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.

An extended Gaudreau scoring slowdown could open the door

If you think I’ve been spending too much time on unlikely Hobey Baker Award winners in this season’s Hobey Watch, then this post is for you because it’s all about Johnny Gaudreau.

Of course, it’s not lost on me that this post comes at a time when Gaudreau has been absent from the score sheet and Boston College is in an extremely tight race for the Hockey East regular season title. However, Gaudreau has been the dominant figure in the Hobey conversation since the season began, owing to his 12 points in eight postseason games last year, not to mention his 12-game point streak to start the season this year. A catchy nickname like “Johnny Hockey” doesn’t hurt, either.

For a number of weeks now, I’ve been sitting on the thought that if Gaudreau doesn’t win the Hobey Baker Award, it will confirm the bias I’ve suspected for some time against Boston College forwards when it comes to the Hobey Baker voting. As you probably know, the only Boston College player to win the Hobey under Jerry York is Mike Mottau, a defenseman, despite a steady stream of forwards who have posted gaudy numbers and earned Hobey finalist honors (including Hobey Hat Trick berths for Chris Collins, Nathan Gerbe and Cam Atkinson).

I’ve been wondering for some time if the numbers of BC forwards get discounted because they play in a system that produces so many high scorers (often with a similar small body frame), but the reality is that for every BC forward who didn’t win the Hobey, it had more to do with who else was in the picture that year (see below for details; I had originally planned to put the year-by-year breakdown in the middle, but that would make for a very long read.)

This year, despite some excellent seasons being posted by the likes of Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters, St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey and North Dakota’s Corban Knight and Danny Kristo, there really hasn’t been anyone else whom I could see winning the Hobey over Gaudreau. This year’s crop of Hobey candidates just doesn’t have a Ryan Miller or a Matt Carle who posted unheard-of numbers at his position, or a Peter Sejna or Jason Krog on track for 80 points. Until recently, my thinking was that this would finally be the year for the small BC forward, or that there would never be a year for the small BC forward.

Now, I’m not so sure. Gaudreau entered the weekend without a point in three of his last four games and six of his last nine. He was fifth in the nation in points per game, and while he has enjoyed more team success than players like Carey and Walters, Kristo and Knight pose an interesting challenge, particularly with North Dakota making a run in the WCHA and the PairWise Rankings. The fact that BC is in a dogfight — or is that a cat/bird/human fight? — with Massachusetts-Lowell, New Hampshire and Providence atop the Hockey East standings adds another wrinkle.

Here’s how I see it right now: If Gaudreau starts scoring more regularly and BC claims a Hockey East trophy (regular season or tournament), he should be able to win the Hobey. If not, the door is open for Kristo or Knight, or perhaps a dark-horse candidate like Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell, who is almost assuredly a finalist (and possibly a Hat Trick member) for his role in putting the Bobcats atop ECAC Hockey and the PairWise.

How will it all shake out? We’ll see.

As promised earlier, here’s a look at former Boston College forwards and their Hobey candidacies:

Brian Gionta, 1999

The numbers: 39 GP, 27 goals, 33 assists, 60 points (8th in Division I)

Who won: Jason Krog, senior forward, New Hampshire, 41 GP, 34 goals, 51 assists, 85 points

This one’s something of an open-and-shut case. Say what you will about the different directions that Gionta’s and Krog’s careers took when they hit the pros, but the Hobey really isn’t about that. Between Krog being a senior, his team going to the Frozen Four that year, and, oh yeah, 85 points, I think it’s pretty clear why this one went the way it did.

Brian Gionta and Jeff Farkas, 2000

The numbers: 42 GP, 33 goals, 23 assists, 56 points (Gionta, 9th in Division I); 41 GP, 32 goals, 26 assists, 58 points (Farkas, 7th)

Who won: Mike Mottau, senior defenseman, Boston College, 42 GP, 6 goals, 37 assists

It’s worth pointing out here that neither Gionta nor Farkas was the national scoring leader in 1999-2000. That would be Steve Reinprecht from Wisconsin, who was the runner-up to Mottau. This is also one of those cases where having two players whose contributions are largely indistinguishable from one another really hurts. Mottau, on the other hand, was the top-scoring defenseman playing in a major conference that year and he was a senior, so that undoubtedly helped steer the votes to him.

Brian Gionta, 2001

The numbers: 43 GP, 33 goals, 21 assists, 54 points (14th in Division I)

Who won: Ryan Miller, sophomore goaltender, Michigan State, 40 GP, 31-5-4, 1.32 GAA, .950 save percentage

This is probably the best example of it all depending on who else is out there. Ryan Miller put together the season that is — fairly or not — the standard against which all goaltenders since have been judged. In 2007, when I was still with CSTV, I caught a fair bit of flak for arguing that David Brown wouldn’t win the Hobey because his numbers weren’t on the level of Miller’s. In retrospect, Brown may have been the most deserving candidate that year, and I would argue that his failure to capture the Hobey may be the best evidence of Miller’s standard being applied to the goaltenders who have been considered for the Hobey since. In any event, Miller’s NCAA-record .950 save percentage made him a fairly obvious winner.

Ben Eaves, 2003

The numbers: 36 GP, 18 goals, 39 assists, 57 points (10th in Division I)

Who won: Peter Sejna, junior forward, Colorado College, 42 GP, 36 goals, 46 assists, 82 points

Eaves is included in this list because he was a finalist, but there’s really nothing to see here. On the subject of no Hobey candidate existing in a vacuum, I’d call your attention to one David LeNeveu, whose goals against average of 1.20 was actually lower than Miller posted two years prior en route to the Hobey, and who also had a .940 save percentage to boot. Maybe, if there hadn’t been a Peter Sejna with an 82-point season that year, we wouldn’t be talking about all goalies being held to the Ryan Miller standard when it comes to the Hobey.

