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College Hockey:
Do we know Jack yet?

I realized something the other day while I was talking with Jim Connelly and Ed Trefzger on USCHO Live! If my blog were just about predicting the winner of the Hobey Baker Award, it would be boring as hell this year.

Not that I think something as torturous as hell would necessarily be boring, but that’s a theological conversation for another time. No, it’s because from where we sit right now in late January, the award all but belongs to Jack Connolly of Minnesota-Duluth.

Of course, this isn’t to say that things can’t change in the next couple of months, and in fact, if someone else were to come from behind and leapfrog Connolly as the front-runner, it would be a heck of a story. However, even if Connolly coasts to victory, it would still make quite the story, and right now, it’s the story that I’m reading.

Naturally, there are some obvious elements to this story, like the fact that Connolly is the nation’s points-per-game leader with 15 goals and 25 assists in 24 contests (1.65 PPG). There’s also the fact that the Bulldogs are the top-ranked team in the nation, and are coming off of last season’s thrilling NCAA championship victory, a title run that Connolly was a huge part of. Add in the fact that Connolly is thriving despite the departure of his “FCC” linemates, Mike (no relation) Connolly and Justin Fontaine, and that he’s a senior who has a shot to finish his collegiate career with more than 200 points, and it’s quite obvious that he has a rock-solid case to win the award, particularly since no one else among the nation’s top teams has elite numbers. Not that it necessarily takes eye-popping numbers to win the Hobey, but under most circumstances, it’s usually a factor.

Actually, let’s take a moment to look at that and see how important scoring numbers are. Here’s a look at where the last 10 non-goalie Hobey winners have stood in national scoring rankings. I’ll use points per game rather than total points, and defensemen are in italics.

2011 — Andy Miele, Miami, 1st (1.82 PPG)
2010 — Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin, 13th (1.25 PPG)
2009 — Matt Gilroy, Boston University, 11th among defenseman (0.82 PPG)
2008 — Kevin Porter, Michigan, 2nd (1.47 PPG)
2007 — Ryan Duncan, North Dakota, 8th (1.33 PPG)
2006 — Matt Carle, Denver, 1st among defensemen, 10th nationally (1.36 PPG)
2005 — Marty Sertich, Colorado College, 1st (1.49 PPG)
2004 — Junior Lessard, Minnesota Dultuh, 4th (1.40 PPG)
2003 — Peter Sejna, Colorado College, 1st (1.95 PPG)
2002 — Jordan Leopold, Minnesota, 1st among defensemen, 28th nationally (1.09 PPG)

OK, so where forwards are concerned, you pretty much have to be a top 15 scorer in the nation to be considered. That means that our current candidates, in late January, are as follows:

Connolly and UMD teammate J.T. Brown
Maine’s Spencer Abbott, Joey Diamond and Brian Flynn
Colgate’s Austin Smith and Chris Wagner
Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle and defenseman Justin Schultz
Denver’s Drew Shore and Jason Zucker
Colorado College’s Jaden Schwartz
Notre Dame’s T.J. Tynan
Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad
Harvard’s Alex Killorn

All of these guys are having very nice years, obviously, but a lack of team success (either this year or in the recent past) is a problem for several of the guys on the list, namely the Maine guys, the Colgate duo, the Wisconsin contingent and Killorn. That leaves Connolly, Brown, Shore, Zucker, Schwartz, Tynana and Bjugstad, and while they’re all deserving of praise — particularly Bjugstad, whose 0.80 goals per game rank him second only to Austin Smith — it’s hard to see them competing with the leading scorer on the No. 1 team in the nation and defending NCAA champion, particularly when you add the fact that he’s a four-year player and could reach the elusive 200-point plateau before he’s done. That’s quite the storyline, and it’s not hard to see.

Then, there’s the less obvious storyline. You probably know that this year’s award will be presented at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla. You may also know that Minnesota-Duluth has had more Hobey winners than any other program. You might even know that the first of those winners was Tom Kurvers. But do you know where Mr. Kurvers is these days? In Tampa, working as the assistant general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yes, the Lightning will be closing out the regular season at Winnipeg on the weekend of the Frozen Four, but can’t you just see Kurvers staying home to congratulate the latest Bulldogs player to win college hockey’s highest individual honor?

Still, if the rest of the Bulldogs aren’t in Tampa with Connolly to compete for a second straight NCAA title, the celebratory atmosphere may well be muted. And, naturally, there is a lot of hockey to be played between now and April 6, and Connolly’s status as prohibitive front-runner may yet be challenged. For the time being, however, the script appears to have been written, and any twists or turns have yet to appear.

Fortunately, as we wait to see whether those twists and turns exist, I’m certain that there will be plenty of side plots to keep us busy.

And who knows? In the end, where things stand in late January might not mean Jack.

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  • Blldgshockey11

    Apparently you don’t know him yet, its CONNOLLY

    • http://www.uscho.com Todd D. Milewski

      Apologies. I don’t think our Jim Connelly is up for the award this year, even though he’s mentioned in the story, too. I think I changed all of the incorrect references now.

