have a tough task ahead of them this weekend against Colgate, but win or lose, we see Carey back in the top 10.

Kevin Hayes, senior forward, Boston College: You can make an argument that Hayes isn’t really a lock, given that he plays on a line with the Hobey favorite, which probably has a lot to do with him being the nation’s No. 2 scorer.

That said, he is the nation’s No. 2 scorer, on a team that’s poised for a deep and successful postseason run. Two things we know to be valued with Hobey voters are seniority and goals, and as a senior who’s tied for fifth nationally in goals, Hayes qualifies.

Adam Wilcox, sophomore goaltender, Minnesota: Wilcox has real competition in the Big Ten from Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel (who we’ll get to in a moment), and given that Rumpel has the better numbers and is also a class above Wilcox in terms of seniority, there’s a good argument that he should be here and not the Gophers goalie.

However, there are two factors in Wilcox’s favor that can’t be discounted. First, he’s the key player for the No. 1 team in the country. And second, the Gophers have gone wire-to-wire as a top team, which raises the degree of difficulty for Wilcox. I think Rumpel gets a nod as well, but if I have to pick one whom I’m more sure about, it’s Wilcox.

Connor Hellebuyck, sophomore goaltender, Massachusetts-Lowell: First, Hellebuyck took over full-time netminding duties for the River Hawks, and then he took over the national save percentage lead.

While the latter is somewhat fickle — and he’s just percentage points ahead of the competition — Hellebuyck has successfully fought off the sophomore slump, proved that his freshman success was no fluke, and put himself in position as an early frontrunner for the 2015 Hobey, provided he returns to Lowell. In the meantime, I say he’s a lock.

The likely finalists

Joel Rumpel, junior goaltender, Wisconsin: Rumpel is actually more than a “likely” finalist. I’d have to say he’s more of a “near lock.”

His numbers are better than those of Wilcox, his Badgers have rocketed up to the upper echelon of the national picture, and he’s an upperclassman. I suppose there’s some scenario where he doesn’t get a nod, but I’m struggling to find it.

Josh Archibald, junior forward, Nebraska-Omaha: I feel pretty certain that Archibald has supplanted Denver’s Sam Brittain as the NCHC’s leading Hobey candidate, largely on the strength of having more goals this season than any college player not named Johnny Gaudreau.

Still, if Archibald is quiet this weekend and the Mavericks lose the series to Denver, his grip on a finalist spot could slip.

CJ Motte, junior goaltender, Ferris State: Motte is the key player for his conference’s most successful team, and while his numbers aren’t superlative (like those of the other goalies on this list), I think the breakdown of the votes will favor him, given the Bulldogs’ success both nationally and within the WCHA.

However, if Bemidji State stuns the Bulldogs this weekend, the door may well open for another WCHA player (see below).

Brett Gensler, senior forward, Bentley: The Falcons were runners-up to Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey standings, but I still think Gensler is the guy in terms of a finalist from the Atlantic.

He’s the No. 4 scorer in the country, has more goals than the other top candidate from Atlantic Hockey (Mercyhurst’s Matthew Zay), and is a senior who also made his share of noise a year ago. This year, I think he gets the nod.

Shayne Gostisbehere, junior defenseman, Union: Gostisbehere is a top-10 scoring defenseman and a returning All-American who is the most significant player for a Dutchmen team that is among the nation’s best. I feel pretty good about penciling him in for a Hobey finalist spot.

Playing for a spot

Clay Witt, junior goaltender, Northeastern: I already assigned Hockey East three locks in Gaudreau, Hayes and Hellebuyck. I think a fourth finalist is a possibility, but both Witt and Northeastern have faded a bit lately.

If Witt backstops the Huskies past New Hampshire on the road this weekend, he could be a finalist, but in this mix, I currently see him on the outside looking in.

Sam Brittain, senior goaltender, Denver: That top-10 save percentage is nice, but the competition at goaltender is fierce, the Pioneers are depending on an NCHC title to get them to the NCAAs, and he has strong competition in conference in the form of Archibald. Stopping him and the Mavericks could get him back in the finalist mix.

