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.

One more pick: Who will win the Hobey Baker?

For the first time since 2008, I’m not at the Frozen Four. While I certainly am not rooting for any of the teams in particular, I have to admit that I’m a bit worried about what might happen if Boston College wins it all. You see, if BC wins another Frozen Four that I don’t attend — they’re 1-for-3 when I’m there — then someone from BC just might try to have me banned. OK, I kid, I kid … let’s just say that I’m missing the college hockey “family reunion” and move onto the business of this blog post.

When we last checked in, I made a prediction for the Hobey Hat Trick that was logical, reasonable, but most importantly, WRONG. I picked Troy Grosenick to join Jack Connolly and Spencer Abbott in the top three, and instead, it will be Austin Smith, he of the 36 goals. I’d been a little lukewarm on Smith during the season because of team matters, and everyone who pointed out that I was getting too wrapped up in team performance proved to be absolutely right.

My thinking was fair — this is the first Hobey Hat Trick that doesn’t include a Frozen Four participant — but basing my pick on that trend is a little like those folks who come up with intricate strategies for filling out basketball brackets, only to be beaten by the person who picked the teams with the better mascots. Of course, the people who were picking Smith are much smarter than that, and in this instance, proved to be smarter than I was, but that was last week, so let’s move on to what will happen Friday night: the presentation of the Hobey Baker Award.

I’m going with Jack Connolly.

Is part of my pick based on team success? Yes. Minnesota-Duluth was a better team than Maine or Colgate in 2011-12, and I do think that NCAA title from last season was considered by the voters. Whether it should be or shouldn’t be is a fair question that’s worth debating, and we’ve done some of that this year. My feeling, without having ever been on a Hobey conference call myself, is that past seasons’ performances DO affect the voters’ thinking, and that’s part of it.

The scoring numbers favor Abbott — he has two more points in two more games — but I think that’s close enough that it will be a wash, especially if voters factored in the consistency factor that several fans called attention to in comments on this blog over the course of the season.

Here’s one more thing to think about, and this is a big factor in my call: The Hobey may not be a career award, but the impressions a player makes over the course of his career can’t be banished from the mind.

Maybe it’s right, maybe it isn’t, but the player who comes from relative obscurity to win the Hobey is the rarity rather than the rule. Guys like Andy Miele, Kevin Porter and Blake Geoffrion may not have necessarily been all-conference performers before their Hobey years, but they were prominent and productive in prior seasons, and got their names into voters’ minds. Matt Gilroy was a three-time All-American, and yes, Matt Carle was a top defenseman on two NCAA title teams. You can see where I’m going here, folks. Strictly speaking, being a Hobey finalist last year and winning an NCAA title last year SHOULDN’T be a factor in whether Jack Connolly wins the Hobey this year. However, Hobey voters — at least some of whom were on the panel last year — have thought of Connolly in terms of the Hobey longer, and I think that does have an effect.

Of course, you can see where that kind of analysis got me last week, but this time, I do believe that I’m right. I’m calling Connolly, and we’ll find out Friday if I’m right.

Getting in under the wire: Hobey Hat Trick prediction

Well, as I write this, I’ve got about four hours to get a prediction in for the Hobey Hat Trick, so I’d better get to it if I want the prediction to mean anything.

The way I see it, here’s where we stand after the regionals:

• Both Jack Connolly and Spencer Abbott did a credit to themselves in the first-round game between Minnesota-Duluth and Maine, and maintained their status as the top two candidates for the Hobey.

• The only Hobey finalists advancing to the Frozen Four are Troy Grosenick of Union and Brian Dumoulin of Boston College.

• None of the other Hobey finalists made a real run at the award over the course of the weekend. That’s not to say that they played badly, but they also didn’t improve their standing.

So, at this point, we’re left with two surefire members of the Hat Trick in Connolly and Abbott, and a third spot that will, in all likelihood go to one of three players: Grosenick, Justin Schultz of Wisconsin or Austin Smith of Colgate.