Tony Voce, 2004

The numbers: 42 GP, 29 goals, 18 assists, 47 points (12th in Division I)

Who won: Junior Lessard, senior forward, Minnesota-Duluth, 45 GP, 32 goals, 31 assists

Open and shut. Voce was never really in the picture, although Lessard was the only player with more goals that year. Still, Lessard was just about equally prolific passing the puck, so there’s not much of a question here.

Patrick Eaves, 2005

The numbers: 36 GP, 19 goals, 29 assists, 48 points (11th in Division I)

Who won: Marty Sertich, junior forward, Colorado College, 43 GP, 27 goals, 37 assists, 64 points

This one only seems funny in retrospect because of the different pro futures the two players found, but there really wasn’t much to this one.

Chris Collins, 2006

The numbers: 42 GP, 34 goals, 29 assists, 63 points (T-1st in Division I; includes hat trick in NCAA semifinal vs. North Dakota)

Who won: Matt Carle, junior defenseman, Denver, 39 GP, 11 goals, 42 assists

I remember this one well. The CSTV Hobey Watch panel incorrectly predicted a Hobey Hat Trick of Carle, Brian Elliott and Ryan Potulny (who tied with Collins for the nation’s highest point total, with a points-per-game edge of 0.04), as I was one of the only people to put Collins on my final ballot. In analyzing where the panel went wrong, I pointed out that since there’s been a Hobey Hat Trick, at least one of the eastern conferences has always been represented among the top three players, but looking back at this season, there’s little doubt that Collins earned his spot on far more than “East Coast Bias.” That having been said, he was definitely “the other guy” in this trio. In Carle, you had a defenseman with two NCAA championship rings and otherworldly numbers, while Elliott was the most important player on a Wisconsin team that won that season’s NCAA title. Could he have won in another year? Maybe, but this year probably had one of the best competitions for the Hobey in recent memory.

Nathan Gerbe, 2008

The numbers: 43 GP, 35 goals, 33 assists, 68 points (1st in Division I; includes five goals and three assists at Frozen Four)

Who won: Kevin Porter, senior forward, Michigan, 43 GP, 33 goals, 30 assists, 63 points (includes one assist at Frozen Four)

This is always a fun one to get into, particularly where the character considerations come into play. Gerbe, you’ll recall, had been suspended for one game early in the season for a spearing incident against Merrimack, which was accompanied by a comment from Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna about how this hadn’t been the first complaint he’d had about “inappropriate behavior” from Gerbe. As Gerbe started to really tear it up — he had 10 goals and nine assists in the last five games of 2007 — there were questions of how the suspension and comment would affect his Hobey candidacy (and a great hue and cry from certain corners of the college hockey landscape that Gerbe would even be considered for the award). As the season went on, Bertagna made comments that seemed to render the suspension a dead issue, but there was also the matter of Kevin Porter.

It should be noted that at the time of the final Hobey voting, Porter was the nation’s leading scorer (Gerbe wound up on top after he exploded for eight points in Denver), and he was one of two seniors on a Michigan team that won the CCHA regular season and tournament titles before entering the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed and advancing to the Frozen Four. The combination of scoring supremacy (at the time), leadership and seniority was enough to put Porter over the top, with or without any “character” concerns about Gerbe.

Cam Atkinson, 2011

The numbers: 39 GP, 31 goals, 21 assists, 52 points (10th in Division I)

Who won: Andy Miele, senior forward, Miami, 39 GP, 24 goals, 47 assists, 71 points

Atkinson made it to the Hobey Hat Trick, but like Collins before him he was the “other guy” in a trio that included Miele and North Dakota’s Matt Frattin. In the end, Miele averaged 1.82 PPG, posting more points than anyone since Sejna.

Why the nomination is the award for some candidates

I’ll be the first one to admit that the Hobey Watch is not necessarily always about a player who could win the Hobey Baker Award.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

I know I make the Academy Award comparison often on this blog, but with the Oscars just a couple of days away it’s hard to avoid, and given the response I got with last week’s post on St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey, I think it’s appropriate to revisit.

On Sunday night, only one film will be named Best Picture (my pick is “Argo,” but I could wind up being completely wrong about that). However, eight other films will forever be referred to as Best Picture nominees, and while it’s not as good as the big prize, it’s a prestigious distinction (perhaps not so prestigious as when there were only five nominees, but that’s a whole other argument, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar summed it up pretty nicely on Esquire.com, if you want to go check that out).

Taking it a step further, there’s a 9-year-old girl, Quvenzhane Wallis, who’s been nominated for Best Actress for her performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” She’s not going to win. Another nominee, Emmanuelle Riva, became the oldest nominee in the history of the award when she got the nod for “Amour.” She’s not going to win, either. In both cases, being nominated is their “win,” and if that phrase sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s used liberally around this time every year or possibly because I borrow it regularly to apply to possible Hobey finalists who have no real chance at capturing the award.

My usual examples of this are former Air Force forwards Jacques Lamoureux and Eric Ehn, but you can apply the phrase to any finalist from Atlantic Hockey (Reid Cashman, Simon Lambert, etc.), not to mention a Hobey candidate from a struggling program that has minimal chance at the NCAA tournament. I’m sure that if you asked, say, Michigan Tech alum Colin Murphy (2005), St. Lawrence’s T.J. Trevelyan (2006) or Colgate’s David McIntyre (2008), they’d tell you they were honored to be named Hobey finalists.