Austin Czarnik, junior forward, Miami: As a returning finalist who’s one of the top five scorers in the country, Czarnik has a great individual case for the award. The RedHawks’ team success — or lack thereof — is the main factor working against him.

If he leads Miami to an upset of St. Cloud this weekend, Czarnik will have a shot at a second straight finalist berth.

Jean-Paul LaFontaine, junior forward, Minnesota State: For now, I still think Motte is the WCHA’s Hobey finalist, but if the Bulldogs falter and the Mavericks go to the WCHA Final Five as the favorites, I could see LaFontaine snatching the finalist berth.

Matthew Zay, junior forward, Mercyhurst: There’s a fair argument that Zay could be Atlantic Hockey’s finalist. He’s a top-10 scorer, playing for the conference’s regular season champ. I still think Gensler is the guy, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if it were Zay.

Kellen Jones, senior forward, Quinnipiac: Jones’ case is similar to that of Gostisbehere. He’s an upperclassman — a senior, in fact — playing for a leading team in the conference, a team that’s NCAA-bound, and a leading contributor to his team’s success, albeit without tip-top numbers.

He’s also a forward with a clearer role in the Bobcats’ success than Gostisbehere in Union’s. I see a competition for one spot between the two players, and I think Gostisbehere gets it, but I could be wrong.

Chris McCarthy, senior forward, Vermont: McCarthy has a VERY slim chance at a top 10 spot, but if he leads the Catamounts to an upset this weekend at Massachusetts-Lowell, then maybe — just maybe — he gets a finalist spot.

Ben Hutton, junior defenseman, Maine: Hutton intrigues me, in large part because of his gaudy goal total from the blue line, but I really don’t see him getting a finalist spot.

Still, if the Black Bears upend Providence this weekend … never say never.

So that’s where we stand: five guys in, five right behind and eight more looking for an opening.

I’ll be back on Wednesday to give a final prediction for the top 10, and then we’ll see how it all shakes out. Enjoy the playoffs!

Some historical perspective in the Hobey case for Gaudreau

Welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch, ladies and gentlemen. This week, I think it’s time for me to give some more serious consideration to the man who, in all likelihood, will win the Hobey Baker Award: Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau.

That Gaudreau is the Hobey front-runner by a country mile is hardly a surprise. The New Jersey native is leading the nation in scoring average for the second consecutive season, and doing so by a wide margin, as his 64 points (30g, 34a) in 34 games give him 1.88 points per game, almost a third of a point ahead of his closest competitor, Greg Carey of St. Lawrence. I’ve made an effort to find different topics each week to avoid turning this blog into the Gaudreau Show, but it’s time to focus on the high-flying Eagles forward and put his performance this season into context.

140104 22590656 Some historical perspective in the Hobey case for Gaudreau

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau has 64 points in 34 games (photo: Melissa Wade).

By the way, Carey has topped his point total from last season in four fewer games and raised his points-per-game average by 0.22 (1.56 this year, compared to 1.34 a year ago). He’s also shifted roles from primary goal-scorer to distributor, with 15 goals and 38 assists this year, compared to totals of 28 goals and 23 assists in 2012-13. However, Gaudreau’s improved productivity has left Carey in the dust … along with everyone else.

Consider this: Gaudreau was the front-runner for last year’s Hobey most of the season, and despite a late-season scoring slump that coincided with BC’s early departure from the NCAA tournament, he still was part of the Hobey Hat Trick when all was said and done. His totals after 35 games last year were 21 goals and 30 assists, for an average of 1.46 PPG.

This year, meanwhile, he’s eclipsed his totals in both categories after 34 games, finishing the regular season with 30 goals and 34 assists for an average of 1.88 points per game. If you go back to my column from last March, which focused on the BC forwards who have been named Hobey Baker finalists during the Jerry York era, you’ll see that Gaudreau has carved out some truly rarified air for himself.

Of the 10 Hobey finalist seasons posted by Eagles forwards during the York era (including three by Brian Gionta), the only player who finished his season with more points than Gaudreau’s 64 is Nathan Gerbe, who ended the year as the NCAA scoring leader with 68 points. Of course, it took him 43 games to get there, and as I noted last year, he wasn’t the nation’s top scorer when the Hobey voting was done (that would be the eventual Hobey winner, Michigan’s Kevin Porter).