History tells us that since there’s been a Hobey Hat Trick — the custom started in 2002 — it’s always included at least one player competing in the Frozen Four.

2002: Jordan Leopold, Darren Haydar
2003: David LeNeveu
2004: Junior Lessard
2005: Marty Sertich, Brett Sterling
2006: Chris Collins, Brian Elliott
2007: Ryan Duncan
2008: Kevin Porter, Nathan Gerbe
2009: Matt Gilroy, Colin Wilson
2010: Blake Geoffrion
2011: Matt Frattin

In light of that knowledge, it’s very tempting to pencil Grosenick in as the third member of the Hat Trick. However, history might be a bit misleading. After all, the Hobey Hat Trick is comprised of the top three vote-getters in the final balloting. It’s not a final three from which the Hobey winner is then chosen. If Grosenick is in the top three, it will mean that he has one of the three highest point totals in the voting.

So, the question is, will Grosenick be one of those top three vote-getters?

There’s a great case to be made for Grosenick. He’s a kid playing without an athletic scholarship at a school where none are given, who earned the opportunity to start for the Dutchmen after last year’s star netminder, Keith Kinkaid, left early to sign with the New Jersey Devils. Now, he’s backstopped his team to every single championship available, and ranks second in the nation in both save percentage and goals against average.

On the other hand, we know that Hobey Likes Goals, and no one has scored more of them this season than Austin Smith. And we also know that Justin Schultz is the biggest name in terms of NHL prospects, and he also won the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year award for the second straight season. It’s very hard to say which direction it will go … but then, that’s what I do.

So, what do I think will happen?

I’m going to go out on a limb and stick with Grosenick.

Here’s my reasoning: We know Hobey Likes Goals, but the Hobey Hat Trick seems to keep finding a home for goalies who backstop their teams into uncharted territory, even if they wind up not winning the award (see also: Brown, David; Thiessen, Brad). Also, I would think that Grosenick’s statistical accomplishments in terms of being the top goaltender (statistically) in a “Big Four” conference put him on a par with Smith, with the ECAC regular season and tournament titles putting him over the top. As for Grosenick vs. Schultz, yes the Hobey is an individual award, but it’s also a college hockey award, so whatever potential Schultz might have to compete at the NHL level shouldn’t mean much.

My call is Spencer Abbott, Jack Connolly and Troy Grosenick.

In a few hours, we’ll find out if I’m right.

Abbott, Connolly and last impressions

So close.

As we sit here now, hours before the 2012 NCAA tournament begins, it’s frustrating to think that the stars aligned to give us such a great setup for a decisive battle in the race for the 2012 Hobey Baker Award, and chances are that we won’t get it.

I’m referring, of course, to the Northeast Regional semifinal game between Minnesota-Duluth and Maine. When I heard that pairing, I started to envision an old-school poster like you might see for a great championship boxing match, with the Bulldogs’ Jack Connolly on one side and Maine’s Spencer Abbott on the other.

Then, of course, I remembered that Abbott is doubtful for the game, as a result of the injury he sustained in the Black Bears’ win over Boston University in the Hockey East semifinal.

Darn it.

It really would have been the perfect way for the Hobey voters to evaluate Connolly and Abbott before the final vote takes place next week. It’s not that goals and assists in that one game would tell the story — or even a victory for the Black Bears or Bulldogs — but it would be a great way to observe, in the same game, what each player means to his team, and let that information inform the final decision.

Of course, we may yet see Abbott in that game. Maine coach Tim Whitehead said that his team is preparing as if Abbott won’t be available, but you never know until game time, especially not when you’re talking about a senior who’s worked his entire career to get into the NCAA tournament. If we don’t, however, his body of work during the season certainly stands up as Hobey-worthy. The question now is whether someone else — like Connolly — will wind up being more Hobey-worthy.

