Top fan vote-getters have varying degrees of legitimacy as finalists

121207 03243911 Top fan vote getters have varying degrees of legitimacy as finalists

Providence’s Ross Mauermann is an intriguing potential finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (photo: Melissa Wade).

Hello, all, and welcome back to another week of the USCHO Hobey Watch, where it might be fair to ask, just what are we watching, anyway?

Earlier this week, Brian Costello of The Hockey News pointed out the thought that we’re going to be dancing around for the foreseeable future: That, in Costello’s words, Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau is “too good not to win” the Hobey Baker Award.

We’ll spend our fair share of time discussing the young man they call “Johnny Hockey,” to be sure, and whether he will be the first BC forward in the Jerry York era to win the Hobey (David Emma was, of course, the first BC forward to capture the award, having done so in 1991, three years before York returned to his alma mater). What really caught my attention, though, was that Costello saved me the trouble of going through the voting tallies on the Hobey Baker fan voting site and organizing it into a top 10.

Of course, we know what the Hobey fan vote is at this point. Sure, it’s a feature of the award that carries limited validity and even less impact, but it’s fun for the fans — I’m still a fan of the 2006 “Danny King for Hobey” campaign, even though it would be impossible today — and it’s also a good way to see what players may merit a closer look.

So, let’s start by examining that top 10, current as of this past Tuesday.

1. Ryan Faragher, junior, G, St. Cloud State
2. Shayne Gostisbehere, junior, D, Union
3. Ben Hutton, sophomore, D, Maine
4. Johnny Gaudreau, junior, F, Boston College
5. Adam Wilcox, sophomore, G, Minnesota
6. Ross Mauermann, junior, F, Providence
7. Ryan Haggerty, junior, F, Rensselaer
8. Michael Mersch, senior, F, Wisconsin
9. Trevor van Riemsdyk, junior, D, New Hampshire
10. Dillon Simpson, senior, D, North Dakota

Gaudreau we know about, of course, and as long as his production continues at or near its current level, it’s hard to see anyone else leaving Philadelphia with the Hobey. We also discussed Gostisbehere last week, and it’s not much of a surprise that he should be here (except that Union fans have been more united behind Gostisbehere than Cornell’s celebrated Lynah Faithful have been behind an equally qualified contender in Joakim Ryan). Beyond that, though, there are a couple of interesting notes.

Let’s start with the two goaltenders, Faragher and Wilcox. Both play for top-five teams in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, and neither has a real superstar forward up front who’s attracting much Hobey attention, although I could see the Huskies’ Jonny Brodzinski making his case.

If you figure that someone from a team performing as well as Minnesota or St. Cloud State is going to get a nod, it makes sense to look to a goaltender, and Wilcox, who ranks 12th in the nation in both GAA (2.05) and save percentage (.929), certainly has a solid case.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t say the same for Faragher, with his 2.45 GAA (36th in the nation) or his .909 save percentage (52nd), but you never know. As tough as it has been for a goalie to win the Hobey, not all of the netminders who have earned finalist nods have had eye-popping numbers.

Meanwhile, among the defensemen, van Riemsdyk and Hutton are both posting outstanding numbers, ranking fifth and sixth in the nation, respectively, in blueliner scoring. The problem, however, comes from the fact that both New Hampshire and Maine are on the outside looking in where the NCAA tournament is concerned, which could give a leg up to fellow rearguards Ryan and Gostisbehere, not to mention the fact that they play in the same conference as the presumed Hobey frontrunner Gaudreau.

Simpson, meanwhile, suffers from two problems. First, there’s the matter of numbers, as 2009 Hobey winner Matt Gilroy seems to be the exception to the rule when it comes to defensemen winning the Hobey without eye-popping numbers. Then, there’s the question of where North Dakota winds up within the NCHC and in terms of the NCAA tournament. Dave Hakstol has traditionally had a second-half team in Grand Forks, so if UND comes on strong again and Simpson plays a major role, then I’d look at him as a potential finalist.

Finally, we turn to the forwards. Mauermann is an intriguing potential finalist as the leading scorer for No. 7 Providence, and certainly someone to keep an eye on.

Haggerty is having a heck of a season for RPI, but with the Engineers having a mediocre season, I doubt there’s much room for him to go beyond the finalist level, and I see something of an “either-or” situation developing with Haggerty and conference foe Greg Carey of St. Lawrence. That may not be fair, but knowing who else is out there, I just don’t see more than one player from a non-contending ECAC Hockey team making it into the top 10.

It’s an interesting point in the Hobey race … or at least, the Hobey finalist race. While Gaudreau may be leading the field by a wide margin — and I remain convinced that he is — the question of who fits into those top 10 spots becomes more and more interesting. We’ll look at it from another angle next week in the Hobey Watch. Until then, enjoy your weekend — and Beanpot Monday — hockey, everyone!

A look at ECAC Hockey’s top Hobey candidates, and why some fall short

20121109 IMG6846 A look at ECAC Hockeys top Hobey candidates, and why some fall short

Cornell defenseman Joakim Ryan is one of the ECAC Hockey players to watch in the race for a Hobey Baker Award finalist spot (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Hello again, and welcome back to another week of the Hobey Watch!

Last week, I started by looking at a few story lines that I had my eye on at the close of last season: the effects of conference realignment on Hobey Baker Award candidates (and Hobey finalist candidates), the play of two of last season’s most promising goaltenders (Jon Gillies of Providence and Connor Hellebuyck of Massachusetts-Lowell), and the red-hot play of Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau and whether he might be the first of the Jerry York-era small Eagles forwards to capture college hockey’s top individual honor. Among the responses was one that asked if I’ve ever heard of ECAC Hockey. Well then.

Yes, I’ve heard of the conference, as it was my introduction to this wonderful world of college hockey back in my undergraduate days at Dartmouth. Moreover, I had the chance to see two of the conference’s teams in action at Madison Square Garden a couple of weeks ago in the “Rivalry on Ice” game between Harvard and Yale. It was a great event, and having done some work with the Leverage Agency to help put things together, it was rewarding to see it unfold on the ice. And, during a pregame reception at the Refinery Hotel, I had the chance to chat briefly with the conference commissioner, Steve Hagwell.

We talked briefly about the season, the continued strong performances of Union, Quinnipiac and Yale, and of course about the Hobey race and my commentary on it. We didn’t talk much about this year’s candidates, but we did discuss some of the top Hobey contenders to come out of the conference in recent years. And looking at the conference’s top Hobey candidates this year, I think they face the same problem that past ECAC Hockey stars have faced in recent years … and they’re not the only ones.