So I think it’s safe to say that Gaudreau has made a stronger case for the Hobey thus far than any BC forward who has come before him during York’s 20-year tenure at the Heights.

Now, here’s the fun part. To find a player who finished the season with a higher scoring average than Gaudreau’s current 1.88, you’d have to go back to 2003 and one Peter Sejna. That’s right, the biggest scoring milestone left in front of Gaudreau is the 36 goals and 46 assists that Sejna posted in 42 games.

That Sejna season is particularly noteworthy, in my opinion, because of two players whom Sejna beat out to win that year’s Hobey. One was Cornell goaltender David LeNeveu, who went 28-3-1 with a 1.20 GAA and .940 save percentage for a Big Red team that went to the Frozen Four. If there hadn’t been a scoring performance like Sejna’s that year, we might be talking about who could be the first goalie since LeNeveu to win the Hobey, and not Ryan Miller.

Of course, there wasn’t just one superlative scoring performance that year, but two. Who finished second to Sejna in the national scoring race that year? Chris Kunitz, whose 35 goals and 44 assists that season left him with a scoring average of … wait for it … 1.88 PPG, the same average currently being posted by Gaudreau. How about that, huh?

Of course, unlike Kunitz, Gaudreau won’t have Sejna — or LeNeveu — to compete with.

On Wisconsin’s Rumpel and this year’s crop of crease candidates

Welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch, ladies and gentlemen. This week, we’re back in familiar territory for the Watch, partly inspired by a question I was asked last week on USCHO Live!, and partly by a comment on last week’s Hobey Watch.

The comment pointed out that I had omitted Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel from my two-part Hobey Baker Award “Watch List.” It was an excellent point, because as a top-10 goalie in both save percentage (.936, fifth in the nation) and GAA (1.83, third) for a team that’s in the thick of the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth, Rumpel is certainly deserving of consideration for a spot in the Top 10, quite possibly more so than his Badgers teammate, senior forward Michael Mersch.

20140221 MichiganState Wisconsin 07 On Wisconsins Rumpel and this years crop of crease candidates

Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel is in the top 10 nationally in GAA and save percentage (photo: Dan Sanger).

However, it begs an interesting question: Just how many goalies could we see among this year’s Hobey finalists?

We’ve focused on goalies quite a bit this season in the Hobey Watch, particularly when you consider that the current Hobey frontrunner is a forward (yes, Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau is still looking like the most likely winner … but you probably knew that). And, in a past column, we identified a handful of goalies deserving of consideration: Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox, Ferris State’s CJ Motte, Denver’s Sam Brittain, Northeastern’s Clay Witt and Massachusetts-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck. That’s five right there, and when you add in Rumpel, you get six.

No more than four goaltenders have ever been named Hobey Baker finalists in the same year, and the last time it happened was 2005 (Cornell’s David McKee, Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris, Northern Michigan’s Tuomas Tarkki and Bowling Green’s Jordan Sigalet).

Is it possible that we could see as many as five netminders among the Hobey top 10? Yes, but given the crop of talented skaters who are also in contention for the award, I wouldn’t expect it. That, then, begs the question of who’s in and who’s out.

Motte is, perhaps, the most likely finalist of the bunch, given that he’s the only viable Hobey candidate on his team and probably in the WCHA (with the possible exception of Minnesota State’s Jean-Paul LaFontaine).

For a time, Brittain appeared to have a similar leg up on his competition, but with Denver fading in the NCAA hunt, it’s harder to see him having an edge over an NCHC rival like Josh Archibald of Nebraska-Omaha, who could easily be the conference’s leading Hobey candidate on the strength of his 26 goals in 30 games, the second-highest total in the country.

Witt has the best save percentage in the country, with Hellebuyck just .002 behind him. So, among those four, figure Motte as a near-lock, and Witt and Hellebuyck highly likely. That leaves the two Big Ten netminders vying for what is most likely just one spot.

