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College Hockey:
Narrowing the Field

So, the calendar has turned to March, and in two weeks, the finalists for the 2010 Hobey Baker Award will be announced. So, it’s time to start taking a serious look at who’s going to be in the field.

Of course, we already know some of the players who are involved, and I’m pretty sure about some others. I’m not sure about how exactly the field of 10 will look, but I am certain that these 24 players are the ones who make up the field.

THE MORTAL LOCKS

Gustav Nyquist, Maine – He currently sits as the nation’s leading scorer, the Black Bears are back in the top four in Hockey East, and in NCAA Tournament contention. His overall chances may depend on his team’s success in March, but it’s safe to say he’ll be in the top 10.

Bobby Butler, UNH – A senior leader among the nation’s top five scorers for the current Hockey East front-runner? Like Nyquist, his overall chances at the award are tied to his team’s fortunes, but Hobey likes seniors, at least as finalists.

Brendan Smith, Wisconsin – He’s the top-scoring defenseman in the country, the No. 16 scorer overall, and he has more goals than six of the forwards who are ahead of him. He’s also improved his defensive play for a team that is a favorite to advance to the Frozen Four.

Marc Cheverie, Denver – He leads the country in save percentage, win percentage and goals-against average, minds the net for the No. 1 team in the land, and doesn’t play with a superstar skater who gets most of the glory. His chances of winning the award itself are pretty slim – Hobey doesn’t particularly like goalies, and his numbers don’t quite measure up to other recent goalie finalists – but he’s certain to be one of the top 10.

ON SOLID GROUND

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan – Olver has been a key player for a Northern Michigan team that’s come on strong late in the year (as usual) to potentially put itself in NCAA Tournament position, and he even managed to snatch the conference scoring lead on the last weekend of the regular season. Trouble is, the U.P. isn’t a great place to get noticed – particularly in what is generally considered a down year for the CCHA – and Northern wasn’t really a factor until relatively recently. Still, as the leading scorer on a team that’s in the mix, Olver could be the best Hobey candidate the CCHA has this season.

Broc Little, Yale – He’s the top goal-scorer in the land, and we all know how Hobey likes goals. He also gets a good “student-athlete” boost playing in the Ivy League, and Yale’s overall success probably doesn’t hurt either. I say “probably” because Yale is the top offensive team in the country, which may make it possible to discount Little’s contributions a bit, and he might be shorted a bit in the respect department playing in ECAC Hockey. Still, I think Little is *almost* a sure thing.

Chase Polacek, RPI – He’s the top overall scorer in ECAC Hockey, and his contributions on the scoresheet tend to be of the “clutch” variety, and he was recently rewarded with an All-ECAC Hockey First Team nod. That said, it remains to be seen how the rest of the country will perceive him. RPI still hasn’t quite regained its form as an elite program, and it’s hard to get noticed when you’re not really a player on the national stage. The numbers are going to be hard to argue with, and I think Polacek will get a nod, but don’t be *too* terribly surprised if Polacek finds himself on the outside looking in.

QUESTION MARKS

Corey Tropp, Michigan State – The Spartan forward had been the CCHA’s scoring leader until recently, and has been coming up big in the clutch on a pretty regular basis for a Spartan team that’s bounced back from a horrible season last year. Tropp has bounced back himself, although it’s not from poor play, but from the suspension that had him gone from the team. That’s really where the question lies. My gut feeling is that he gets a finalist nod, as the Hobey folks have shown themselves willing to overlook instances of bad behavior, both on the ice (Nathan Gerbe) and off it (T.J. Oshie). Still, you never know.

Rhett Rakhshani, Denver – Among the WCHA’s top forwards, no one was as clutch as Rakhshani when I applied the Campbellnomics system to the top scoring forwards in the WCHA. He also has the benefit of having produced those clutch goals for the No. 1 team in the land, and as an senior and a draft pick of the New York Islanders, he gets bonus points for sticking it out until his senior year. Where it gets a little tricky is that Cheverie is pretty clearly Denver’s top Hobey candidate, and it remains to be seen how that perception will affect Rakhshani’s candidacy.

Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin – Our friends at INCH think that Geoffrion is the Badgers’ top Hobey contender, and while I think that distinction belongs to Brendan Smith, Geoffrion certainly has a strong case. He’s a senior leader on one of the nation’s top teams, the No. 5 goal-scorer in the country, and a name player and NHL draft pick who stuck it out for all four years of college. The main thing that could derail Geoffrion’s candidacy is a case of “too many cooks spoil the sauce.” Wisconsin has four players who could make a case as a Hobey candidate, and while Smith’s scoring numbers as a defenseman separate him from the pack, the three forwards – Geoffrion, Michael Davies, and Derek Stepan – could wind up taking votes from one another. Also, he’s missed time recently due to injury, which could play a role. I think Geoffrion’s the best of the bunch among the Wisconsin forwards, but I’m not on the committee.