Take, for example, Greg Carey, the senior forward for St. Lawrence. Carey was the No. 4 scorer in the country last season, averaging 1.34 points per game on totals of 28 goals and 23 assists in 38 games, and he’s come back even stronger in his senior campaign. Through last weekend’s games, Carey was second in the country in points per game at 1.82, with 14 goals and 26 assists in 22 games. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that his Saints are struggling mightily this season, sitting in 11th place at 2-6-2. While it’s not impossible for a player to win the Hobey on a less-than-successful team, it’s rare. The only two such Hobey winners who come to mind, in fact, are Chris Marinucci at Minnesota-Duluth in 1994 (team record: 14-21-3) and Matt Carle at Denver in 2006 (which went 21-15-3 but missed the NCAA tournament).

This was the main thing that Austin Smith was missing two years ago, when he had 36 goals and 21 assists in 39 games on a Colgate team that went 19-17-3. While I certainly see Carey as a Hobey finalist on the strength of his individual performance this season, I don’t see him faring much better in the final voting than Smith did.

On the other hand, the most successful teams in the conference — the five projected to make the NCAA tournament as of this week’s Bracketology blog — don’t have Hobey contenders with top-flight individual stats. Quinnipiac has a pair of intriguing forwards in freshman Sam Anas and senior Kellen Jones, but neither is a top-20 scorer. While that wouldn’t preclude Jones from a finalist nod (leaving Anas aside since freshmen rarely get Hobey recognition), it’s hard to see him as someone who could claim the Hobey. That’s not a knock on Jones as a player — far from it — just a recognition of how these things generally go and where Jones fits into the picture.

Union, meanwhile, has a top-20 scorer in senior forward Daniel Carr and a highly regarded junior defenseman in Shayne Gostisbehere. Carr has been on the score sheet in all but four games for the Dutchmen this season, while Gostisbehere is a top-20 scorer among defensemen with six goals and 10 assists, coming off of a sophomore season that saw him capture All-America honors. Both have strong cases for inclusion among Hobey contenders, but neither statistical profile rises to the level of a potential Hobey winner.

Cornell may have the most intriguing Hobey candidate of the conference’s top teams in Joakim Ryan. The junior blueliner is second in the nation in defenseman scoring, and his numbers likely will carry more weight than the rearguard ahead of him, Bentley’s Steve Weinstein, due to tougher conference opposition.

I’d keep a close eye on Ryan as a potential Hobey finalist, with the potential to do more depending on his performance down the stretch. His current points-per-game average (1.06) may not rise to the level of Matt Carle’s 1.35 PPG in his Hobey-winning 2005-06 season, but it compares quite favorably with Jordan Leopold’s 1.09 PPG in 2001-02 and Mike Mottau’s 1.05 PPG in 1999-2000, especially when you consider that Cornell’s style of play — the Big Red is 30th in the nation in scoring offense and seventh in scoring defense — doesn’t have the reputation of Minnesota or BC for lending itself to big offensive numbers.

Clarkson is a team without an obvious Hobey contender. The Golden Knights do not have a top-100 scorer in terms of points per game, and a goaltending tandem of sophomore Greg Lewis and freshman Steve Perry. Bottom line: Don’t stop believin’ in the Golden Knights as a team, but don’t expect to hear much about them in the Hobey race.

Finally, there’s Yale. The Bulldogs have had a consistently strong offense under Keith Allain, but the scoring is often spread out, and that’s the case again this year. Seniors Kenny Agostino and Jesse Root lead the way with 15 and 13 points, respectively.

The team’s freshman goaltenders, Alex Lyon and Patrick Spano, have performed admirably, with Lyon doing the lion’s share of the work. But, again, this looks like a strong team without a real Hobey contender.

The real takeaway that I have from looking at all of this is that ECAC Hockey is having another impressive season, and after Yale brought home the conference’s first NCAA title in more than 20 years, we could (or at the very least, should), see the conference’s reputation start to come closer in line with reality as the “EZAC” chants fade.

The question, however, is where that leaves this year’s Hobey contenders from the conference. The bottom line is that good numbers on a strong team or great numbers on a struggling team may get you a Hobey finalist nod, but they probably won’t get you much further.

The best candidates tend to be those who combine strong individual and team performance, and on that score, I’d pay the most attention to Ryan, keep an eye on Gostisbehere, and be here next week for another edition of the Hobey Watch.

A first look at the Hobey landscape for 2014

8U9A0585 A first look at the Hobey landscape for 2014

Austin Czarnik is one of two Hobey Baker Award candidates from Miami (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Welcome back to the Hobey Watch, everyone! It’s been quite a first half of the season, and as we turn over the calendar into 2014, it’s time to start sizing up the candidates for college hockey’s top individual honor.

When we called it a year last April after Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State hoisted the Hobey Baker Award in Pittsburgh, there were three major story lines I was looking ahead to for the Hobey in 2014. In this first Hobey Watch of 2014, I want to revisit the big questions and get a sense of where we stand at the midway point of the season.

Conference calls

When sizing up Hobey candidates — and particularly when attempting to pick the top 10 finalists — conference affiliations are useful for keeping things organized. It’s pretty rare when a major conference doesn’t have a Hobey finalist, so with the CCHA gone and the NCHC and Big Ten now part of the mix along with a vastly different WCHA, it’s worth looking at how the national picture has changed.

The most notable development on that front seems to have come from Oxford, Ohio, where Miami has a pair of intriguing candidates in sophomore Riley Barber and returning Hobey finalist Austin Czarnik. If there was ever a concern about the quality of Miami’s opposition, it should be gone, given that Miami now plays in the NCHC, but the problem is that the RedHawks currently reside in the NCHC basement.

Still, that wouldn’t preclude either player from getting a Hobey finalist nod, given their individual performance. Barber is the stronger goal scorer of the two, with 14 tallies in 20 games, but the whole “Hobey loves goals” argument lost some steam last year with Drew LeBlanc’s win, so it remains to be seen how these guys will be evaluated.

Meanwhile, in the WCHA, Ferris State is looking strong, and with CJ Motte posting a 17-1-3 record in the Bulldogs’ net, he’s looking like a likely Hobey finalist. His GAA (2.07, 16th in the country) and save percentage (.932, 11th) aren’t at the top level where he could be considered a true Hobey contender, but as the most notable player for a notable team, he’s on track for at least a finalist nod, with the opportunity to do more if Ferris State does big things in the postseason.

Speaking of netminders …

The goalie question

The lack of a Hobey winner in goal since Ryan Miller in 2001 is one of the most familiar tropes in Hobey conversation, but last year introduced us to a pair of netminders with the potential to become just the third goalie to capture college hockey’s top individual honor. As we open the Hobey Watch for another year, it’s a good time to look back in on Connor Hellebuyck of Massachusetts-Lowell and Jon Gillies of Providence.

The good news for Hellebuyck is that he leads the nation in save percentage (.945) and is second in GAA (1.75), with that save percentage awfully close to the magical .950 that Ryan Miller posted in his Hobey campaign. The bad news is that he’s splitting time with Doug Carr, and it’s hard to see a part-timer capturing the Hobey. The real takeaway here for Hellebuyck is that he’s shown no signs of a sophomore slump, and if he gets a solo run in the River Hawks’ net next year after Carr graduates, he’ll enter 2014-15 as a top contender for the Hobey.