As our commenter pointed out last week, Rumpel has the statistical edge. Wilcox, meanwhile, has been the key player for the most dominant team in the West. The Hobey is an individual award, but it’s also fairly rare to see a team that’s been as strong as the Gophers have been strike out on Hobey finalists.

Who’s in? Who’s out? There isn’t an easy answer.

Of course, no matter how many goalies there are among the Hobey top 10, we’re still looking, in all likelihood, at a Hobey race that will be won by Gaudreau, which leads me to the question I was asked last week, and certainly one that’s been a theme through six seasons of the Hobey Watch: Can a goalie win it, or did Ryan Miller ruin it in 2001?

I certainly think it’s possible for a goalie to win, and I also think it’s possible that David LeNeveu could have won for Cornell in 2003 had it not been for Peter Sejna and his 82 points. After all, no Hobey candidate exists in a vacuum. There are always external factors, and while it would certainly make for a more interesting race if one of this season’s goalies had Ryan Miller numbers, I think it’s fair to say that Gaudreau would still be the clubhouse leader.

That’s why I’m glad that college hockey now has the Mike Richter Award, recognizing the nation’s top goalie. We’ve had so many talented goalies come through college hockey over the years, and given how rare it’s been for a goalie to win the Hobey, I think it’s great that there is a trophy to recognize the nation’s top netminder.

Of course, given the field that we’re looking at, the voters for that award probably have their work cut out for them, too.

A watch list for Hobey finalist spots from the East

2013101120 25 06150 A watch list for Hobey finalist spots from the East

Mercyhurst’s Matthew Zay has 16 goals in 32 games (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Welcome back once again to the USCHO Hobey Watch, everyone. It was a blast being on USCHO Live! this week with my friends Jimmy Connelly and Ed Trefzger, and now, as promised last week, it’s time to complete our two-part look at the potential Hobey Baker Award finalists.

Last week, we took a look at the Big Ten, NCHC and WCHA, and we came up with 11 candidates. This week, we’ll add in the Hobey candidates from Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey and Hockey East.

Atlantic Hockey

Atlantic Hockey has never had more than one Hobey finalist in a year, and that finalist tends to come from the conference leader at the end of the regular season. With that in mind, Mercyhurst junior forward Matthew Zay (16g, 24a in 32 games, 1.25 PPG) has to be in the conversation.

However, the Lakers are in a real battle with Bentley atop the conference standings, and the Falcons have two players worthy of consideration. One is senior forward Brett Gensler (17g, 23a in 30 games, 1.33 PPG), who was in the mix early on last season but slowed down toward the end.

The other Falcons player to watch is junior defenseman Steve Weinstein (1g, 33a in 30 games, 1.14 PPG), the nation’s leading scorer from the blue line.

The Atlantic representative on the list tends to be a forward, but not always — Quinnipiac defenseman Reid Cashman made the top 10 during the Bobcats’ last season in the AHA and Air Force defenseman Tim Kirby did so in 2012.

My sense is that Gensler is the most likely finalist out of these three but it may depend, at least in part, on what happens down the stretch.

20140111 5D3 8550 A watch list for Hobey finalist spots from the East

Will team success help Union’s Daniel Carr get a finalist spot? (photo: Shelley M. Szwast)

ECAC Hockey

This is a tough conference to figure out in terms of Hobey candidates, in large part because the candidates with the most superlative statistics — St. Lawrence senior forward Greg Carey (15g, 33a in 28 games, 1.60 PPG) and Rensselaer junior forward Ryan Haggerty (23g, 14a in 28 games, 1.32 PPG) — play for teams that have struggled this year.

Players like Union senior forward Daniel Carr (13g, 17a in 27 games, 1.11 PPG) and Quinnipiac senior forward Kellen Jones (16g, 21a in 32 games, 1.16 PPG) have the team success but are significantly behind Carey in terms of numbers (Carr is also day-to-day with an injury after a check into the glass against Cornell last weekend).

The candidates I like best in this conference come from the blue line. Cornell junior defenseman Joakim Ryan (5g, 14a in 24 games, 0.79 PPG) is ninth in the nation in defenseman scoring. Union junior blueliner Shayne Gostisbehere (7g, 16a in 28 games 0.77 PPG) is 10th.