As your Hobey pundit, I really like the Northeast Regional, with each team boasting one of the 10 finalists. Not that Brian Dumoulin of Boston College or Tim Kirby strikes me as a potential Hobey winner at this point in the season, but whoever comes out of that regional semifinal is going to see an awful lot of one of the nation’s best defensemen on Sunday. In any event, we’ve got eight Hobey finalists in action this weekend — four in Worcester, three in Bridgeport, and one in Green Bay — and as the tournament nears, it’s time to see what the possibilities are for each in the Hobey Race. Since we’ve talked so much about Worcester, let’s jump to the regions starting on Friday. We’ll start with Bridgeport, where three of the four teams have a Hobey finalist on the roster.

Troy Grosenick, Union: There’s been almost no serious Hobey buzz surrounding Grosenick, and of course, Hobey isn’t a huge fan of goalies, so my feeling is that the Dutchmen netminder has gone about as far as he’s going to go in the Hobey race. That having been said, a pair of dominant performances to get Union to the Frozen Four would definitely get people talking, and could grab him a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick. Some jaw-dropping saves on Reilly Smith (should Miami get past Massachusetts-Lowell) would make nice highlights.

Reilly Smith, Miami: Here’s the good news for Smith: He has the most goals of any Hobey candidate who’s still playing, and as we all know, Hobey Likes Goals. If he adds a few more this weekend to help put the RedHawks in the Frozen Four, I could definitely see him grabbing a spot in the Hat Trick. My instinct says that’s as far as he goes, though.

Torey Krug, Michigan State: The Spartans are the last team into the tournament, and a surprising run to the Frozen Four might just get Krug into the Hobey Hat Trick. As a high-scoring defenseman and the captain of his team, Krug stands to make a big gain in the Hobey race if his team wins big in Bridgeport. Not a big enough gain to get him a Hobey, I don’t think, but big enough to put him in that top three.

Now, moving onto Green Bay …

Shawn Hunwick, Michigan: I think Hunwick has big-time Hat Trick potential. A couple of strong performances in net and a trip to the Frozen Four for the Wolverines, and Hunwick is very hard not to like. A Cinderella story of a kid bound for Division III who grows into the most important player on a Frozen Four team, all with one of the top five save percentages in the country? That’s hard to resist.

Finally, we make it back to Worcester, and we’ll start with the top seed in the region …

Brian Dumoulin, Boston College: I honestly don’t see Dumoulin getting into the Hobey Hat Trick at this point. That’s not an indictment of his game or his performance, just an observation on how the Hobey voting tends to go. The fact of the matter is that virtually all players who make it to the Hobey Hat Trick have some kind of eye-popping number to hang their hat on, with 2009 Hobey winner Matt Gilroy being the exception that proves the rule. Gilroy is no longer in Tampa, and I don’t think Dumoulin will be, either … as a member of the Hat Trick. Getting there as a participant in the Frozen Four, however, is an entirely different story.

Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth: The Bulldogs have their work cut out for them in Worcester, no two ways about it, but if they can come through and get back to the Frozen Four, the personal reward could be huge for Connolly. Of course, he’s undoubtedly more concerned with how to get past Maine and (most likely) Boston College, but chances are that he’ll have a good scouting report from his big brother (who will probably be all too eager to get advice on Minnesota and North Dakota).

Spencer Abbott, Maine: I am not suggesting in the slightest that Abbott should take an extraordinary risk with his health (i.e., above and beyond those normally associated with hockey due to his injury), but it’s hard not to imagine what kind of effect it would have if Abbott played this weekend, led the Black Bears to the Frozen Four and got himself a personal highlight or two along the way. It’d be very hard not to give him the Hobey if that happened.

Tim Kirby, Air Force: In all likelihood, Kirby’s finalist berth was his win. Anything else in terms of the Hobey race is probably gravy. That having been said, imagine if Air Force can do the unthinkable and knock off the Eagles, then beat the Bulldogs or Black Bears to get to the Frozen Four. Yeah, I don’t think it’ll happen, either, but the Falcons were within an overtime goal of making it happen when Kirby was a freshman. And if they make it to Tampa, what then? You have an outstanding defenseman on a surprise Frozen Four team who just happens to have one hell of an off-ice component to his candidacy. If the Falcons surprise us all this weekend, then prepare to be surprised again.