As for Gillies, the Friars sophomore is two slots behind Hellebuyck in the save percentage department at .937, and while he’s a bit farther down in the GAA department (1.88, ninth in the nation), the Friars are ranked seventh in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and Gillies deserves a great deal of the credit. He’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Johnny be back

When we started up the 2013 edition of this blog, it was looking as if the Hobey might finally go to the “little guy from BC.”

Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau was among the nation’s top scorers, coming off of a high-profile performance as part of a gold-medal effort for the U.S. at the World Junior Championship and looking every bit the part of a Hobey winner. As it turned out, however, Gaudreau’s statistical performance tailed off toward the end of the season, and when BC stalled out in the postseason, failing to capture a Hockey East title or a Frozen Four berth, Gaudreau came up short of the Hobey. Still, with little brother Matthew on his way to the Heights, the expectation was that “Johnny Hockey” would stick around for another run.

Indeed, the elder Gaudreau is back in Chestnut Hill, and once again, he’s flying high for the Eagles, leading the nation in points per game and goals per game. While there are certainly other qualified candidates — including returning Hobey finalist Greg Carey of St. Lawrence, who’s right on Gaudreau’s tail in the points department — Gaudreau is once again in a strong position to capture the Hobey.

Given that BC’s team performance in even-numbered years has been far stronger than odd years in recent memory (you have to go back to 2002 to find the last even-numbered Frozen Four that BC wasn’t a part of), the pieces seem to be in place for Gaudreau. Whether he and the Eagles can keep them together — and whether the other candidates will have their say — remains to be seen.

By no means is this post meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the candidates. There are certainly more players worth discussing than Barber, Czarnik, Hellebuyck, Gillies, Gaudreau and Carey, and we’ll discuss them in the weeks to come. For now, though, this should be a good start.

Final thoughts and a quick look at next season’s potential Hobey hopefuls

The end of another college hockey season is upon us, and along with it, the end of another Hobey Watch. Congratulations to Drew LeBlanc and St. Cloud State on the program’s first Hobey Baker Award, and congratulations to Yale on its first NCAA championship.

Having spent a lot of time around the Yale and Quinnipiac programs during my CSTV years, it was very exciting to see the Bulldogs and Bobcats playing for an NCAA championship, and certainly, having gotten my start covering ECAC Hockey, it’s great to see the conference shine on the big stage.

It’s also great to see the Hobey Baker Award go to LeBlanc, who certainly breaks the mold established by previous Hobey winners. There’s been a smattering of backlash since LeBlanc won on Friday, but overall, I think a winner like LeBlanc is good for the award because it shows that there is a place for the playmaking forward on the Hobey stage (and given that Hobey himself was the ultimate team player, having died testing out a repaired plane so none of the men under his command would have to, I think it’s entirely appropriate that there be a place for a guy who’s best known for helping his teammates score).

Of course, as I pointed out last week, the Hobey winner was going to break the mold regardless of which Hat Trick member got the award, and the fact that this year’s Hobey went to LeBlanc means that goalies (Eric Hartzell) and small Boston College forwards (Johnny Gaudreau) are out again … but for how long? After all, as we begin to look ahead to next year, two of the more intriguing candidates are a small BC forward (Gaudreau, if he stays in school to play with younger brother Matt) and a goalie (Massachusetts-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck).

Hellebuyck will be an interesting case, as he posted those elusive “Ryan Miller numbers” over his 23 games in the River Hawks’ net this year, most notably a .952 save percentage. Come fall, he should be the man from day one, and if he can avoid a “sophomore jinx” or any other similar misfortune, he should have a great case to win the award.

Gaudreau, meanwhile, told reporters after the Hobey ceremony that he’s planning to return to school next season and that the Calgary Flames are giving him space to make his own decisions. That hasn’t always been the case in Calgary (see also: Chucko, Kris), but this is obviously a different regime, and for whatever else one might say about Jay Feaster’s performance up there, it’s good to hear that Gaudreau isn’t being pressured.

If he indeed comes back, he’ll obviously enter 2013-14 as a favorite for the award, and if the performance is there, he could break through for the Eagles. It’s also worth noting that BC’s performance tends to be better in even-numbered years than odd-numbered ones since the 2001 NCAA title season — five Frozen Fours and three titles in even years, one Frozen Four and no titles in odd years) — and if that form holds, the additional team success could put Gaudreau over the top.

I’m not going to get too deep into other candidates just now — we’ll save that for the fall — but I would be remiss if I didn’t note the three players named as “Hobey Hopefuls” by my colleague Dave Starman during ESPN’s intermission report on Saturday night: New Hampshire forward Kevin Goumas, Miami forward Austin Czarnik and Minnesota State forward Matt Leitner.

Goumas is an interesting case right off the bat because he’s a playmaking forward who doesn’t score a lot of goals himself, and that’s a type that hasn’t gotten much Hobey love until this year with LeBlanc. Obviously, LeBlanc’s selection shows it’s possible, and I would certainly keep an eye on Goumas, an honorable mention Hockey East all-star this season and a past All-Academic honoree, as the 2013-14 campaign begins.

Czarnik was a Hobey finalist this year, not to mention a first-team All-American and the final CCHA player of the year. It will be interesting to see how he performs in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season, as his performance will be immune from the (never justified in the first place) criticism that “Miami never plays anyone.” He wasn’t a huge scorer this year (0.95 points per game), but there’s certainly room for a jump from sophomore to junior year, and I’ll be interested to see what Czarnik brings to the table next season.

Finally, there’s Leitner, who put up fine numbers for Minnesota State this year and could certainly be poised for an even better statistical season next year, as the Mavericks figure to be a top team in the reconstituted WCHA. That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though: As well as Leitner might play next year, his performance likely will carry less weight than it would in this year’s WCHA, to say nothing of either of the two new conferences that are coming next year. Presuming that he stays and continues to perform at a high level, Leitner could be an interesting test case for the new WCHA as it concerns the Hobey, and I would definitely watch with interest.

But that won’t happen until the fall. For now, I’ll sign off for the Hobey Watch this year. Congrats to Yale, congrats to Drew LeBlanc and St. Cloud State, and thanks to all who read and commented this year.

No matter who takes the hardware, Hobey winner will break the mold

So here we are.

It’s the week of the Frozen Four, and on Saturday night either Yale, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State or Massachusetts-Lowell will be crowned the NCAA hockey champion for the 2012-13 season.

Suffice it to say, this isn’t your typical Frozen Four. So, it’s only fitting that when the 2013 Hobey Baker Award is presented on Friday night, its winner will also be atypical, to one degree or another.