It’s also worth mentioning that Gostisbehere’s teammate Mat Bodie (4g, 21a in 28 games, 0.89 PPG) is fourth in the nation in blue line scoring, although Gostisbehere was the only candidate nominated by Union, which says something about the respect the second team All-American’s game commands.

My suspicion: Gostisbehere is Union’s guy, with a solid shot at making the top 10, while Carey (No. 3 in the nation in points per game) has a good chance at his second consecutive Hobey finalist nod. I think there’s room for only one Hobey candidate at most from a less-than-stellar ECAC team, which is bad news for Haggerty. Meanwhile, I’d also look at Ryan and Jones as potential finalists and keep a close watch on them down the stretch.

19231347 A watch list for Hobey finalist spots from the East

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau is the prohibitive favorite for the Hobey Baker Award, but nine others will also get finalist spots (photo: Melissa Wade).

Hockey East

Well, there’s one name we already know here: Boston College junior forward Johnny Gaudreau (27g, 34a in 31 games, 1.97 PPG). The questions is whether he’ll be the only Eagles player in the top 10, as it’s pretty hard to ignore his senior linemates, Kevin Hayes (22g, 28a in 31 games, 1.61 PPG) and Bill Arnold (12g, 32a in 31 games, 1.42 PPG), whose scoring averages are second and fourth in the country, respectively, behind Gaudreau. I highly doubt all three make the top 10, but Hayes is certainly a contender for a top-10 spot.

Elsewhere in the conference, I remain fairly intrigued by Massachusetts-Lowell sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (12-5-2, 1.84 GAA, .940 save percentage). He’s started the River Hawks’ last five games, going 4-0-1, and if he continues to emerge as the full-time starter, I think he’s a solid candidate for a finalist berth.

The other goaltender to keep in mind is Northeastern’s Clay Witt (15-8-2, 2.07 GAA, .943 save percentage). He leads the nation in save percentage while seeing more rubber than anyone else in the top 10, and he’s the backbone of a Huskies team that appears NCAA-bound.

Outside of the goalies and the Eagles, Providence junior forward Ross Mauermann (18g, 15a in 30 games, 1.10 PPG) is the leading scorer for a contending Friars team, while New Hampshire junior Trevor van Riemsdyk (4g, 19a in 26 games, 0.88 PPG) and Maine sophomore Ben Hutton (11g, 12a, 0.82 PPG) are both putting up top-10 defenseman scoring numbers for teams that are in the mix for NCAA spots.

I’d also list Vermont senior forward Chris McCarthy (15g, 18a in 29 games, 1.14 PPG) as a dark horse potential finalist, with the Catamounts fighting for an NCAA berth.

Now, I’ve just named nine players from Hockey East, and I guarantee you won’t see nine finalists from one conference. The guys I see as real potential finalists — at least, at the moment — are Gaudreau, Hayes, Hellebuyck, Witt and Mauermann, but keep McCarthy and Hutton on your radar as well.

So, we can add 14 players from the East to last week’s 11 candidates from the West, and we now have 25 names to fill 10 spots. Here they are:

FORWARDS
Josh Archibald, junior, Nebraska-Omaha
Riley Barber, sophomore, Miami
Greg Carey, senior, St. Lawrence
Austin Czarnik, junior, Miami
Ryan Dzingel, junior, Ohio State
Johnny Gaudreau, junior, Boston College
Brett Gensler, senior, Bentley
Kevin Hayes, senior, Boston College
Kellen Jones, senior, Quinnipiac
Jean-Paul LaFontaine, junior, Minnesota State
Matt Leitner, junior, Minnesota State
Ross Mauermann, junior, Providence
Chris McCarthy, senior, Vermont
Michael Mersch, senior, Wisconsin
Sam Warning, junior, Minnesota
Matthew Zay, junior, Mercyhurst

DEFENSEMEN
Shayne Gostisbehere, junior, Union
Ben Hutton, junior, Maine
Joakim Ryan, junior, Cornell
Steve Weinstein, junior, Bentley

GOALTENDERS
Sam Brittain, senior, Denver
Connor Hellebuyck, sophomore, Massachusetts-Lowell
CJ Motte, junior, Ferris State
Clay Witt, junior, Northeastern
Adam Wilcox, sophomore, Minnesota

So, that’s our watch list. Keep on watching, and I’ll see you back here next week for another edition of the Hobey Watch.