From a selfish perspective, my success at picking the finalists and the Hobey Hat Trick has been my measuring stick for as long as I’ve been following the Hobey Baker Award. Once you get to the Hat Trick, picking the winner is fairly easy more often than not (2005, 2007 and 2011 are notable exceptions). Picking a group of 10 finalists is much more challenging (I’ve never gotten all 10 right; nine is my career best), and picking the Hat Trick isn’t much easier (In 2010, I only got one of the three right).

How I do at picking finalists is how I measure myself against writers from other sites, which is probably a big part of why my “Hobey Watch” expands further than the winner of the actual award.

Honestly, if I were concerned only with the player that would win the Hobey Baker Award, I would have spent an awful lot of time writing about Johnny Gaudreau over the past month and a half. One of the national scoring leaders (when he hasn’t been on top of the board outright), playing for a team that’s headed for a high regional seed in the NCAA tournament, with an NCAA title already on his résumé, not to mention that World Juniors performance that we’ve discussed previously. Until his recent disappearance from the score sheet, there wasn’t much reason to doubt that the Boston College star will win the award because there was no real negative holding him down. That’s not to say that there aren’t other worthy candidates, but it’s seemed that there’s always some spot where Gaudreau has the edge.

Ryan Walters is having an outstanding season for UNO but if the Mavericks don’t make the NCAA tournament, it’s going to be really hard to see him winning the Hobey. Fan vote leader Corban Knight has been outstanding for North Dakota but even though he’s the program’s designated Hobey candidate, it’s Danny Kristo scoring the goals (and we know that “Hobey likes goals”).

Kristo … well, I’d like to know why the North Dakota coaching staff put up Knight instead, but the fact remains that Gaudreau is having the better season individually and BC is in a stronger position from a team perspective. Carey is the nation’s leading scorer and goal-scorer as of this writing but some might knock him for getting too many of his goals on the power play (10 of his 23), and, like Walters, he plays for a team that wouldn’t be in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. Saints teammate Kyle Flanagan has the same problem, minus the goal-scoring. Brett Gensler has had outstanding numbers, but the strength of his competition isn’t the same playing in Atlantic Hockey.

For most of this season’s Hobey Watch, Gaudreau has had the statistical leg up on the competition, plus some other factor working in his favor. At the moment, however, that leg isn’t quite as high as it had been to this point, and it will be interesting to see how the race evolves from here.

And if, along the way, we talk about a few potential finalists who aren’t likely to go any further than the top 10, is that really such a bad thing?

On St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey and another single-player ticket

Well, that’s always fun.

As expected, there was no shortage of discussion after last week’s Hobey Watch Blog entry, in which we got into the ever-controversial character component of the award. We all have our opinions and we all had an opportunity to voice them over the past couple of weeks. However, it’s time to table the character discussion for the time being and get into other aspects of the award. As we move on, I find myself looking back at just how we got onto character in the first place.

My initial comments on how the character issue would apply to North Dakota forward Corban Knight came at the end of a lengthy analysis of the UND coaching staff’s decision to nominate only Knight for the award rather than nominate both Knight and Danny Kristo. At the time, I thought it was a smart move on UND’s part, as one candidate has a much better chance of standing up against Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau than two (and yes, Gaudreau is still the leading candidate). Lately, though, I’m not so sure.

Part of it, of course, is that Kristo has the better points-per-game average (by a mere hundredth of a point, but still), and the North Dakota team lead in goals (and remember, kids, “Hobey Loves Goals”). The other part of it, however, lies on the other side of the college hockey landscape, in the North Country of upstate New York, where St. Lawrence junior Greg Carey is the Kristo to teammate Kyle Flanagan’s Knight.

As of this writing, the second-best points-per-game average in college hockey (1.50) and the best goal total (20) both belong to Carey, putting him firmly in the discussion for a spot among the top 10 Hobey finalists and maybe even a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick (SLU’s status as a middle-of-the-pack team in ECAC Hockey works against him as a serious candidate for the award itself). However, if you want to throw your support behind Carey in the online fan balloting, you’re out of luck because Flanagan is the Saints’ lone nominee.

I reached out to a friend in the region familiar with the program who immediately pointed out why Flanagan was the more attractive candidate from SLU’s perspective: He’s a senior and a Canton native, the nephew of former Saints women’s coach Paul Flanagan (now at Syracuse), and at the time of the nomination he was the more prolific scorer. All laudable qualities to be sure and to be fair, he’s the nation’s No. 3 scorer at 1.41 points per game (13-25–38 in 27 games). That said, Carey deserves to be in the conversation, not necessarily for the Hobey itself but to be a finalist or Hat Trick honoree. With the Oscars coming up next weekend, it’s worth remembering that sometimes “the nomination is the win,” and Carey should be in the running for that kind of win.

And he may yet be. I checked in this week with North Dakota sports information director Jayson Hajdu, who reminded me that 2007 Hobey winner Ryan Duncan wasn’t one of North Dakota’s nominees when fan balloting started that season (cue the renewed hand-wringing over that year’s voting). That’s worth remembering as we consider the likes of Carey and Kristo.

In the end, it may be that the use of school nominees and the absence of a write-in vote simply may serve to eliminate situations like the great Danny King campaign of 2006 (which I have to admit was great fun, especially after having met and interviewed the Denver third-string goalie after his lone NCAA appearance the following season). If that’s the case, then a word or two from North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol or Saints coach Greg Carvel will be all it takes to get Kristo or Carey back into the conversation.

Of course, we won’t know about that until March.

Character matters — as it should — but there’s a line to be drawn

I got a LinkedIn notification earlier this week that this month marks five years since I started writing the Hobey Watch Blog for USCHO. Of course, I’ve been part of the Hobey Watch a bit longer than that, starting in 2005 at CSTV, but it still gets me thinking.