Now, if you’ve been reading, you’ll notice that I have five different players in the running for a third spot in the Hobey Hat Trick alongside my top two of Spencer Abbott and Jack Connolly. In other words, I see the field as wide open. How wide open? Well …

I feel very, very confident that both Spencer Abbott and Jack Connolly will be in the Hobey Hat Trick, and that one of them will win the award. My gut feeling on Colgate’s Austin Smith is that his lost weekend in Atlantic City cost him a shot at the Hobey, and quite possibly the Hobey Hat Trick. Those goals help a lot, but I feel like Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz could have just as strong a case at this point. Yeah, his team’s not playing, but neither is Smith’s, and he’s a two-time defensive player of the year in what is a much stronger conference from top to bottom than ECAC Hockey who also happens to be the top scoring defenseman in the country.

So, you have these two qualified candidates sitting on the sidelines, AND you have five different candidates who, if the tournament action breaks the right way, could also contend for that third Hat Trick spot: Grosenick, Reilly Smith, Krug, Hunwick and Kirby. At least two of the five will be eliminated (whichever ones don’t win in Bridgeport) and Kirby’s candidacy is a long shot. If Michigan crashes and burns, so does Hunwick. So, come next week, when the Hobey voters discuss their final decision, there will be at least three possibilities (Austin Smith, Justin Schultz and the Bridgeport survivor) and possibly two more (Hunwick, Kirby). How that vote goes will depend on what happens this weekend.

How do you think it’ll all play out? Leave your thoughts below.

Eight is enough for my Hobey picks

Well, the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award have been announced, and I did reasonably well.

For the record, your finalists are:

Spencer Abbott, F, Maine
Jack Connolly, F, Minnesota Duluth
Brian Dumoulin, D, Boston College
Troy Grosenick, G, Union
Shawn Hunwick, G, Michigan
Tim Kirby, D, Air Force
Torey Krug, D, Michigan State
Justin Schultz, D, Wisconsin
Austin Smith, F, Colgate
Reilly Smith, F, Miami

In my previous blog post, I predicted a slightly different group, with Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad and Denver forward Drew Shore in the top 10 instead of Kirby and Krug. There are two things we can learn from this:

1. Contrary to popular belief (among WCHA fans), I actually overestimated the number of WCHA players that would be in the top 10.

2. I had eight out of 10 players correct, which beats my 7-of-10 performance from last year, but doesn’t quite measure up to my all-time best of 9-of-10 (2007 and 2010). It also tops the only other media prediction I saw, which had Minnesota-Duluth center Travis Oleksuk joining Connolly in the top 10 instead of Dumoulin and wound up with seven out of 10 correct.

I won’t belabor the point, because we’ve all got hockey to watch, and games do take precedence at this point in the year. What I will do is give a quick take on where I went wrong.

One thing that’s clearly obvious is that this was one hell of a year for defensemen, with four blueliners in the top 10. I did not see that coming at all, but maybe with the lukewarm feelings I had about my wrong picks (Bjugstad and Shore), I should have looked at more defensemen.

I remember a commenter asking where Torey Krug was on my list, and that fan gets kudos for making that pick. The fact that Krug led the CCHA in conference scoring as a defenseman has to be admired, and given the way that the Spartans have rebounded in their first year under Tom Anastos, an MSU player deserves a top 10 spot.

As for Kirby, he’s Air Force’s No. 3 scorer with 27 points, and only two defensemen — Schultz and BU’s Garrett Noonan — have more goals than Kirby’s 12. However, what I’ve observed in past years is that Atlantic Hockey gets a Hobey finalist only when there’s a runaway for the conference’s player of the year award. This year, Bentley’s Brett Gensler has gotten a lot of buzz, with Connecticut’s Cole Schneider generating interest as well, so I didn’t see an Atlantic representative as a given. Of course, Gensler and Schneider are done for the year, while Air Force is the favorite in this weekend’s Atlantic Hockey championship, so that might be a factor as well.