While I did correctly predict last week that the Hobey Hat Trick would consist of Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau, Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell and St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc, what I didn’t comment on at the time is what this group means for the 2013 Hobey. Now that we know that one of these three players will win the most prestigious individual honor in college hockey, it’s worth commenting that each one comes from a group that typically doesn’t win the Hobey.

In Hartzell, of course, we have a goaltender. As we’ve been over time and again in the Hobey Watch, only two goaltenders have won the award: Robb Stauber in 1988 and Ryan Miller in 2001. And of course, Miller’s landmark numbers from that season — 1.32 goals against average, .950 save percentage — have become the de facto standard against which all other goalies have been judged when they’ve come up for the Hobey.

I’ve raised the argument in the past that Cornell’s David LeNeveu would have won in 2003 had the field not included Peter Sejna and his 82 points, and I think it’s fair to say that LeNeveu would run away with the award had he been part of this year’s field.

But he’s not, and instead we have Hartzell, the ECAC Hockey player of the year who has backstopped the Bobcats to the No. 1 ranking, an ECAC regular season championship and a Frozen Four berth, posting a 1.55 goals against average, a .933 save percentage and five shutouts along the way. An excellent year to be sure and well worthy of every laurel that Hartzell has received, but still, it’s fairly obvious that Hartzell doesn’t have those elusive “Ryan Miller numbers” that are presumed to be required for a goalie to win the Hobey. So, conventional wisdom would dictate that he doesn’t win.

In LeBlanc, meanwhile, we have a playmaking forward with 13 goals and 37 assists this season. I’ve made a regular point in the Hobey Watch about the idea that “Hobey loves goals,” and it is worth noting that if LeBlanc is indeed this season’s Hobey winner, he will most likely do so with the fewest goals of any Hobey-winning forward.

To date, the lowest goal total by a forward who won the Hobey belongs to the inaugural Hobey winner, Minnesota’s Neal Broten, who had 17 goals and 54 assists in the 1980-81 season. Folks who were around back then have spent some time wondering why it was Neal who won the award and not younger brother Aaron (47 goals, 59 assists), and if I had to guess, it probably had something to do with Neal’s participation in the “Miracle on Ice” the year before. If that’s the case, then it would make a LeBlanc win even more unprecedented.

Finally, there’s Gaudreau. While Gaudreau has been viewed as the front-runner for most of the year, the fact remains that he is “the little guy from BC.”

Earlier this year, I ran through the BC forwards who have been finalists for the Hobey during Jerry York’s tenure as head coach — Brian Gionta, Chris Collins, Nathan Gerbe, Cam Atkinson, etc. — and wondered aloud if the seeming ubiquity of this type of high-scoring forward at the Heights may contribute to a lack of respect from Hobey voters (since, after all, defenseman Mike Mottau is BC’s only Hobey winner under York).

After all, if they seem to be almost interchangeable, how special is the guy putting up those numbers this year? Still, by most conventional measures for the Hobey, Gaudreau seems to fit the profile best. Does that mean he’ll win? We’ll find out Friday.

Last week, I appeared on USCHO Live! with Jim Connelly and Ed Trefzger, and at the end of my interview, Jimmy put me on the spot and asked me whom I think will win. My answer at the time was LeBlanc, but before I finish off this blog entry, I want to conduct a little thought exercise to put a little more method into my prediction.

I’ve never been on the Hobey committee, but I’d like to think that if I was, I would judge Hobey candidates as if I were a judge on “Iron Chef America” (I’m sorry, even in a dream like this, I couldn’t see myself as worthy of sharing the stage with the likes of Asako Kishi and Shinichiro Kurimoto).

Just as Iron Chef judges can award up to 10 of the 20 total points for taste, five for plating/presentation and five for creativity in use of the theme ingredient, I would award Hobey candidates up to 10 points for their individual on-ice performances, five for team success and five for leadership, character and academics.

So before I sign off, I’m going to apply these criteria to the Hobey Hat Trick, and see who emerges as my winner.

Johnny Gaudreau

On-ice performance: 8.5 points. In this year’s field, Gaudreau is tops as the national points-per-game leader — and is unquestionably the most dynamic player in college hockey this season — but the 9-10 range is reserved for candidates who are superlative in a larger context (Paul Kariya and Ryan Miller would be 10s here, for example).

Team success: 3.5 points. No trophy more significant than the Beanpot makes this an off year for BC. I give Gaudreau a bit of a bump for his role in the Eagles’ NCAA title a year ago (think Matt Carle in 2006), but the Hobey should really be about this year.

Leadership/character/academics: 3.5 points. Gaudreau is a solid citizen by all accounts, but as an underclassman (and a sophomore, at that), he’s not at a point where he’s had an opportunity to build much of a record in terms of academics or leadership.

Total: 15.5 points

Eric Hartzell

On-ice performance: 7.5 points. Being recognized as player of the year in ECAC Hockey is a well-deserved honor, but the truth is there’s a better goalie in college hockey this year (Connor Hellebuyck of Massachusetts-Lowell), and Hartzell was not the national leader in any major goaltending category.

Team success: 4.5 points. Quinnipiac has two of the big three — winning the regular season conference title and getting to the Frozen Four but falling short for the conference tournament title — and Hartzell has been a key to those achievements, not to mention the top overall seed that the Bobcats earned.

Leadership/character/academics: 4 points. Hartzell is a senior, and seniors do seem to get a bit of a bump in the Hobey voting, and he’s never been in any trouble to speak of. However, there’s nothing that really stands out about him in this area. Solid but unspectacular rates a 4.

Total: 16 points

Drew LeBlanc

On-ice performance: 8 points. He’s the WCHA player of the year, but knowing how much the Hobey voting tends to favor goal-scorers where forwards are concerned, it’s hard to see LeBlanc getting more than eight points here.

Team success: 4.5 points. Like the Bobcats, the Huskies got two of the big three, winning the MacNaughton Cup and earning a trip to the Frozen Four. That doesn’t happen without LeBlanc.

Leadership/character/academics: 4.75 points. LeBlanc gets a lot of points here for being both player of the year and student-athlete of the year in the WCHA (I addressed POTY up top, but the player/student-athlete double is especially impressive), in addition to being a captain for this Huskies team that has gone where no other SCSU team ever has. I’m tempted to go full-marks here and give him a 5, but I kind of feel like I should leave some room for that rare candidate who manages to be a Hockey Humanitarian Award nominee or finalist as well.

Total: 17.25 points.

There you have it, folks. My first attempt to truly do the math with a Hobey ballot produces Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State as our predicted winner. Will he win on Friday night as well? Stay tuned.

After regional weekend creates more questions than it answers, here’s a Hat Trick prediction

So what in the world do I do with this?

I expected the weekend’s events at the NCAA regional tournaments to provide some kind of answers as to the race for the Hobey Baker Award, but all I’m left with now are more questions.

