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College Hockey:
And away we go …

Yes folks, that’s right … the USCHO Hobey Watch is back. This is the point in the season where the race for the most prestigious individual honor in college hockey really starts to heat up, and I will be with you folks all the way to the big finale on April 6 in Tampa, Fla. Last year’s Hobey race was … interesting, to say the least, and there were definitely some harsh words tossed around on several sides of the debate. I’m hoping things will be a little quieter this year, although not too much, since the back-and-forth between fans and pundits is part of the fun. So, let’s dive right in, huh?

As it happens, we’re getting started in the same week as the new season of “American Idol,” which is actually a good place for me to start. It’s not that there’s any great connection between “Idol” and college hockey, although I’m fairly certain that former “Idol” contestant Ayla Brown has sung the national anthem before a Boston College hockey game or two. No, this actually has something to do with a conversation I had last week with a fellow writer.

This writer, a former Hobey voter who covers an ECAC Hockey team, was wondering aloud about the wisdom of having fan voting contribute to the selections for the Hobey, asking if such a prestigious award should be treated like “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars.” My initial reaction was to point out how little the voting figures into the actual voting process, as the fan vote counts as much as a single head coach’s vote when determining the top 10, or 1/59th of the total vote (1/60th next year when Penn State starts varsity play and Guy Gadowsky gets a vote). However, that’s still a reasonably big piece of the puzzle, so let’s explore this a bit.

While the Hobey Watch does conclude with one player winning the award, we do spend a fair amount of time focusing on the top 10 finalists, since there are a number of players for whom finalist status or even a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick amounts to a win (Eric Ehn’s spot in the 2007 Hat Trick being a great example). And, as my colleague in ECAC country pointed out, it’s entirely possible that the fan vote can make the difference between two players for that last spot in the Top 10. Would we want that kind of honor to be possibly handed out based on nothing more than pure homerism and ballot-box stuffing? That’s a question that’s worth answering.

It does bear mentioning that fan voting for the Hobey hasn’t always been taken seriously. In 2006, Denver third-string goalie Danny King, who had yet to see a second of ice time in his Pioneers career, was the subject of a huge voting push among Denver fans. At one point, he had received more votes than Phil Kessel, Brian Boyle, Cory Schneider or Drew Stafford. While it’s hard to begrudge King the recognition (go back and read my 2007 CSTV.com story on him if you’re so inclined; it has definite smile-inducing properties), it’s also hard to say he was really worthy of that level of support.

These days, however, the Hobey voting field is much narrower than it used to be. Sports information directors submit candidates — I had one SID ask me about his choices a couple of years ago — and there is a certain seriousness to the proceedings these days, even if there may be a bit of homerism involved. A look at the voting right now has the Top 10 like so:

Spencer Abbott, Maine — 13 percent
Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth — 13 percent
Austin Smith, Colgate — 13 percent
Greg Miller, Cornell — 4 percent
Kyle Flanagan, St. Lawrence — 4 percent
Brian Flynn, Maine — 3 percent
Paul Karpowich, Clarkson — 3 percent
Tim Kirby, Air Force — 3 percent
(Five players tied with 2 percent)

It’s safe to say that this is not what any coach’s Hobey ballot is going to look like at the end of the season, except for the fact that the top three vote-getters — Abbott, Connolly and Smith — are also the top three in the nation in points per game. In fact, while Mercyhurst freshman Nardo Nagtzaam is having a nice freshman campaign for the Lakers, it’s probably not too far off the mark to suggest that part of his 2 percent comes from having such an undeniably awesome name.

So what?

At this point, it’s fair to conclude that the fan vote will only really affect the top 10 if the coaches’ votes are split right down the middle when it comes to the last man in the top 10, and as far as I’m concerned that’s as good a way to decide in that situation.

In that situation, could having a more mobilized fan base make a bigger difference than actual hockey abilities? Sure. but to be considered for one of the top 10 spots, you already have to be one hell of a hockey player, so it’s not like there will ever be an undeserving top 10 finalist because of fan voting.

So rest easy, my friends, and vote away. Now excuse me, I want to see if I can find an MP3 of Phillip Phillips singing “Thriller.”

Or not…

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  • Anonymous

    Abbott is on a very bad team, Connolly on the nation’s top team.  Do those factors come into play or is it just the player’s performance?

    • Beeeej

      “1. Candidates must exhibit strength of character both on and off the ice.   