Breaking down the Hobey candidates from Western conferences

140104 COLG FEST M 341 Breaking down the Hobey candidates from Western conferences

The WCHA might get only one Hobey Baker Award finalist, and it could be Ferris State’s goaltender CJ Motte (photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com).

Hello, and welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch. I hope everyone is staying as warm and dry as possible, and for those of you who are snowed in, I hope you’re enjoying the opportunity to watch some Olympic hockey.

This week, we’re about five weeks out from the naming of the 10 finalists for the 2014 Hobey Baker Award, so I thought it would be a good idea to assess the field and see just who’s in contention for those 10 spots.

It’s fairly rare to have real drama when it comes to guessing the eventual winner out of the Hobey Hat Trick, but picking all 10 finalists is a real challenge (and one I’ve never been successful at). More importantly, especially in a year where we have a good sense of who’s actually going to win, it’s good to remember that for some of these players, being a finalist or a member of the Hobey Hat Trick is a victory in its own right.

Now, in sizing up the field, I think it makes sense to organize the candidates by their conference affiliations. It’s worth remembering here that the vote to pick the 10 finalists occurs among the 59 Division I head coaches, with the results of the online fan voting serving as the 60th vote. This is why it’s rarely a good idea to count on any conference being shut out of the top 10 entirely.

It’s not that coaches in a given conference get together and ensure that their candidates get in. Rather, coaches spend so much time scouting and breaking down tape on opponents, and the players they see the most — the ones in their own conference — make a deeper impression. At least, that’s how I see it. So, with that in mind, let’s go through the conferences and see who makes up the Hobey field.

I’ll do this over two weeks. Next week, we’ll look at the candidates from the East, but this week, we’ll start out with the candidates in the West.

Big Ten

One of two new conferences is also the smallest in the country, which could be something of a factor because it leaves the Big Ten with the smallest “voting block,” if there is indeed such a thing.

That having been said, given the amount of time that Minnesota has spent this year as the No. 1 team in the country, it’s fair to expect that sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox (18-4-5, 1.97 GAA, .930 save percentage) will be among the contenders. There could also be some support for the Golden Gophers’ leading scorer, junior forward Sam Warning (10g, 17a in 28 games, 0.96 PPG), but I think that Wilcox is going to be the lone finalist from that team.

Meanwhile, Ohio State junior forward Ryan Dzingel (17g, 20a in 26 games, 1.42 PPG) is the conference’s leading scorer, and worth keeping an eye on as another potential finalist.

Finally, Wisconsin senior forward Michael Mersch (15g, 10a in 26 games, 0.96 PPG) — he of the highlight-reel goal against Michigan — has gotten some solid support in the online fan voting, and while that might not mean much, he is a senior and the leading scorer on a team that’s in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth. I wouldn’t write him off entirely, but I’d say he has an outside chance at best.

NCHC

The nation’s newest conference (since it was formed after the Big Ten) has a couple of candidates with great numbers on a struggling team in Miami’s dynamic duo of sophomore forward Riley Barber (17g, 19a in 26 games, 1.38 PPG) and junior forward (and returning finalist) Austin Czarnik (10g, 24a in 25 games, 1.36 PPG).

The conference leader, St. Cloud State, doesn’t exactly have an obvious candidate, with senior forward Nic Dowd (15g, 12a in 26 games, 1.04 PPG) and sophomore forward Jonny Brodzinski (14g, 13a in 26 games, 1.04 PPG) leading the team in scoring and tying for 38th nationally. Junior goaltender Ryan Faragher (13-5-4, 2.64 GAA, .906 save percentage) has a lot of support in fan balloting, but the numbers really aren’t there.