Mario Valery-Trabucco, Union – He’s the leading scorer in ECAC Hockey play, playing for a team that’s in NCAA tournament contention and a program that usually isn’t. That should probably be enough to make him a Hobey Baker finalist. Then again, it should have been enough to make him a first-team All-ECAC selection, but that’s not the case, either. He wouldn’t be the first high-scorer in the conference to get a total snub at Hobey-time – does the name “Bryan Leitch” ring a bell? – but past performance isn’t always an indicator of future results, especially since the Hobey committee has a certain amount of turnover to it. Still, if the coaches in his own conference aren’t going to go to bat for Valery-Trabucco, who will?

Dave Jarman, Sacred Heart OR Cory Conacher, Canisius – Conacher is the No. 2 scorer in the nation, and has been firmly entrenched in the top 5 for months. Of course, Jarman doesn’t have to take much of a backseat in that department, and he has the bonus of having helped lead Sacred Heart on a dramatic second-half run that saw them finish second in Atlantic Hockey under first-year head coach CJ Marrottolo. The thing about this slot – and my instinct says there is a spot for an Atlantic Hockey player here – is that it goes to a player from a successful team, and sometimes even that isn’t enough (just ask former Mercyhurst stars Jamie Hunt and Dave Borelli).

Ben Scrivens, Cornell – Of the top goalies in the country, it’s tough to find one who’s spent a higher percentage of game time in net for his team. He’s No. 3 in the nation in goals-against average and save percentage, and is a senior, which tends to help in these matters. However, when Cornell goaltending comes up, “the system” is rarely far behind, and it may derail Scrivens as a Hobey candidate here.

James Marcou, UMass – A month or six weeks ago, Marcou would have been hovering somewhere between “MORTAL LOCK” and “ON SOLID GROUND.” Marcou is an assist man, and Hobey likes goals, but when you’re one of the top three scorers in the country playing in a major conference, that won’t stop you from getting a finalist nod. What will probably stop Marcou is the Minutemen’s slide as of late, as his numbers have fallen off along with his team. If the Minutemen can right the ship and make it to the KurtCenter (aka TD Garden), Marcou will be right back where he was, but I don’t think he’s a serious contender for the Hobey.

Brian Gibbons, Boston College – From where I sit, this Eagle has flown under the radar a bit (yuk yuk yuk), as he doesn’t seem to have the same kind of buzz that accompanied, say, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Collins or Patrick Eaves, the last three BC forwards to be recognized as Hobey finalists (of course, when it comes to Gerbe and Collins, I was doing a lot of the buzzing). The fact of the matter is that Gibbons is the No. 12 scorer in the country, playing for a BC team that could steal the Hockey East title from UNH this weekend. That puts him in the mix. Much of the same could be said about Cam Atknison, who has more goals, but I think the difference is small enough that if there’s a guy from BC, it’ll be Gibbons.

OUTSIDE CHANCE:

Jack Connolly or Justin Fontaine, Minnesota Duluth – The Bulldog boys’ scoring has fallen off a bit as of late, and UMD’s success has gone with it. If the Bulldogs can right the ship, make it to St. Paul, and stay in the mix for an NCAA tournament spot, one of them (probably the elder and higher-scoring Fontaine) could have a shot, but these guys picked the wrong time of year to fall off.

Stephane Da Costa, Merrimack – He’s a shoo-in for Hockey East Rookie of the Year, and could even bring home the national ROTY award, but the Frenchman has two things working against him: Merrimack’s overall lack of success, and the rarity of a freshman being nominated for the Hobey. I think Da Costa has a Hobey finalist nod in his future, but I don’t think it’s this year.

Cody Reichard, Miami – He probably shares his time with Connor Knapp too much to be get much traction as a serious Hobey contender, but there is certainly a chance that he’ll get a finalist nod.

Matt Read, Bemidji State – Read was a big part of the Hobey conversation early in the year, but his star has faded a little in the second half of the season. He’s still a likely CHA Player of the Year pick, but Read’s best chance at a Hobey finalist nod (or more) will be next year, in the Beavers’ inaugural WCHA season.

Blake Kessel, New Hampshire – The No. 2 offensive defenseman in the nation behind Brendan Smith, Kessel has been a major weapon for the Wildcats. What I suspect, though, is that as a sophomore on a team that has a senior forward contending for the award, Kessel will collect his Hockey East All-League and All-American hardware and be happy with it…for now.

Michael Davies, Wisconsin – Davies has had a very nice senior year for the Badgers, but takes, to my thinking, a clear backseat to teammates Brendan Smith and Blake Geoffrion when it comes to the Hobey race. He is a senior, and he has a higher point total than Geoffrion, but I think that Geoffrion’s goals give him the preferred spot behind Brendan Smith.

Derek Stepan, Wisconsin – See above, although Stepan is, to my thinking, a less likely pick than Davies. He’s a sophomore as opposed to a senior, and his numbers are skewed more heavily towards assists than Davies’ are. One thing Stepan may have going for him is his performance at the World Juniors, although that’s not really a matter for consideration where the Hobey is concerned.

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