      2. Candidates must contribute to the integrity of the team and display outstanding skills in all phases of the game.  

      3. Consideration should be given to scholastic achievement and sportmanship. [sic]
      4. Candidates must comply with all NCAA rules: be full time students in
      an accredited NCAA college or university; and complete 50% or more of
      the season.”

      There’s nothing in there about the player’s prowess relative to his teammates, but presumably the writers and coaches who vote for Hobey will take such intangibles into account when making their selections.

    • Bulldog Fan

      Which means Connolly and his teammates have a big target on their back, they get every teams best and they haven’t blanked.  Remember this was a UMD team that was suppose to have lost too much to complete for a top four WCHA finish let alone another national championship. 

      • Tom

        No, means they never went thru a stretch of 3 wins in the first 11 games and still keep putting up the points.  A lot eassier to get points blowing teams out of the water.

    • Droy18

      BBEAR94   get a life! B.Bears rolled over BC for two wins.

    • nick

      Tough question. For now, obviously none of the top three are being overlooked. However, come April, don’t be surprised if the winning player out of the Hobey hat trick is the one with the team that is still in contention (if any). 

  • http://www.collegehockeypulse.com/ mrjakep

    I think the fan vote it is an interesting way to keep fans involved in and interested in the Hobey Baker Award.    

    Could it have an impact on who ends up in the top ten?  Yeah probably, but so what!  What players life is really gonna change if they don’t get that tenth spot on the Hobey Baker list!  

    I completely agree that some undeserving players will end up on the top ten but tell me what poll doesn’t have that issue!  

    Since I love college hockey and want to see it flourish, I am in favor of anything that will draw more spectators into the game.  If a popularity contest is what it takes to get them here then so be it!

  • Bythenumbers

     The
    obvious problem with fan voting is the discrepancy with the size of the
    schools. Karpowich and Flynn have about equal number of votes, yet Karpowich
    comes from a school of about a fourth the size. If fan voting did count, the biggest universities would have a stiff advantage.

    • Beeeej

      You’d think so, but at the moment, Austin Smith, Spencer Abbott, and Jack Connolly are tied for the lead in fan voting with 13%.  Colgate is not exactly an enrollment behemoth.

    • http://www.collegehockeypulse.com/ mrjakep

      Another argument to size of school is that Bjustad is not in the top five!  I think the people that take time to place a vote on the Hobey Fan voting are pretty levelheaded (obviously not all) and respect what the Hobey stands for!

  • Anonymous

    Pretty nice article. But I can’t believe there’s no love for Bjugstad?? 19 goals and 12 assists in 23 games and he doesn’t even crack the top 10?

    • mountainsun

      If we’re talking about goals only, then Austin Smith is running away with the title and any other vote is a waste… and he’s a senior. If Bjugstad stays a couple years and is still putting up big numbers and helping out his team, then he will get a look

      • Anonymous

        Austin Smith is a nice player and if he wins the Hobey I have no problem with that at all. But personally I’m a little more impressed with the Sophmore Bjugstad’s 20/12 in the WCHA then the senior Smith’s 24/14 in the ECAC. 

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/GTPFVL7OSX2NYMIUWZMJ7M3YBM steve

      it’s a fan vote. so “no love for Bjugstad??” is because the fans don’t feel the same as you do, apparently.

      • Anonymous

        Got it.

  • collegehockeyfan

    quit the mix of players, can’t wait to see who actually runs away with it!

  • Jason

    Can’t believe Bjugstad isn’t on the list. He leads the WCHA in goals and you rarely find someone that is his size, 6’5″ 211, that is as good as he is at stick handling and skating. 

    • nick

      Few factors:

      -He’s only a sophomore. Keep in mind that academics play a role in the
      criteria. Why would the HB award be nothing but a resume/contract
      booster to somebody who is going to turn pro halfway through college who
      already collected free scholarships with no intention of ever even
      getting a degree. Morally, a waste of  a scholarship (despite the team temporarily
      getting more wins over a couple seasons).

      -As others have said, his size allows him to sit in front of the net and
      score goals. That doesn’t make him a dynamic team player who makes those around
      him play better (which says more about a players role on the team than
      their goal totals).
      -He’s playing in the shadow of conference foe J. Connolly, who is A: a senior, B: a dynamic team player, and C: was a Hobey Finalist last year as well. Everybody thought after last year, that losing Faulk, Fontaine, M. Connolly was too much and UMD would struggle to defend their title as national champions, but they haven’t. That makes WCHA voters see Connolly as a much more legitimate candidate, and proves that he may be the actual glue that has held the team together for such success. Can you make a better argument to WCHA voters on why they should vote for Bjugstad? Good luck… I’d be amazed if Connolly wasn’t the HB winner this year.