There are players in the conference with a better mix of individual and team success, most notably Denver senior goaltender Sam Brittain (13-8-6, 1.99 GAA, .934 save percentage) and Nebraska-Omaha junior forward Josh Archibald (21g, 11a in 26 games, 1.23 PPG), although both of those teams would probably have to win the NCHC tournament to advance to the NCAAs.

So, what to do here? It’s hard to write off the Miami players, who are two of the top 10 scorers in the country, while Archibald, as the country’s No. 3 goal-scorer, is also intriguing, and Brittain is a top-10 goalie in both GAA and save percentage. The one thing I will say is that St. Cloud State is highly unlikely to have a Hobey finalist.

WCHA

It’s not terribly surprising that the reconstituted WCHA appears to be a one-bid conference at tournament time, and the sense I get is that it will be a one-finalist conference when the Hobey top 10 is announced.

And, with Ferris State as the top team in the conference and a contender for a top regional seed in the NCAA tournament, Big Rapids seems like a great place to look for that finalist, namely junior goaltender CJ Motte (19-4-3, 2.25 GAA, .927 save percentage).

As the most notable player on the conference’s most formidable team, I think there’s a pretty good chance Motte winds up in the top 10. If it’s not Motte, it would be because Minnesota State makes a push over the remainder of the regular season and supplants the Bulldogs atop the conference standings, in which case I’d look to Mavericks junior forwards Jean-Paul LaFontaine (18g, 18a in 30 games, 1.20 PPG) and Matt Leitner (9g, 24a in 28 games, 1.18 PPG) as possible finalists.

So, with half the country’s conferences accounted for, we have 11 candidates to watch. Come back next week, when we size up Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey and Hockey East.

Goalies with solid statistical resumes need to be added to the mix

131101 20330788 Goalies with solid statistical resumes need to be added to the mix

Northeastern’s Clay Witt leads the country with a .945 save percentage and can make big gains in the Hobey race in Monday’s Beanpot final (photo: Melissa Wade).

Hello again, and welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch, and yes, Michael Mersch has my attention now.

Last week, when running down the leaders in the Hobey Baker Award online fan voting, I mentioned that Mersch, the senior forward from Wisconsin, was in the top 10, but I didn’t address his chances further. Well, he sure showed me, delivering the most impressive goal I’ve seen in college hockey since Kyle Okposo’s between-the-legs score against Minnesota State in 2006 (and it may even be better … I’m not sure).

So, what do I think of Mersch’s chances to earn a Hobey finalist berth? I think he has a reasonably good chance. Working in his favor: He’s a senior, he’s a goal-scorer (17th nationally and second in the Big Ten), and he’s on a team that’s on track for an NCAA tournament berth.

That having been said, there are at least two other strong candidates out of the Big Ten in Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox and Ohio State forward Ryan Dzingel, and it will be interesting to see how many of the 10 finalists come out of college hockey’s newest (and, by membership, smallest) conference. He’s certainly someone worth keeping an eye on, though. If nothing else, you just might see another highlight-reel goal!

Now, to the main business of the week: goaltending.

I’ve touched on goaltending a couple of times in the Hobey Watch this year. I came into the season wondering whether we might see a run at the Hobey from Jon Gillies of Providence or Connor Hellebuyck of Massachusetts-Lowell. While Hellebuyck has shown no signs of a sophomore slump — he leads the nation in GAA (1.76) and is second in save percentage (.942) — he’s also still splitting time with senior Doug Carr, who’s having a laudable season in his own right (second in GAA at 1.80, fifth in save percentage at .934).

It’s not unheard of for a goalie who splits time in net to get a Hobey finalist bid (Miami’s Cody Reichard did it in 2010 while platooning with Connor Knapp), but if Hellebuyck is going to be the first goaltender to win the Hobey since Ryan Miller in 2001, it’s not going to be this year.

As for Gillies, he’s having a fine season, sitting 15th nationally in save percentage (.927) and 21st in GAA (.924), and he’s certainly a big part of Providence’s success. The question becomes whether that’s enough to snag a Hobey finalist berth, and I’m somewhat doubtful.

In that same post, I took note of Ferris State netminder CJ Motte, who has established himself as the most notable player for the strongest team in the new-look WCHA. With a top-20 save percentage (.924) for the conference leader, I think Motte has a solid chance of snagging a finalist berth, particularly with such limited competition for a spot within his own conference.

