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.