      • S_cannon48

        have you ever watched the gophers or Bjugstad play? he does not sit in front of the net and put in goals. he makes things happen whenever he is on the ice. Kyle Rau is reaping the benefits of bjug by getting a lot of chances because of him. the only reason he is not in the hobby finalist is because he is a sophmore and he most likely wont be back next year because he is too good. He left high school early because he was to good and all signs are pointing that way for college. I suggest you watch a couple of gopher hockey games or even some of the wjc from a couple of weeks ago before you bash on arguably the best player in the country.

      • Anonymous

        Connolly is a great player and will likely win the Hobey and I don’t have a problem with that but to say Bjugstad sits in front of the net is incredibly  insulting. I’ve never read a USCHO columnist write that about him and I’ve never seen that in any game. He’s 6’5 so people assume that. Budish sits in front of the net and screens the Goalie and Rau sits on the side of the net and cleans up rebounds. Bjugstad has great hands and speed and is absolutely 1 of the top 10 hockey players in Division 1 so thats where the Gopher fans are coming from.

    • nogofer

      I can…

  • Lennyak1

    You missed Chris Kreider with BC!

  • Fatmikek

    Go figure it has to be a Gopher fan complaining about their guy no getting votes. By the end of the year the coaches will pick the finalist via the stats and leadership on their respected teams. Bjustad is good for a guy who sits in front of the net waiting for a rebound but that’s it ( proved at the world juniors). Smith, Abbott, and Connelly each make things happen all around the zones. It’s going to be a good group of finalists.

    • Anonymous

      I agree Smith, Abbott and Connelly will be a great group of finalists… But I think you’re thinking of Budish who sits in front of the net. Bjugstad has great hands and scores highlight reel goals. 

    • Jason

      Do you even watch Gopher games? The game against North Dakota when he had two goals the last goal was off a second rebound in which he crashed the net from the right point, like any good player is supposed to do. If there is anybody on this team that stands in front of the net it’s Rau, I’ll give you that.

  • Hockey Fan

    Not only does Jack Connolly lead the nation in scoring, but he is captaining a team that has only lost one game since mid-October.  The Bulldogs have been rated number one since November.  Oh yeah, UMD are defending Nat’l Champs, too.  Yet he only gets 13 percent?    I know there are a lot of great players out there, some I have not even seen yet.  But if we are looking at resumes, there is Jack, and then, well, there is everyone else.   

    • Jason

      Get your facts straight…doesn’t lead in scoring but in points, big difference. 

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/GTPFVL7OSX2NYMIUWZMJ7M3YBM steve

        i think that’s what he meant. most points, most ppg. and leading the best team in the country (until proven otherwise). agreed, Hockey Fan, he should be a leg up.

  • http://twitter.com/tanman9 Tanner Wilson

    Here’s a look at how or if the Fan Vote should play a part in the Hobey Baker Process. @AustinforHobey

  • Boston Adam

    I’m extremely confused by this article. Why isn’t Justin Schultz from Wisconsin not mentioned here at all? Is this some sort of joke? He’s fifth in the nation in scoring…. as a defenseman….. on a team that is barely over .500. Where would Wisconsin be without him? He’s not even in the top ten players in the country? Really?….

  • PhatKroger10

    I can’t believe Brock Nelson or Danny Kristo didn’t get 35% of the vote!!!….

    Hahaha just kidding, because those are the comments I’d expect from my fellow Sioux fans.As a Sioux fan though, I would have to agree Bjugstad belongs on this list. He is very dynamic and gets the puck in the net by shooting, playing rebounds, getting in front of the net and seemingly blazes by the competition. As for the question of “character” that someone stated earlier, he is an extremely nice person who graduated from high school early by taking extra courses.

    A couple more honorable mentions should be:
    Justin Schultz, Wisconsin is doing not so great but at D he has 37 points, very impressive.
    Troy Grosenick, I can’t imagine Union being in the top 20 without this guy, he’s currently atop of all the goaltending stats.
    Drew Shore, gotta give the guy at least a look. Denver has been kind of down this year, but D. Shore and J. Zucker are keeping this team in it. If Brittain comes back and Zucker or Shore get hot, we could see a repeat of exactly what happened to Miele last year.

  • Tom

    Abbott is doing it all on a team that isn’t great. Jack is on the top team in the nation, that speaks volumes for Abbotts contribution. Austin is also in a pretty weak division.