  • Croquet1

    You’re ignoring Steve Moses at UNH. A dynamic player having a great year on a team with a poor record.

  • mountainsun

    Glad to see that somebody else gets confused on the spelling of Connolly, and also that somebody else thinks right now it is a run-away. I try to not be a biased fan, but after last years success, this year’s dire predictions yet continued success seem to bode extremely well for his shot at the award

  • RENCEB

    Wow, I guess the Hobey voters should not even bother to consider anyone else.  ”…the award all but belongs to…”, Connolly’s status as a prohibitive frontrunner…”. 
    Why not just say “Goalies need not apply”?

    • Elliot Olshansky

      Don’t worry, the annual “Did Ryan Miller ruin it for every other goalie in 2001?” blog entry is coming. I’m not sure when, but we will address goalies.

  • Tom

    Funny how bias the article is lol, especially with how close the scoring race is. IMO its more impressive having same points on a much weaker team.

    • godogs

      how is it more impressive having the same points on a weaker team that means the talent you face is also weaker…

      • nogofer

        I wonder if you read what you wrote before you posted?  You don’t think a player on WI or St. Cloud State faces a tougher task than the goal-scorer on the UM-Duluth squad or rodents?   Really???

  • Phoenixfyre1313

    Jack Connolly is one helluva a player, no question, but I think that the presumption to not include goaltenders at all in the article is rather comical.  If you do a breakdown on what players are most critical to a teams performance it would be the goalie.  You can have all the scoring you want, but with a poor goalie your going nowhere and with poor scoring and a great goalie you can win it all.  Additionally the fact that you can be a player with the same caliber stats, but be on a poor team and be totally discounted from the start is a joke.  So in essence your not voting on the individual, but team that is around him.  That is not what this award is supposed to be about.

  • Joe

    If It was based just on scoring nyquist woulda beat Blake having 11 more points that year.

  • 14TheThumb

    One thing the article – that is very well done – fails to mention is the fact that Connolly is the heart and soul of the team, a true leader. Booked my trip to Florida for the ceremony – and hopefully to take in a few games should luck have it.

    • Fan Man

      Just booked a trip to Duluth to see Amsoil Feb 10th.  Cant wait

  • 18secondsuntilsunrise

    Elliot, or is it Elliet or Olliot…what does a little misspelling of someone’s name really matter?  Sorry, but I’m less than impressed with this article.

    I do believe that Jack Connolly is a serious candidate for the Hobey Baker award, and he may in fact deserve the award at some point, but he’s a long, long way from winning it. First and foremost, you should go back and look at the Hobey criteria. Your article says NOTHING about Jack’s scholastic achievement, or his character off of the ice. I’m betting he’s very hobey-worthy in both of these areas, but you need to tell us why if you are going to use this sensationalized title for your article. Next, Connolly leads the Points per game race by a measly 0.02…over Spencer Abbott, and 0.04 over Mark Zengerle and Austin Smith. However, Smith has 9 more goals in the same amount of games. Abbott has played 1 fewer games and would only need 2 points in his next game to be tied with Connolly. ETC……..

    Last time I check (just now), there were 6 weeks (11-12ish games) left in the regular season, plus league tournaments and then the NCAAs. Why don’t you write another article about this subject just before the NCAA tourney. Then you might get our attention, and deserve it.

    Sorry for the rant, but I found you article to be quite biased and far to much opinion. That said, thanks for writing each week and putting yourself in the line of fire.

    • JOhn

      agreed, far to early to be going over who you think has already won.  The race is too close in points and in my opinion i’m more impressed with Austins granted weaker division, but also a weaker team, and hes putting up lots of goals.  Of Spencer on a much weaker team and .02ppg behind, and Justin D man with those points is damn impressive.

      Seems if you are writing articles just about whos winning, I guess we won’t get any more Hobey Watch!!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H34H3N53RWXPTA2FB6VYBI5FOA JJ

    Ok lets do this.. Do you want to go with stats..He’s leading the NATION in points this year. He’s the active leading career poins in D-1 College Hockey. 

    You don’t like stats, well then, he lead the team to a National Championship, if you say it’s all about this year..He leads the BEST team in college hockey AGAIN, Face-offs, PK, PP 5on5, don’t matter Jack does it all. Best all around hockey player I’ve seen in a long time.

    • Jay

      whos leading the nation now?? Abbott is, again this is why this was written wayyyyyyyyyyy to early.

      • Taylor Birkelo

        Actually hes not the top in the Nation and he will not be able to win unless he plans on out scoring Jack by at least 10 to 15 he won’t win because the WCHA is way more comptitive then the Hockey East. They don’t have the teams like Minnesota, UMD, UND, Denver, CC, Wisconsin, UNO and the other teams would be good in other conferences too, showing their non WCHA records. So this article is right on.