Over the past eight years, I’ve gotten to know quite a bit about the Hobey Baker Award through writing about it, and the more I think about it, the more sure I am that the character criteria of the award is both my favorite and least favorite aspect of the award.

Yes, I said “criteria,” the plural, because while we tend to think of the first criterion (“Candidates must exhibit strength of character both on and off the ice”) when we talk about character, you can also read it into the second: Candidates must contribute to the integrity of the team and display outstanding skills in all phases of the game.)

In one sense, I love that these traits are considered as part of the Hobey Baker voting. In a world where phrases like “he only lied about sex,” “it was rape, but it wasn’t rape rape” and “the cream and the clear” are part of our vernacular, I think the world NEEDS more reminders to pay attention to character and integrity. The fact that it’s a major component of a prestigious athletic award like the Hobey Baker is a wonderful thing for the sport (as is, by the way, the fact that the Hockey Humanitarian Award winner is recognized at the same ceremony).

However, as someone who writes analysis of the Hobey voting once a week, it can really get to be a pain in the rear because it puts me in a position of trying to evaluate the character of kids I don’t really know based on news articles, which invariably leads to howls of outrage from fans who think I was either too harsh or too lenient.

It’s a good reason to consider the suggestion of Bob Norton, who once engaged me in a lengthy Hobey debate on an episode of “Hockey on Campus” in 2007 after T.J. Hensick had been left out of the Hobey Hat Trick for that year. Bob suggested that a real character assassination had taken place on Hensick, and that in the future, character considerations should be used only to bolster one player’s Hobey candidacy rather than tear down another one.

Now, I wasn’t part of the conference call before that year’s Hobey voting — in fact, I’ve never been asked to be on the committee — so I can’t tell you what was or wasn’t said about Hensick. I’m pretty sure I haven’t met Hensick more than once, and for all I know, he may be a great guy of strong character. However, I’ve been pretty consistent about the incident that some feel cost Hensick the 2007 award.

Getting thrown in the penalty box for arguing with a referee doesn’t make you a bad person and it certainly doesn’t make you seriously deficient in character. It makes you a hothead (and when was the last time yelling got a referee to change a call, anyway?). However, given that Hensick’s hotheadedness in that moment deprived Michigan of his services at a critical juncture in an NCAA tournament game, I have very little sympathy for him in the Hobey department.

But I digress. Sort of.

It certainly would have been much simpler two years ago if we could have just compared Matt Frattin and Andy Miele based on their on-ice accomplishments rather than get into a detailed analysis of Frattin’s fall and resurgence at North Dakota and whether his character was more or less Hobey-worthy than Miele’s. (I still would have picked Miele, by the way, but that’s my opinion.) There would have been much less anger, to be sure. That having been said, I stand by my original comment: It’s a credit to college hockey that we do include character among the stated criteria for our most prestigious individual award.

Which leads me back to Corban Knight. Knight, as we discussed last week, is North Dakota’s designated candidate for the Hobey and the leader in the online fan voting by a wide margin (the better part of 9,000 votes, at last count). He’s also one of five North Dakota players charged with “unlawful delivery to certain persons,” stemming from a preseason team party that also got him suspended for the first game of the season (along with three of his teammates).

Last week, I suggested that North Dakota fans shouldn’t worry about the party as it relates to Knight’s Hobey candidacy (I also pointed out that he has a lot of work to do to catch up to Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau, who remains the front-runner for the award). This led to several questions about hypocrisy or lack of consistency on my part. And it’s tricky, I’ll admit. So I’m going to state my opinions on this character issue one more time, and then leave it (and Knight) alone until the top 10 finalists are announced, at which point we’ll see if it’s relevant to the Hobey race.

Let’s start with a question: What if, instead of the team party incident, Knight had gotten a speeding ticket? Would that make him unworthy of the Hobey? Of course not. I may think we need to be more mindful of character and integrity in this world but I don’t want to get into every single thing that someone has done that was against the law. Lots of people get speeding tickets and that doesn’t make them deficient in character.

When we were discussing Nathan Gerbe and his pattern of “inappropriate behavior” that got him suspended for a game by Hockey East in 2007, it involved a spearing penalty against Merrimack and allowing his ultra-competitive nature to push him to take things too far on the ice. That carried over into behavior that is not standard for college hockey players, hence the suspension, and hence it being the cause of some outrage in corners of the college hockey universe when Gerbe made a run at the Hobey that spring.

When we discussed Frattin two years ago, his charges included driving under the influence (for which he was acquitted) and throwing a lawnmower out into the street. Again, hardly standard behavior for college hockey players and, again, something that we discussed when he was a candidate for an award that considers character.

News flash: College kids drink.

College kids who play varsity sports drink. College kids who don’t play varsity sports drink. College kids drink when they’re over 21, and college kids drink when they’re under 21. Certainly, not all college kids drink but I think we can all agree that more do than don’t. And then, college kids grow up to be lawyers, doctors, teachers, business executives … and media members and college hockey coaches who vote on the Hobey Baker Award.

Is it right? Insofar as it’s against the law, certainly not. But then, so is speeding and we’re not going to deny anyone the Hobey over a speeding ticket.

Is providing beer to your underage teammates at a party more serious than a speeding ticket? Yes. Is it as serious (and as far from the norm) as driving drunk or throwing a lawnmower in the street? Of course not. Is it as far from the norm as dirty play that gets your conference commissioner to comment on it publicly when suspending you? I don’t think so.