First, we’ll address the question that’s been on a number of minds lately: Where’s Connor Hellebuyck? The Massachusetts-Lowell goaltender has made an outstanding case for being the best player in the country, and while he’d much rather have what he’s got (a spot in the Frozen Four) than what he doesn’t have (a chance at the Hobey), it has raised some eyebrows that Hellebuyck wasn’t one of the top 10 finalists.

The reality is that Hellebuyck has several factors working against him. The first is that he’s a freshman, and freshmen have always had a hard time getting Hobey recognition. The other issue is his number of games played. Goalies have certainly been nominated for the Hobey with a half-season’s worth of games — Cody Reichard of Miami comes to mind here — but winning is a different story.

Of course, Hellebuyck has been the River Hawks’ No. 1 goalie for some time now (as opposed to Reichard, who split time consistently with Connor Knapp in his Hobey finalist year), but when you factor in his class year, it was always going to be a hard road to hoe.

All of that having been said, Hellebuyck’s numbers are certainly mind-boggling (particularly after his performance in Manchester last weekend), and he should go into the 2013-14 season as a Hobey favorite. In the meantime, it reaffirms the need for a national goaltender of the year award, to honor outstanding players at a position that has a difficult history with the Hobey.

Now, for the matter at hand: predicting the Hobey Hat Trick.

I think we can start by eliminating the players who are out of the running after this weekend’s games. Carsen Chubak certainly gained respect in Niagara’s loss to North Dakota, but it was always going to take a trip to the Frozen Four to have a shot here.

Kyle Flanagan of St. Lawrence is still out of it. If there’s going to be a finalist from St. Lawrence, it’s going to be Greg Carey, since as we know, “Hobey Loves Goals.”

Austin Czarnik is done as well, as he was also a long shot going into the regionals, and Miami’s failure to reach the Frozen Four did him in. Ryan Walters’ run also ends here, as he’s probably third at best among WCHA candidates, and the WCHA had a very rough weekend (with one notable exception, which we’ll get to).

That leaves six players in the running.

Greg Carey, St. Lawrence: For a guy who didn’t play last weekend, Carey did pretty well for himself. The performance by Yale and Quinnipiac in reaching the Frozen Four — not to mention Union’s job of knocking off Boston College, has generated some much-deserved respect for ECAC Hockey, which lends an extra air of legitimacy to Carey’s still-best-in-the-country 28 goals. I’m starting to really like the idea of Carey as a dark horse contender for a Hat Trick spot.

Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College: I said before the regionals that Gaudreau’s spot in the Hobey Hat Trick was pretty well locked up, and while I’m not 100 percent sure anymore, I still think he’s pretty safe. With the weekend that we had, the vote is going to be extremely close, which means that I could see Gaudreau winning it and I can also see him being left out of the Hat Trick altogether. Gut says he’s still in. Do I see him winning? I’ll tell you after I see the top three.

Eric Hartzell, Quinnipiac: Hartzell certainly helped his cause over the weekend with Quinnipiac earning its trip to Pittsburgh, although the Bobcats’ early struggles against Canisius in the first round may have limited the benefits. Still, one game does not a Hobey candidacy make, and at the end of the day, he’s still top 10 nationally in save percentage and goals against average, playing in a conference that is tougher than it’s been given credit for. I like Hartzell for a spot, but I’m not sure how much I like him.

Corban Knight and Danny Kristo, North Dakota: The North Dakota guys are kind of tricky here. On the one hand, Kristo is the one whose statistics tend to fit the Hobey profile more (26 goals and 26 assists versus Knight’s 16 and 33). On the other hand, Knight is the captain, the chosen candidate of the UND coaching staff and the one who had his charges dropped in the preseason party incident. If their team was headed for the Frozen Four, I would guess they’re both in the Hat Trick, but since UND is out, I see one spot at most here, and I’m entertaining the possibility of a vote split that leaves them both out.

Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State: In the most important category, LeBlanc had a great weekend: The Huskies have shattered their reputation for going home early by earning the program’s first trip to the Frozen Four. In terms of statistics, he went 0-fer, but he’ll take it under the circumstances, I’m sure. And I think the Hobey committee will take it, too.

WCHA player of the year. WCHA scholar-athlete of the year. On-ice leader of a Frozen Four team. If that’s not the profile of a Hobey Hat Trick player, I don’t know what is. Yes, I know I’ve been making a big deal about the fact that “Hobey Loves Goals,” and that LeBlanc is primarily a setup man for the Huskies, and I’m still not entirely convinced that he can win the Hobey, but I’m certainly more of a believer than I was last week.

As much as I like to read into the patterns that have built up over the years regarding the Hobey, the fact of the matter is that the Hobey voters have shown a willingness to “think outside the box” every now and then. After all, Boston University’s Matt Gilroy hardly fit the profile of a Hobey winner, but there he was in 2009, one of only five players to win the Hobey and the national championship in the same year. The Hobey committee thought “outside the box,” and this year’s “box” got the opening-scene-of-Ace-Ventura treatment over the weekend, so there may be nothing left to do but think outside it.

So, with all of that laid out, here’s what I believe:

• 1. I believe that Drew LeBlanc is in the Hobey Hat Trick, with an excellent shot to win.

• 2. I believe that the Hobey Hat Trick will include at least one player from ECAC Hockey.

• 3. I think North Dakota is going to be left out.

Here’s my call, folks: Johnny Gaudreau, Eric Hartzell and Drew LeBlanc. I had a devil of a time deciding between Carey and Hartzell, but at the end of the day, I think Hartzell’s senior class standing and his role in getting the Bobcats to the Frozen Four will win out over Carey’s gaudy goal total. Honestly, though, I could see LeBlanc-Carey-Hartzell, too, but I have to make a call, and the call I’m making is Gaudreau-Hartzell-LeBlanc.

There you have it. We’ll find out Wednesday if I’m right. In the meantime, feel free to make a call of your own.

In regionals, Hobey finalists get one last chance to impress

The NCAA tournament is almost upon us, and with it the last chance for Hobey Baker Award finalists to state their case for college hockey’s top individual honor.

Of course, three of those finalists are not players I had predicted being part of the top 10, and I’ll address that briefly here.

First up is Austin Czarnik from Miami. I knew there would be a finalist from the CCHA, but I thought that it would be Brady Hjelle from Ohio State. My mistake here was valuing individual statistical performance over team success. Miami was on track for a top regional seed when the voting took place, and I probably should have expected that team success to be rewarded, even if there was no one with superlative statistics from the RedHawks (at least, not on a national level). Czarnik, as the team’s best player — and the CCHA player of the year — was the right man to receive that reward.

Then there’s Carsen Chubak from Niagara. I’ve been very suspicious of the Purple Eagles, based in large part on their weak out-of-conference record (1-3-3), but the fact of the matter is that Chubak paced the team to a regular season title and an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. In hindsight, it was probably foolish of me to expect Atlantic Hockey to go without a finalist, and while Brett Gensler made noise earlier in the year, Chubak was the obvious pick from the AHA.

