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.

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.

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