Now, there is also the matter of the charges that Knight and his teammates face, and I think that makes things seem more serious. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Phil Kessel had been the player he was expected to be at the college level. Would those local news shots of Kessel drinking underage at the Blarney Pub and Grill have been used to deny him the Hobey? Somehow, I doubt it but the involvement of the police and the courts in the Knight situation does give me a bit of pause.

At the end of the day, my feeling is that when Knight’s character is up for discussion, the voters won’t consider the matter all that seriously and will let what happens on the ice decide the award.

And by that standard, Knight is still on the outside looking in.

We’ll see if that changes.

North Dakota’s Corban Knight, and the benefits of a one-player ticket

I have a bit of a confession to make.

At the end of last week’s Hobey Watch, my closing lines were intended as a bit of a dig at a certain segment of the college hockey universe.

The joke, in case you forgot …

My favorite thing about conference realignment?

No more whining about how Miami doesn’t play anyone.

Yes, I will admit that my comments were directed at fans of Miami’s future NCHC rivals from North Dakota. I’ve certainly drawn my share of ire from the UND crowd over the years, particularly during Matt Frattin’s run at the Hobey Baker AWard two years ago*, and while I genuinely do try to “put on my big boy pants” and not actively try to tweak them — the fans I’ve dealt with personally are good folks, as are all the players, coaches and sports info officials I’ve worked with — there are times when I just can’t help myself. So naturally, I’ve poked my head into a certain well-known North Dakota fan forum to see if my comment had raised any ire.

It didn’t. I guess I’m not that important to you guys …

* — In all seriousness, I’m very glad to see Frattin doing as well as he is with the Maple Leafs this season, and I think he’s a wonderful example of someone who messed up, changed the direction of his life and is a stronger person for it today. Let no one tell you different.

Anyway, while I was browsing around the forum, I noticed an interesting discussion of why Corban Knight is North Dakota’s lone representative on the “Vote For Hobey” section of the HobeyBakerAward.com website, even as teammate Danny Kristo is having a standout season in his own right.

As UND sports information director Jayson Hajdu noted via Twitter, the nominations for the Hobey are done at the school level, with each school having the opportunity to submit up to three candidates. Knight was the choice of the UND coaching staff, according to Hajdu, who also noted that it can sometimes be counterproductive to nominate multiple players because it can split the vote.

In the context of the online fan vote, UND’s choice to put all of its eggs in the Corban Knight basket has certainly worked, as Knight has a sizable lead over Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau (nearly 6,000 votes as of Thursday evening). Of course, as we know, the online fan vote is a minuscule part of the selection process, so it’s worth diving a bit deeper into the decision.

When I think about teammates in the Hobey race, my first thought goes to Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling of Colorado College, who were both part of the Hobey Hat Trick in 2005. Given that Sertich won the award, I think it’s fair to say that having Sterling in the race didn’t hurt him any. Ditto for Matt Gilroy, who won the award in 2009 at Boston University and was joined in the Hobey Hat Trick by teammate Colin Wilson. For good measure, I’ll also add that Blake Geoffrion had a Wisconsin teammate join him in the top 10 the following year, that being defenseman Brendan Smith (who had been my pick to win the award for most of the year, which shows just how wrong I can have it sometimes). So, I wouldn’t assume that having Kristo in the race would have hurt Knight.

That having been said, in 2009, the signals coming out of BU were quite clear when it came to who the preferred Hobey candidate was. The narrative about Gilroy, including his decision to return for his senior year in the face of more than 20 NHL contract offers and Jack Parker’s statement that Gilroy’s return would have been worth it for his leadership qualities were ringing endorsements (entirely deserved, it should be added). As outstanding as Wilson was, nothing he did was going to help him overtake Gilroy (and given the fact that they won the most important prize together, I doubt that Wilson particularly minds).

All of these things having been said, I think that this year is a different animal than 2005 or 2009. Looking back now, I don’t think there was a player other than the Colorado College duo who could have been viewed as a real threat. There were four goaltenders among the Hobey finalists that year (including Hobey Hat Trick member David McKee of Cornell), and we know that goalies have a tough time getting the Hobey. The other skaters that year were Pat Eaves of Boston College, Reid Cashman of Quinnipiac, T.J. Hensick of Michigan (then a sophomore) and Colin Murphy of Michigan Tech. With the exception of Eaves, there was no player in that group that I would have been worried — from a CC perspective — of splitting the vote against, based on what we know about how the Hobey race generally works.

In 2009, the third member of the Hobey Hat Trick was Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen, one of three goaltenders in the mix along with Alaska’s Chad Johnson and Princeton’s Zane Kalemba. The other skaters were Vermont’s Viktor Stalberg, Air Force’s Jacques Lamoureux, Michigan’s Louie Caporusso, Wisconsin’s Jamie McBain and Colgate’s David McIntyre. Stalberg certainly had an excellent year, and I really liked Lamoureux as a potential Hobey Hat Trick finalist along the lines of Eric Ehn, but again, I wouldn’t have worried about splitting the vote in that field. Besides, Wilson had such an outstanding year that season, and probably had the more traditional profile for a Hobey candidate, that it would have been very unfair to him not to put him out there as a candidate.

2013 is a very different year, if only because we know exactly who else is out there. His name is Johnny Gaudreau, and he’s been in the Hobey conversation since the puck dropped in October. With Gaudreau still leading the nation in points per game and BC being one of the top teams in the nation again, I think it’s fair to say that if I were a North Dakota coach or sports information official, I would like my chances better with one Hobey candidate instead of two.

So where does he stack up? Well, at the moment, the numbers game favors Gaudreau, in terms of points per game, goals and plus-minus, and the team success factor favors Gaudreau as well. That having been said, that’s just how it stands now, and it’s certainly close enough so that Knight is very much in the conversation. If Dave Hakstol’s team puts together one of those big second-half runs the program is known for and Knight is central to it, then I could certainly see him as a viable Hobey candidate.