One other thing to consider: When I looked at the Vote For Hobey totals early in the Hobey Watch, Kirby was one of the players getting significant fan support, albeit not at the levels of Connolly and Abbott, who each wound up with more than 24,000 votes. I remember that still being the case when I looked at the final Vote For Hobey totals earlier in the week, but I can’t give you the exact total because that part of the Hobey Baker site is not accessible right now while they reload for Part II of the voting.

Looking now, I can’t help but be curious about how much of a role the Vote for Hobey program played in Kirby making the top 10.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying whether fan voting did or didn’t make a difference. I don’t know exactly how the fan votes are factored in when the top 10 finalists are selected, because I’ve never asked anyone from the Hobey committee. I guess I’ll have to do that now. I’m also not insinuating that Kirby doesn’t belong in the top 10. He’s had an excellent season, and anyone who can perform as an elite college athlete while keeping up with the academic and military commitments involved in attending a military academy is certainly worthy of our praise. All I’m saying is that I’m curious as to whether the fan vote helped Kirby’s cause at all.

I’ll try to get to the bottom of that and report back to you. For now, what do you think of the top 10?

The picks, Part I: Hobey Baker Award finalists

Ah, this is the tricky part.

After a season (or, in this case, half a season) of Hobey talk, we’ve reached the point that — to me, at least — defines much of my success as a Hobey blogger. Soon, we’ll know the names of the 10 finalists for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, and this is the point in the season when I take my best guess at who those 10 players will be.

This season, the Hobey blog has focused partly on general questions (i.e. “Elliot’s Rules of the Hobey”) or three specific players: Jack Connolly, Austin Smith and Spencer Abbott. Now, I have to try to pick the top 10, and we’re going to be discussing some players whose names have not appeared in this space all season.

I have an up-and-down history with these predictions over the last five years, including my last full season at CSTV (2007). On two occasions, I’ve correctly named nine of the 10 finalists (2007, 2010). On two other occasions (2009, 2011), I’ve gotten seven. My worst performance was in 2008, when I got six of the 10 finalists. Of the 12 finalists I’ve missed in five years, three have been from the WCHA, three from ECAC Hockey, and two each from Atlantic Hockey, the CCHA and Hockey East. Of the 12 players I’ve predicted incorrectly as Hobey finalists, four were from the CCHA, three were from Hockey East, two each were from ECAC Hockey and the WCHA and one was from Atlantic Hockey. I feel pretty good about these picks, and with any luck there won’t be any missed picks in the bunch. So, let’s see whom we’ve got here …

Spencer Abbott, forward, Maine: See last week’s blog post. Nation’s leading scorer, Maine team likely to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. I shouldn’t need to draw you a picture here, folks.

Jack Connolly, forward, Minnesota-Duluth: Again, another obvious one whom we’ve discussed in depth this season. He’s captain of a team that has had very little of the expected drop-off from last season’s NCAA title run despite the departure of his former linemates, Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly. Yes, a lot of his points come on the power play, where he plays with J.T. Brown and Travis Oleksuk, but I’ve never really bought into the idea of power play performance counting against a Hobey candidate. The team doesn’t need the scoring any less when there’s a man advantage.

Austin Smith, forward, Colgate: The goal count is now at 36 in 37 games. One way or another, he’ll have two games this weekend in Atlantic City to get to 40, although that he’s slotted in for one game against his conference’s best goaltender (see below) could prove detrimental to his cause. My gut feeling about Smith remains the same as it did the last time I discussed him: Forty goals and a Whitelaw Cup as ECAC Hockey playoff champion gets him into the Hat Trick with a shot at the Hobey; one or the other, and he’s got a chance at the Hat Trick; neither makes him a long shot. At the moment, though, we’re talking the top 10, and Smith is a lock.