Finally, there’s Kyle Flanagan from St. Lawrence. Flanagan has a great case as the nation’s No. 3 scorer and a senior starring for his hometown team, but I thought the ECAC Hockey quarterfinal loss at Yale would have been the end of him, particularly with players like Erik Haula of Minnesota and Steven Whitney of Boston College in the mix. Still, it’s hard to say he isn’t a worthy finalist, and congratulations to him in that regard.

Now, with that out of the way, we look ahead to this weekend’s regionals, which begin Friday afternoon with the West and Northeast regionals. Seven of the 10 finalists are in action this weekend, and in my opinion, the Hobey (and spots in the Hobey Hat Trick) still remain to be decided. Here’s how I see the weekend ahead.

Northeast Regional

There should be some great games here, of course, but there are no Hobey finalists playing in Manchester, so it doesn’t factor into our analysis.

West Regional

As wrong as I got it with Chubak, there’s actually a path to the Hobey Hat Trick for him here. If Chubak can backstop Niagara past North Dakota and its pair of Hobey finalists, then top Minnesota for a trip to the Frozen Four (assuming the Gophers get past Yale), then it will lend a greater legitimacy to what the Purple Eagles have done within Atlantic Hockey all season long and could get Chubak a spot in the Hat Trick.

That having been said, however, I don’t see any kind of on-ice feat that Chubak could accomplish that would make him the first goalie in over a decade to win the Hobey.

The more interesting play, however, is for North Dakota’s Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. We know that they’re in the conversation now since they are finalists, and as it stands, I think that one of the two is likely to be among the top three players in the final voting. My gut sense is that it’s Kristo since he’s the primary goal-scorer of the two (and the Hobey tends to reward goal-scorers more than it does setup men), but the fact that Knight’s misdemeanor charge from the preseason party incident was dropped while Kristo’s was not leaves me a little uncertain. In any event, I’m reasonably sure that one of the two will be in the Hobey Hat Trick, and a Frozen Four trip for UND will lock it down, possibly for both (depending on other results).

Midwest Regional

Two Hobey finalists are active here: Miami’s Czarnik and St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc. My instinct about Czarnik is that while he’s a huge contributor to Miami’s success with his team bests of 24 assists, 38 points and a plus-19 rating, he’s not going to get much national recognition as the nation’s No. 37 scorer.

Could a huge weekend and a RedHawks return to the Frozen Four propel him into the Hat Trick? Possibly, but I really don’t see it.

That brings us to LeBlanc. The fact that most of his 50 points are assists is not a knock on him as a player at all. If it were, he wouldn’t be the WCHA player of the year. However, forwards who win the Hobey have primarily been goal-scorers, which is why I don’t see LeBlanc winning the award.

However, he can certainly propel himself into the Hat Trick with a good weekend in Toledo. In fact, I wouldn’t even say he needs to win. Given the Huskies’ track record of first-round ousters, even one win in which LeBlanc plays a huge part, combined with his strong regular season and his off-ice achievements (WCHA scholar-athlete of the year), could put him in the top three.

East Regional

Perhaps more than anywhere else, this is where the action is. Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau has been the front-runner for the Hobey for most of the season, and he enters the NCAA tournament as the nation’s points-per-game leader.

If the Eagles can advance to the Frozen Four with wins over Union and Quinnipiac — a draw that has many BC fans licking their lips — and Gaudreau is a significant contributor, I think he locks up the Hobey in Providence.

If BC falls, then I think Gaudreau’s “brand” will be slightly damaged from having gone 0-fer in the trophy department (I’m not counting the Beanpot or the World Juniors here), and that could open the door for someone else, most likely one of the North Dakota players. Regardless, I think he’s already in the Hat Trick.

The other Hobey finalist in this region is Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell, who also saw his campaign damaged last weekend with a loss to Brown in the ECAC Hockey semifinals. I think it’s safe to say at this point that Hartzell will not win the Hobey after his stumbles in the conference tournament, but that doesn’t mean that the Bobcats goaltender can’t grab a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick. I think it would take a trip to the Frozen Four, but it’s there for him.

The guys who aren’t playing

Flanagan, Greg Carey and Ryan Walters are sitting and watching here, but I’m not entirely convinced that one of them doesn’t get a trip to Pittsburgh. In my mind right now, I see one spot for Gaudreau, one spot for a North Dakota player and one spot for someone else. Depending on what happens this weekend, that someone could be Hartzell, LeBlanc, Chubak or the other North Dakota forward … or none of the above.

Suppose BC tops Quinnipiac to go to the Frozen Four, St. Cloud goes out in the first round again and North Dakota cleans up on Chubak and Niagara but loses to Minnesota in the regional final. Who gets the third spot then? Is it Carey, the big-time goal scorer who still leads the nation in that category? Is it Walters, the 50-point scorer from one of the nation’s two toughest conferences? I don’t think Flanagan is in the mix, in all honesty, but Carey and Walters are still very much eligible for a Hat Trick spot.

What do you think? Who do you see going to Pittsburgh as part of the Hobey Hat Trick? Leave your thoughts below, and we’ll see how it unfolds this weekend.

Who makes the Hobey Baker Award top 10 list? Here’s a prediction

It’s that time, folks. On Thursday, the finalists for the Hobey Baker Award will be named, which means it’s time for me to pick my projected top 10 and see how many I wind up getting right.

A quick note before we begin: I’d like to apologize for the omission of St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc from last week’s list, and generally not giving him his due during the season.

I’ve definitely been dialed in away from LeBlanc for most of the season, largely because my interest has been taken by issues that really don’t touch LeBlanc: whether a small Boston College forward will finally win the award this year, whether backing one Hobey candidate in particular is a smart strategy, and of course, the seemingly ubiquitous character debate (and just to let you know, my self-imposed gag order on the subject ends with this week’s blog).

The reality is that LeBlanc is a likely finalist, and the fact that he’s the WCHA’s student-athlete of the year is definitely a huge point in his favor. I’ll say a bit more about him in a second, but for now, let’s get to my predictions for the top 10, revealed the way the Hobey finalist video does it, in alphabetical order.

Greg Carey, junior forward, St. Lawrence

Carey hits the end of the line here. His Saints saw their season ended by Yale in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, and Carey went 0-fer in the two-game sweep, so I think it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing him in the Hobey Hat Trick. Still, he finishes with a national-best (for now) 28 goals, which should get him a finalist nod from the coaches.

Johnny Gaudreau, sophomore forward, Boston College

Gaudreau’s revived scoring couldn’t have come at a better time for the Eagles or for his Hobey chances. Gaudreau is once again the nation’s leading scorer, and he scored his 20th goal on Saturday night against Vermont. Hitting the 20-goal plateau definitely helps his cause for the Hobey itself, and I believe he remains in strong position to win, particularly if he can help BC capture the Hockey East title or a Frozen Four berth.