  • HOBEY

    You can’t ignore the fact that Smith has 24 goals and is 4 ahead of 2nd place.  Also, 5 shorty’s and 5 game winners.  You also failed to mention the UMD has 3 guys with more than 30 points.  That takes a lot of the luster of Jack.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H34H3N53RWXPTA2FB6VYBI5FOA JJ

      It takes luster away to be on a winner?!?! WHAT?!? I’m confused???

      • Jason

        It means he has a lot of goal scorers on his team, hence the 25 assists…

  • Spongebob Squarepants

    The title to this article really caught my eye, and after reading it, along with the comments to go with it, I had to comment myself.  While most of you probably can’t answer yes to “Do we know Jack yet” I can.  I had the privilege to get to know Jack pretty well and what a privilege it was.  Just thought I’d share some honest insight into why he deserves this award more than anyone on the planet.I’ll come out and say right away I am totally bias towards him.  I grew up with Jack and let me tell you he’s come a long way since he was 10 years old with an aggressive bullcut. I’ve competed against him and mostly with him in numerous activites (the main one being hockey).  He’s an amazing athelete and was literally the best at everything growing up…… except swimming.  I don’t think I even need to touch on Jack’s college hockey career as his numbers speak for themselves…… But I will :)Most of you probably don’t realize UMD was trash and in the bottom of the WCHA before Jack arrived….. Granted he didn’t do it all himself but he sure had a lot to do with it.  I mean the kid hasn’t missed a single game his entire college career. He’s going to be a three time All-Academic and All-American.  Oh and by the way he won a National Championship and a WCHA Conference Championship.  Not to mention doing this in his hometown, in front of family and friends, for the team he grew up watching.  Not sure if any of you have been to the brand new Amsoil Arena, but in Duluth we refer to it as “The Rink that Jack built” For you people saying kids on bad teams with good numbers shouldn’t be counted out I understand your point.  At the same time have you stopped to think about the numbers Connolls would put up in the CCHA, ECAC, or any other conference??? The WCHA is easily the best conference in College Hockey and it’s not even a question. …. Most conferences are a joke compared to the WCHA in terms of depth.  Put him up against those brains in the ECAC and we wouldn’t be talking about 200 career points but 300 (slight exaggeration for dramatic effect but not really.)  He has world class vision and makes everyone around him better (Trust me… I’ve reaped the benefits).For all you people asking about his character and so forth I’ll give you a brief rundown since the article didn’t.  This is going to sound very very cliche but it’s honestly the best way I can put it.  Jack is the kid you want your daughter to date and your son to grow up like.  He’s an amazing hockey player but an even better human being.    When it comes to character he has everyone beat because you couldn’t be a better person than this guy.  He was always so enthusiastic and passionate about the game he reminded me of a little kid out there.  I know this hasn’t changed.  He plays exactly how you should play.   He’s “The Guy”  Jack has put SOOOO much work and effort into hockey. No one on the planet deserves this award more than him.  Everyone always doubted his transition to the next level whether it was Bantams, High School, Juniors, and College because of his size.  Instead of letting that get to him he used it as motivation to get better.  Jack deserves every bit of success he’s had and it couldn’t happen to a better more deserving person.Do we know Jack yet?  Chances are you probably don’t, but if you did, you’d understand that there has NEVER been anyone more deserving of the Hobey than this guy. It’s the only thing missing in his fairytale college career besides back to back National Titles, which he’s gonna have a shot at!  And while the Jack I know would take a National Title over the Hobey 20 times out of 20; It’d be a crime to not give it to him.

    • Fan Man

      I’ll give Jack my vote and thats even coming from a classless Sioux Fan!   Well said and (well deserved)! I love a true player and he is it..

    • Day Man

      Hi Mrs. Connolly. How’s the husband and kids?…wait I know how your kids are. They are doing quite well in College Hockey.  Thank you very much for taking time to enlighten us more on your son.  He seems like a great guy.

      • Spongebob Squarepants

        Day Man I don’t think Mrs. Connolly needs to promote her son on a message board when he’s arguably the best college hockey player in the nation.  I think parents stopped doing that around Bantams, but you probably have a better idea of that then me :D.  This was a great article with some insightful comments on a topic any hockey fan can appreciate.  Stop trying to derail the thread with amateur trolling.  With that being said, please leave the commenting to the people who are actually adding some insight and interesting outlooks on this great topic.  I’m sure there are some active threads on minnhock.com you can blow some time on. Thanks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H34H3N53RWXPTA2FB6VYBI5FOA JJ

    And one more thing..GO DOGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m sick, I feel like crap..DO you think that will stop me from seeing my Dogs tonight against Mich Tech..HELLZ NO!!!

  • Taylor Birkelo

    You guys that think Jack isn’t going to win is just dumb. With him and the Bulldogs doing better than anyone else in the Nation, hes bound to win. Spencer Abbott and Austin Smith are jokes, they play in bad conferences, Colgate more then Maine, but in Maine’s conference all they have got is BU and BC. As the list at the top shows 7 of those players that won it were on a WCHA team, which has the toughest conference in the Nation. So the Hobey Baker should go to Jack, no questions asked.

    • Jablowme

       Oh shut up you biased WCHA fanboy

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