Minnesota State forward Matt Leitner is the only other WCHA player I could see getting a finalist berth, and if the Mavericks were to overtake the Bulldogs in the conference standings, his case could grow stronger.

After that start, we introduced two more goalie names into the mix last week, based in part off of their standing among the top 10 vote-getters in the Hobey online fan balloting: Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox and St. Cloud State’s Ryan Faragher.

As I noted last week, Faragher doesn’t look like an especially viable candidate (save percentage .904 — 54th nationally; GAA 2.68 — 47th), but Wilcox is looking more and more to be a likely Hobey finalist, posting a .930 save percentage (10th in the country) and a 1.97 GAA (11th) for a No. 1 team that took its first conference loss just Thursday.

Now, as we look at goaltending in earnest, there are two more names that we need to add into the mix: Denver’s Sam Brittain and Northeastern’s Clay Witt. Brittain is holding down the nation’s third-best save percentage (.936) and 10th-best GAA (1.96) for a Pioneers team that sits second in the NCHC. Witt leads the nation in save percentage (.945) for a Northeastern team that is in position for an NCAA tournament berth.

The thing that interests me about Brittain is this: Among NCHC candidates, he appears to have the best combination of team and individual success this season. Miami has a pair of outstanding players in Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik, but the RedHawks sit seventh in the eight-team NCHC.

On the other hand, conference-leading St. Cloud State has a somewhat intriguing candidate in sophomore forward Jonny Brodzinski, but his numbers (14-12–26, 1.08 points per game) aren’t superlative at the level of Brittain’s.

Nebraska-Omaha’s Josh Archibald is a stronger candidate than Brodzinski, particularly as the nation’s No. 3 goal-scorer, and is probably Brittain’s biggest competition within the conference, but I have a feeling that Brittain will probably be the guy that gets the most Hobey love when it comes time to pick the finalists.

As for Witt, the best save percentage in the country says it all — or at least, it says most of it. After all, that save percentage puts him in Ryan Miller’s neighborhood, and for better or worse, Miller remains the standard against which netminding Hobey contenders are judged.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning here is that Witt has had to make more saves than all but two other goalies in the country this year — his 745 saves rank third behind Holy Cross netminder Matt Ginn (788) and Bentley’s Branden Komm (775). All told, Witt sees 35.8 shots a game, and if he didn’t turn aside as many as he does, the Huskies likely wouldn’t be having the season they’re having, even with the top-10 offense that they boast.

Witt will have a prime opportunity to showcase his prowess between the pipes on Monday, when the Huskies face Boston College in the Beanpot final. If Witt puts on a show against Johnny Gaudreau and the Eagles en route to Northeastern’s first Beanpot title since 1988, it will be a major feather in his cap, and will seriously bolster his case for a finalist berth, a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick, and maybe, just maybe, the award itself (although I still feel like Gaudreau is the leader).

Finally, I know that a lot of what I write focuses in on statistics, which aren’t always the best way to judge a player’s value to a team. The reason is simple: More often than not, the Hobey is, in large part, a stat-driven award. That doesn’t always mean that the leading scorer in the nation gets the award; in fact, it often doesn’t mean that.

What it does mean, however, is that while it’s hard to win the Hobey at all, it’s even harder to win it without truly elite numbers. The obvious exception in recent memory was Matt Gilroy in 2009, but his win had such a strong narrative behind it — returning to BU after more than 20 offers to turn pro; Jack Parker’s comments about the value of Gilroy’s leadership; his journey from walk-on to All-American — that it was able to capture the attention of voters without elite-level numbers to back it up.

More often, however, it’s hard for Hobey voters to see enough of each candidate to have a really good read on them. The coaches, who vote for the finalists, spend most of their time focusing on their own opponents, while the media voters, likewise, give most of their attention to their own conferences. You can see highlights and catch some extra games from outside your region, but at the end of the day, a lot of it is still going to come down to stats, and that’s where we are.

That’s it for now. Enjoy your weekend of hockey, everyone!

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