Eric Hartzell, senior goaltender, Quinnipiac

The Bobcats’ run to the ECAC regular season title and the top position in the PairWise Rankings is going to be recognized, and Hartzell is the obvious choice to get the nod. He has the lowest goals against average of any full-time starter in the nation, along with a .935 save percentage (No. 7 in the country). The Bobcats were severely tested by Cornell over the weekend but they’re still standing, and Hartzell will be standing up as part of the top 10.

Erik Haula, junior forward, Minnesota

I don’t see Haula advancing past the top 10 based on the fact that goal-scorers tend to get the votes when it comes to forwards. That having been said, it’s hard to ignore the offensive catalyst for a Minnesota team that’s on track for a top regional seed in the NCAA tournament.

Brady Hjelle, senior goaltender, Ohio State

This is probably the riskiest pick I’ll make, but I just don’t see the CCHA getting shut out of the top 10 in its final year of existence (by the way, if you haven’t read my good friend Paula Weston’s last-ever CCHA column, do yourself a favor and read it).

The problem is, there’s no clear Hobey candidate in this group. The conference’s top scorer, Anders Lee, is 32nd in the nation. Miami goaltender Ryan McKay has been lights-out for the RedHawks but he’s not a full-time starter, and freshmen don’t tend to do well in the Hobey voting (that would also eliminate Michigan’s Jacob Trouba, who would also give the top 10 a defenseman).

That leaves Hjelle, who’s just a shade behind Hartzell in save percentage and has backstopped the Buckeyes into the CCHA semifinals after a fourth-place regular season finish. I’m going out on a limb with this one, and I’ll say that Hjelle gets a nod here.

Corban Knight, senior forward, North Dakota

Let the hand-wringing begin! Knight, of course, was the lone Hobey candidate designated by the North Dakota coaching staff, although teammate Danny Kristo has certainly played his way into the conversation. Knight, as a senior, a top-10 scorer and the captain of a team that’s rounded into form nicely, should be solidly in this spot.

Danny Kristo, senior forward, North Dakota

Cue the hand-wringing, Part II! Without getting too much into the character concerns that have been discussed already, historical trends show us that when character issues come into play, it’s generally in the second round of voting, not the first. The preseason party incident at North Dakota may cost Kristo or Knight the Hobey, but it won’t cost either one a finalist berth.

Drew LeBlanc, senior forward, St. Cloud State

As I said, LeBlanc deserves more coverage than he’s gotten in this space, at least as a certain finalist. The leading offensive player on a St. Cloud State team that tied for the WCHA regular season title, and the first player ever to be honored as both player of the year and student-athlete of the year by the conference, LeBlanc has had an outstanding year.

The place where I raise an eyebrow — in terms of his going forward to the Hat Trick or beyond — is his total of 13 goals. No forward has won the award with fewer than 16, and I don’t see LeBlanc becoming the first unless the Huskies go to the Frozen Four (and it’s not even a lock then). For now, though, there’s no way LeBlanc isn’t in the top 10.

Ryan Walters, junior forward, Nebraska-Omaha

Like Carey, Walters is done for the year after UNO lost the battle of the Mavericks to Minnesota State last weekend, although Walters did score a goal and add an assist in three games in Mankato.

From where we sit, no one has more points than Walters’ 52, and that’ll be enough to get him into the top 10. I don’t think he gets any farther than that, though.

Steven Whitney, senior forward, Boston College

This is another pick of which I’m not completely certain, but the fact that he won the Walter Brown Award as the top American-born player in New England has me thinking that Whitney will be included in the top 10.

His younger teammate with the catchy nickname has been getting most of the press, but clearly, the Walter Brown voters like Whitney (since Gaudreau, a New Jersey native, also would have been fair game to win the award). There’s also the fact that Whitney has 25 goals, second only to Carey, and could easily finish the season as the nation’s top goal-scorer. The combination of team success, goal-scoring and seniority makes me think that Whitney will be in the top 10.

Now, before we finish, a couple of notes on who isn’t on this list. As several have noted, I haven’t given much attention to defensemen in this year’s Hobey watch, and a big part of that is the numbers game.

Most of the time, the defensemen in the Hobey race tend to average more than a point per game, although there have certainly been other factors in the past (and last year’s Hobey top 10 had two defenseman with less than a full point per game: Air Force’s Tim Kirby and Michigan State’s Torey Krug).

It’s also not unheard of for the Top 10 to be without a defenseman, as it last happened in 2008 (and before that in 1999). That having been said, I wouldn’t be completely stunned to see Minnesota’s Nate Schmidt get a finalist nod.

I also didn’t include a finalist from Atlantic Hockey, after discussing Bentley’s Brett Gensler earlier in the year. Atlantic Hockey does wind up without a Hobey finalist every now and then, and I think this is one of those years. Gensler was certainly hot earlier, but he cooled off significantly, and the fact that Bentley isn’t in this weekend’s Atlantic Hockey championship also hurts his cause.

Niagara is an interesting case because of its relatively high PWR for an AHA team, and goaltender Carsen Chubak certainly has impressive numbers, but I think it’s going to be very tough for a goaltender to crack the top 10 out of Atlantic Hockey. So, Atlantic is shut out, we’re without a defenseman, and BC and North Dakota get two finalists each … at least, that’s how I see it.

What do you think? Leave your picks below, and we’ll see who’s right when the finalists are announced.

Wide-open race makes for important final weeks for Hobey hopefuls

As we prepare for next week’s announcement of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, the most impressive thing to me about this year’s race is how wide open it is.

Yes, with the proverbial gun to my head, I would still pick Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau to win the award when all is said and done — especially now that he’s the national points-per-game leader again — but from where we sit right now, there are several qualified candidates who could easily walk away with college hockey’s top individual honor in less than a month.

Picking the Hobey Hat Trick is an even more complicated enterprise, trying to pick a top three from a group that includes Gaudreau, Greg Carey of St. Lawrence, Ryan Walters of Nebraska-Omaha, Danny Kristo and Corban Knight of North Dakota, Erik Haula of Minnesota and Eric Hartzell of Quinnipiac.

That having been said, as we evaluate the action due to unfold this weekend, I’d say that the stakes are highest on three players: Walters, Carey and Hartzell. I think that all three players are pretty much locks to be named finalists next week, but if they want to go further than that, big performances this weekend are an absolute must.

Walters probably hasn’t gotten as much coverage in this space as he’s deserved this spring, as he is having a fantastic year for the Mavericks. His 50 points lead the WCHA (although Haula leads slightly in points per game), and having 21 of those points be goals is tremendously helpful to his cause. As I’ve written in the past, this year’s Hobey Hat Trick will have room for one player (at most) who doesn’t advance to the NCAA tournament, and I’d give the nod to Walters over Carey — assuming neither makes the tournament — based on the strength of the conference in which he plays, which likely will help make his stats more impressive to the voters.