One final thought, in response to a concern I picked up on while lurking on that certain UND fan forum: I wouldn’t worry all that much about the one-game suspension that Knight received at the beginning of the year for a team party. Yes, there’s a character component to the Hobey and it may have affected Frattin two years ago, but there’s a difference between Knight’s suspension and the other “character” concerns that have popped up over the years.

Without piling on Frattin too much, because I really am happy for him and I wouldn’t hold what happened against him in any situation other than the Hobey voting, his past transgressions were significant enough that he lost his spot on the team at North Dakota. Along similar lines, the character discussion that came up when Nathan Gerbe had a run at the Hobey in 2008 — and to be clear: I think Kevin Porter had that award won based on his play and leadership that year — came up in the context of a pattern of “inappropriate behavior,” to quote Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. There’s no pattern here with Knight, and there’s nothing nearly as serious as the Frattin situation. My sense is that if it comes down to Knight and Gaudreau in the end — or Knight and Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters, or Knight and anybody else, for that matter — it’ll be decided by play on the ice.

We’ll just have to see if he gets there.

How will Hobey voters view Atlantic Hockey and Bentley’s Brett Gensler?

Whenever I describe the Frozen Four to someone outside the college hockey world, I tell them that it’s not just a sporting event but a family reunion. The time I spend with my fellow USCHO writers, along with other college hockey media members like DJ Powers from Hockey’s Future, John “Jocko” Connolly of the Boston Herald and Minnesota-Duluth radio announcer extraordinaire Bruce Ciskie (just to name a few) are just as much of a highlight for me as the action on the ice.

Taking the family metaphor a bit further, we in the college hockey family always like to see one of our own succeed, which is why it’s been very exciting to see Canisius alum Cory Conacher write the beginnings of an NHL success story in the first week of the pro season, with three goals and two assists in his first three games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Of course, it’s still early — even in the NHL’s lockout-shortened 48-game season — but seeing Conacher make it as a pro gets me thinking back to his career with the Golden Griffins. More specifically, it gets me thinking about how, despite being a prolific scorer for Canisius, Conacher was never honored as a Hobey Baker Award finalist.

In 2010, only one player in Division I averaged more points per game than Conacher’s 1.51 (Maine’s Gustav Nyquist, 1.56), but Conacher was left out when the 10 Hobey finalists were announced.

Of course, as we discussed last week, the Hobey can be a bit of a numbers game (although at the finalist stage, the coaches are voting, which can allow for intangibles to play a greater role), but Conacher is hardly the first high scorer out of Atlantic Hockey to be on the outside looking in at Hobey finalist time. Former Mercyhurst forward Dave Borrelli comes to mind, with a national-best 1.55 points per game as a senior in 2005-06 and no Hobey love to show for it. So does former Robert Morris forward Ryan Cruthers in 2007-08 (although in fairness, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Simon Lambert did get a finalist nod in 2008).

It’s always tricky to figure out how the Hobey vote will treat candidates out of Atlantic Hockey. The conference has gained a measure of respect in recent years through some outstanding performances by conference champions in the NCAA tournament (Holy Cross, RIT and Air Force being the most successful), and the conventional wisdom is that while the conference may not have the top-to-bottom depth of a major conference, the conference champion is a strong team that is not to be taken lightly. I think that’s pretty much right on the money, and while that’s great to keep in mind at tournament time, that top-to-bottom depth makes it tougher to evaluate Hobey candidates out of the conference.

I should note here that when I say “Hobey candidates,” I really mean “Hobey finalist candidates.” I was definitely in favor of Eric Ehn winning the Hobey in 2007 — he had a great season, and I thought it would have been a great testament to Hobey Baker’s legacy — but on the whole, it goes back to my past comparisons to the Oscars: Just as “the nomination is the win” for certain movies and actors at the Academy Awards, a finalist berth is a victory for a number of players, including most candidates out of Atlantic Hockey.

Of course, some top Atlantic Hockey players, including Conacher, haven’t gotten that finalist berth, and while every year is different and no Hobey candidate exists in a vacuum, I can’t help but think that issue of top-to-bottom conference depth creates some confusion as to how legitimate some candidates’ numbers can be, and whether they’re the product of competing against lesser competition. In retrospect, I think it’s safe to say that Conacher was as legit as they come when he lit up Atlantic Hockey in 2009-10.

But that’s the past, and this is really supposed to be about this year’s Hobey candidates, so why am I writing all this about Conacher now? Well, this is all a very roundabout way of coming around to Brett Gensler from Bentley. When this season’s Hobey Watch Blog started, it was Gensler, not Johnny Gaudreau, who had the highest points-per-game average in the country (although Gaudreau is now blowing away the field with 1.72 PPG), and at present, he’s third with 12 goals and 19 points in 21 games (1.48 PPG, a shade behind Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters’ 1.50).

He’s also been fairly consistent, having been held off the score sheet in only five games this year. Granted, two of those games were against Harvard and Dartmouth, but with a goal and an assist against Michigan, a goal against Massachusetts-Lowell and two assists against Northeastern, Gensler has been productive against the better teams on Bentley’s schedule.

Overall, I think we are getting to a point where people have the same understanding about the top players in Atlantic Hockey that they do about the top teams in Atlantic Hockey: The conference may not have the depth of the WCHA or the CCHA, but those top players are legit. The Hobey finalist nod awarded to Air Force’s Tim Kirby last year — a first for an Atlantic defenseman since Quinnipiac’s Reid Cashman in 2005 — certainly contributes to that assessment.

My instinct is that players whose teams aren’t at the top of the conference might suffer more in Atlantic Hockey than in other conferences when it comes to the Hobey voting (Canisius finished fifth in 2009-10), so Bentley might need a stronger team performance in order for Gensler to get a finalist berth. I’m not saying the Falcons need to overtake Niagara — the Purple Eagles have been nearly untouchable in their conference, after all — but given the current conference standings, with one game separating second and seventh place, a strong second half for Bentley will help Gensler’s Hobey bid immensely … not to mention the Falcons’ position for a postseason run and a shot at the Atlantic Hockey championship, which I’m sure is more important to Gensler anyway.

One final thought for this week: Thinking about how different conferences are evaluated with regard to the Hobey gets me thinking about what things will be like next year, when the conference realignment hits and we have two new conferences in the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the end of the CCHA and a vastly different WCHA. It will be interesting to see how the new-look WCHA is treated and how it will compare to, say, ECAC Hockey.

I’ll tell you this, though. My favorite thing about conference realignment?

No more whining about how Miami doesn’t play anyone.

History suggests Bjugstad needs to climb the scoring ladder for shot at Hobey

In the comments section of last week’s Hobey Watch, one USCHO reader seemed to take great offense at the fact that my blog entry contained no mention of Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad, as if I’d never heard of him.

For what it’s worth, this is the same Nick Bjugstad whom I (incorrectly) predicted as one of the top 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists last year, not to mention a highly touted Florida Panthers prospect who was mentioned prominently over the summer as a possible candidate to be part of a trade for Roberto Luongo, so yeah … I’ve heard of the guy.

Nonetheless, I took the liberty of looking in on Minnesota’s game against Alaska-Anchorage on the Big Ten Network this past weekend in the hopes of getting a better look at Bjugstad and giving some thought to his spot in this Hobey race.

Bjugstad certainly delivered the goods in the televised game, scoring twice in the Gophers’ 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Seawolves. Moreover, his goals both came in crucial situations: a go-ahead goal in the second period with the score tied at 1-1 and the tying goal in the third period when Minnesota trailed the Seawolves 3-2.

However, what I was most impressed by was the holding penalty that Bjugstad was able to draw on Alaska-Anchorage’s Austin Coldwell, setting up the power play that yielded the Gophers’ first goal.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t a bad penalty by Coldwell. He was the only one who was in a position to stop Bjugstad, who had a clear path, from getting to the net for an excellent chance on UAA goalie Rob Gunderson. Bjugstad had done an excellent job winning a puck battle in the corner and curling toward the net, forcing the penalty.

It was that moment more than any other in the game (from what I saw) that illustrated just how dominant a player Bjugstad is for the Gophers, and why the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has earned the moniker “The Beast,” from the BTN commentators if no one else. It makes me think of a song of the same name from the Fugees’ 1996 album The Score. Just to be clear, the song’s called “The Beast,” not “Nick Bjugstad,” which is understandable, since Bjugstad was 3½ when that album came out. Man, do I feel old!

(By the way, memo to the Minnesota Pep Band: That song’s hook — “Warn the town, the Beast is loose” — could be a nice quick tune to play between whistles, with the opportunity for some nice trumpet glissandos. OK, the music geekery portion of this blog post is over, back to hockey.)

In any case, there’s no denying that “The Beast” is a dominant force for the top-ranked Gophers, and it’s easy to understand why he was a first-round draft pick by the Panthers. The question, however, has little to do with his pro upside, and much more to do with his numbers.

In a Hobey Watch blog post last year, I pointed out that every forward to win the Hobey in the last decade has been one of the top 15 scorers in the nation, in terms of points per game. Actually, 13th is the lowest position on the scoring chart for a Hobey-winning forward in that time frame — Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion in 2010 — but I think top 15 seems like an accurate estimate of that particular criterion. Bjugstad, with 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 games, is tied for 34th in the country as of this writing. Unless this year’s Hobey committee evaluates candidates in a far different manner than previous committees have — or unless Bjugstad goes on a huge scoring run in the second half of the season — I do not see Nick Bjugstad winning the Hobey this year.

That’s not a knock on Bjugstad, not in the least. I think his play should get him a finalist spot at the very least, particularly since that’s the portion of the voting that is done by the nation’s coaches (the selection committee of coaches, media members, scouts and officials votes on the winner from the 10 finalists). However, based on the way Hobey voting seems to go, Bjugstad, as it stands today, does not have the mark of a Hobey winner.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just how the Hobey works. As the Gophers prepare to face North Dakota this weekend, it’s worth remembering that the last UND player to win the Hobey, Ryan Duncan, has proven to be the third-best player on his own line from that year. However, at the end of the day, Duncan had 31 goals that year as part of his 57 points, compared to 18 goals and 46 points for Jonathan Toews and 17 goals and 52 points for T.J. Oshie. (Also, if T.J. Hensick hadn’t gotten himself tossed from the Michigan-North Dakota game in the regionals, we might not even be talking about Duncan’s Hobey-worthiness, but that’s a whole other messy story.)

For years, the shorthand for the Hobey Baker Award has been that it’s the Heisman Trophy of college hockey. If that’s the case, then we have to keep in mind that the Heisman has had its fair share of players that don’t go on to pro stardom. They have their Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, but they also have their Danny Wuerffel, Troy Smith and Jason White. By the same token, we have our Ryan Miller, Chris Drury and Paul Kariya, but we also have the guys who didn’t really make it in the NHL. There’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s an award for college hockey players, not an award for pro prospects.