By the way, I was very impressed by his goal in the first period against Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, and that will almost definitely be a part of the Hobey finalist video you see at the conference and regional tournaments in a couple of weeks.

However, that having been said, I’m not convinced that this year’s Hobey Hat Trick will have any players that don’t advance to the NCAAs. With a field that includes Gaudreau, the two North Dakota players, Haula and Hartzell, it’s very easy to see a Hat Trick that excludes both, even if one of them winds up as the nation’s top scorer.

Remember, there is no “divine right” to Hobey success associated with being the nation’s top scorer. It was something of a stunner when Ryan Potulny didn’t advance to the Hobey Hat Trick in 2006, while forwards Dave Borrelli of Mercyhurst and Bryan Leitch of Quinnipiac were left out of the top 10 altogether in 2005 and 2009, respectively.

While I don’t see that kind of a snub in the cards for either Carey or Walters, I do think that both could be left home from the Hat Trick if neither is in the NCAAs. That makes this weekend’s playoff series — Carey and St. Lawrence at Yale, Walters and UNO at Minnesota State — crucial for both players … besides, of course, that both players care much more about their team fates than an individual award.

That leaves Hartzell, who will certainly be playing in the NCAA tournament, likely as a top regional seed. However, Quinnipiac will certainly have some doubters based on lack of history and conference affiliation, not to mention a couple of questionable non-conference losses (although Hartzell wasn’t in net for that American International stunner), and if the Bobcats go home early from the ECAC Hockey tournament, it’ll be a huge blow to Hartzell’s chances.

Quinnipiac has a tough draw for this weekend’s quarterfinal series — Cornell was supposed to be much better than it showed during the regular season, and the Big Red fans travel well enough to take over almost any building they visit — but I have a feeling that Hartzell’s Hobey chances are shot if the Bobcats fall this weekend.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.

Team success might determine the fate of Carey’s candidacy

The action is starting to pick up in the Hobey Watch with conference playoffs under way in the CCHA, Atlantic Hockey and ECAC Hockey. Of course, the announcement of the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award takes place prior to the conference championship weekend, so the next two weeks will offer Hobey hopefuls one last opportunity to state their case for inclusion in the top 10.

One such individual who’s hitting the ice this weekend is Greg Carey of St. Lawrence, although I think it’s fair to say that he’s made as much of a case for the top 10 as he needs to. A goal in Game 1 of a best-of-three ECAC Hockey first-round playoff series against Colgate on Friday gave him 27 for the season (four more than his closest competitor), and he’s second nationally in points per game, with only Ryan Walters of Nebraska-Omaha ahead of him. Based on those numbers alone, Carey is a shoo-in for a spot in the top 10, and could contend for a place in the Hobey Hat Trick. With that in mind, I talked to the coach of another team in the conference this week to get his take on the junior from Hamilton, Ontario.

“He scores goals,” the coach said. “He can just plain bring it and score. He seems to do it game in and game out, so he’s very consistent. He’s impressive. In terms of being able to do it night in and night out, he just seems to score. Just an outstanding player.”

Really, there are only two big knocks I can see on Carey’s candidacy. While he is indeed the national leader in goals, 13 of his 27 have come on the power play. Given that some observers tend to knock players who clean up on the power play a bit (at least, compared to players who do more of their damage at even strength), that might be a factor working against Carey in the final round of voting, when the Hobey winner and the two other members of the Hobey Hat Trick are chosen. However, the coach doesn’t see it that way.

“He’s a threat no matter what,” the coach said. “In today’s day and age it’s not easy to score on the power play. People defend and block pucks, and the goaltending’s very, very good. To have that quick release and anticipation and that ability to get the puck off quickly and find those seams to get pucks to the net, that’s a pretty good skill. I wouldn’t discount him for the power-play goals because it’s not easy to score on the power play nowadays.”

Personally, I tend to agree, and given how important special teams are, I would think that being able to consistently deliver with the man advantage would be a positive in the Hobey race. What’s trickier, however, is that St. Lawrence is a long shot to make the NCAA tournament. After Friday’s games, the Saints are tied for 23rd in the PairWise Rankings, and with so many competitive teams in ECAC Hockey (four in the PairWise top 20) winning the conference tournament is going to be a serious uphill battle. While that won’t preclude Carey from getting into the Hat Trick — remember, the 2010 Hat Trick included two players from non-tournament teams — it will make it distinctly tougher, particularly when players like Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Haula, Drew LeBlanc, Danny Kristo and Corban Knight won’t have that problem.

Carey has big numbers, but so does Walters, and my gut feeling is there’s only room for one non-tournament player in this year’s Hobey Hat Trick. Given that Walters has more points, a healthy goal total and a stronger conference, I think it’s a fairly safe bet as to which way that one goes.

Now, while I had an ECAC coach on the phone, I figured it’d be a good idea to discuss Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell as well. After all, Hartzell is having an outstanding year, having backstopped the Bobcats to the No. 1 spot in the PairWise and the Cleary Cup as regular-season ECAC champions, and is easily the most Hobey-eligible player on his team.

You may recall that in 2010, Miami goalie Cody Reichard was the RedHawks’ Hobey finalist despite having appeared in only half of his team’s games. Part of the reason was that the RedHawks’ top scorers were too indistinguishable from one another for one to be singled out as a Hobey finalist. When you look at the Bobcats, none of whom has more than 13 goals, it becomes clear that the best representative of the team is its goalie, whose team leads the nation in scoring defense while he himself ranks third in goals against average (1.49, best among full-time starters) and seventh in save percentage (.936). It would be stunning if Hartzell wasn’t one of the top 10.

I asked the coach where Hartzell stands up among other recent Hobey finalist goaltenders out of the ECAC like Zane Kalemba of Princeton, Ben Scrivens of Cornell and Keith Kinkaid and Troy Grosenick from Union.

“His numbers are excellent,” the coach said. “I think he stacks up very favorably with all those guys. He’s in that high-end class because he’s got the size, he’s got that confident way that he plays and he’s very efficient. He’s not flopping all over the place. The puck hits him. He just plays with an air of confidence, and I think the team is so together in terms of defending. Hartzell fits in perfectly with their team, he makes that good first save and they do a good job of keeping rebounds away. I was really impressed with Hartzell, and I’m impressed with the team.”

I think that Hartzell has a much higher upside in the Hobey race than Carey because he has an opportunity to lead the Bobcats to the Frozen Four. If Quinnipiac is still playing when the final vote takes place, I think that it’s very easy to see Hartzell in the Hobey Hat Trick. Beyond that, I’m not sure, given that the Hobey doesn’t go to goalies very easily. It may depend to one degree or another what the people around him do.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.

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