So, that brings us back to Bjugstad. He may wind up going on to have a better pro career than whoever wins this year’s Hobey (although if it is John Gaudreau, I think that he certainly has the Calgary Flames salivating). But based on the numbers, I don’t see Bjugstad as a true Hobey contender at this point in time.

Of course, I could be wrong, and I’m sure that I’ll hear about it if I am.

Fair or not, Gaudreau’s World Juniors performance may help in Hobey race

Yes, folks, it’s back. It’s finally back.

The Hobey Watch Blog is back for the run up to the presentation of the 2013 Hobey Baker Award.

Johnny Gaudreau (BC - 13) - The Boston College Eagles defeated the Providence College Friars 4-2 in their Hockey East semi-final on Friday, March 16, 2012, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

Johnny Gaudreau isn’t the first small Boston College forward to be in the running for the Hobey Baker Award but he could be the first to win in Jerry York’s coaching tenure (photo: Melissa Wade).

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

In all seriousness, with the Hobey Baker “nominees” being announced this week and voting now open at HobeyBakerAward.com, it’s a perfect time to gear up USCHO’s weekly look at the race for college hockey’s top individual honor. It’s certainly been an interesting first half, and the competition should only intensify as teams make the push toward conference championships and the NCAA tournament. Of course, it’s team success that they’re really pushing toward, but it’s times like these when top players tend to shine brightest.

Of course, one player in the Hobey race has shone particularly bright of late, albeit not on college ice. That would be John Gaudreau of Boston College, who took a star turn as the U.S. won gold at the World Junior Championship last weekend.

Ideally, we should point out, games at the World Juniors shouldn’t have any bearing on the Hobey race since it’s a college hockey award, and in reality, if Gaudreau were having a ho-hum season at the Heights nothing he did in Ufa would give any more weight to his Hobey candidacy.

However, with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 14 games this season, Gaudreau has certainly delivered the goods for the Eagles, and put himself in line to join the likes of Cam Atkinson, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Collins and Brian Gionta as Eagles forwards to advance to the Hobey Hat Trick (along with other BC forwards, like Ben and Patrick Eaves, who have been finalists).

This, naturally, is where those of you who are regular readers of the Hobey Watch will be expecting me to return to the question of whether the Hobey voters will ever recognize a small BC forward with the college game’s top individual honor, and I won’t disappoint. It is worth noting that ever since Jerry York returned to his alma mater as head coach, the one Eagles player to win the Hobey was Mike Mottau, a defenseman. As often as a small Eagles forward has been recognized among the top 10 (and even the top three), none has ever captured the big prize (although Gerbe, Atkinson, Gionta and Gaudreau can claim something more significant: an NCAA title).

In the past, I’ve compared it to a similar issue concerning goaltenders from Cornell, like David LeNeveu, David McKee and Ben Scrivens, who have put up outstanding numbers but not won the Hobey, and wondered if BC forwards and Cornell goalies are penalized for playing in a system that has allowed so many of their fellows to succeed.

I picked up some wisdom on that subject from none other than Joe Montana in the Dec. 24 issue of Sports Illustrated, in a “Guest Shot” on Dan Patrick’s “Just My Type” column. Montana told Patrick that he’d heard criticism that he was just a “system quarterback” with the San Francisco 49ers, because of the success that Steve Young had immediately after Montana left to finish his career with the Chiefs. Did the criticism bother Montana?

“No,” Montana told Patrick, “because I have those ‘system’ rings.”

In truth, I doubt you’d ever hear Gionta, Gerbe, Atkinson or any other “overlooked” BC forward grouse about not having won the Hobey, since they got something much more valuable to any player worth his salt. That having been said, this is a Hobey blog, and this question about whether the voters give small BC forwards their due will persist until a BC forward actually wins the thing.

That brings us back to Gaudreau and his recent exploits at the World Juniors. As we’ve established, they’re not college games, and in fairness, they shouldn’t count toward Gaudreau’s case for the Hobey. In reality, though, I’m not so sure.

Part of the reason that we as college hockey fans care so much about the World Juniors — beyond the fact that so many NCAA players represent to the U.S., of course — is that to some extent, the tournament represents a referendum of sorts on the competing development systems offered through college hockey and the CHL. When the Americans win, it’s seen as a victory for college hockey, even if a number of major junior players played major roles in the victory (Seth Jones, J.T. Miller and John Gibson come to mind).

So Gaudreau didn’t just contribute to a win for the U.S. in Russia but to a win for the American/NCAA development model (as many pointed out in the wake of Don Cherry’s post-semifinals Twitter rant, all five goals scored in the semifinal against Canada were scored by NCAA players).

More than that, though, Gaudreau stepped up big at a moment when the eyes of the hockey world were on him, and that never hurts one’s Hobey candidacy. As much as a Hobey voter may try to consciously discount Gaudreau’s WJC performance when voting in March, the impression that he made could be difficult to get rid of. It’s an opportunity that most of Gaudreau’s competitors for the award — North Dakota’s Corban Knight and Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters, for example — don’t have, and that may not be fair. But that’s how it is.

It’s a little like the Beanpot in that respect. Should whatever Gaudreau does next month at TD Garden count toward his Hobey candidacy any more than what Corban Knight may do in one game against Wisconsin two nights earlier? Probably not. However, the Beanpot offers a big stage with the entire college hockey world watching, and if Gaudreau should step up, then it’s hard to say that it won’t leave an impression.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of hockey yet to be played, and there are certainly a number of other players having noteworthy seasons, so it’s not like Gaudreau has anything locked up (someone may even point out that he’s not even the nation’s leading scorer right now). However, he’s certainly made a lot of noise lately, and it’s hard not to hear it, even if the sound was coming all the way from Russia.

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