Reilly Smith, forward, Miami: No relation to Colgate’s Smith, but he is the brother of a former Hobey finalist, 2010 finalist Brendan Smith of Wisconsin. I was convinced in January of that year that Brendan Smith was going to win the Hobey, but wound up having the wrong Badgers player when Blake Geoffrion won it. Obviously, Smith is more like Geoffrion as a player than he is like his brother, by virtue of position (duh) and his propensity for scoring big goals. He leads the nation in game-winning goals with eight, and he’s a key cog for a Miami team that appears to be locked into an NCAA tournament berth.

Justin Schultz, defenseman, Wisconsin: If the Badgers had pulled off the upset last weekend in Denver, I would be giving serious consideration to Schultz for a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick, and the truth is that he might still make it yet. After all, an NCAA tournament appearance is not prerequisite for a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick. Just ask Chris Higgins and Gustav Nyquist, among others. Personally, I think the triumverate of Abbott, Connolly and Smith is going to be very hard to crack, especially with Schultz done for the year, but he’s been an outstanding performer for the Badgers this year, and is the nation’s top scoring defenseman.

Nick Bjugstad, forward, Minnesota: Bjugstad is fourth in the nation in goals per game, but to be honest, I don’t feel as great about this pick as some of the others on here. I think he’s benefitted from early buzz and continues to benefit from the fact that Minnesota is on track for a return to the NCAA tournament, where it has been conspicuous by its absence in recent years. On the other hand, this tends to be an older player’s award, and Bjugstad is a sophomore. I wouldn’t be too stunned if he was on the outside looking in when the Top 10 are announced, but for now, he’s on my list.

Shawn Hunwick, goaltender, Michigan: The Wolverines senior netminder is the only goalie in the national top 10 in save percentage or goals against average to stop more than 1,000 shots this season, starring for a Michigan team that’s on track for a top regional seed in the NCAA tournament and heads to this week’s CCHA Championship as the favorite to win the Mason Cup. Not too bad for a guy who was supposed to be a Division III player once upon a time. He’s fourth nationally in save percentage and seventh in goals against average, and I like him to be in the Hobey top 10.

Troy Grosenick, goaltender, Union: I am perennially guilty of lowballing Union when I fill out my preseason ECAC Hockey ballot, but it was hard to blame anyone for predicting a rough year for Union after coach Nate Leaman left for Providence and Keith Kinkaid turned pro. Grosenick stepped in and backstopped the Dutchmen to their second consecutive Cleary Cup, posting the third-best save percentage and goals against average in the country. Union is on track for a No. 2 regional seed, and Grosenick has to be looked at as the biggest reason.

Drew Shore, forward, Denver: I was tempted to put Colorado College forward Jaden Schwartz in this spot, and if the Tigers had won their series with Michigan Tech, the decision would have been harder to make. As it is, though, the Pioneers are going on to the Final Five, and Schwartz is no longer a college hockey player, having signed on Monday with the St. Louis Blues. Shore is one of the nation’s top 10 scorers for a Denver team that is on track for an NCAA tournament berth. It’s not my most confident pick, but I think Shore is in this group.

Brian Dumoulin, defenseman, Boston College: This was the hardest spot for me to pick, honestly, and it’s a bit of an “under the radar” pick, since Dumoulin doesn’t exactly have eye-popping numbers (six goals, 20 assists, 25th in defenseman scoring). Here’s my thinking: At this point, there are four players on the list from the WCHA, two each from the CCHA and ECAC Hockey, and one from Hockey East. I think it’s most likely that the last spot goes to a Hockey East player, and with BC riding high as the No. 1 team in the nation (polls and PairWise Rankings), it’s a good bet that an Eagles player goes into the spot. Dumoulin has been exceptionally steady for BC this year, leading the team in plus/minus at plus-20, and since no Eagles forward has eye-popping numbers this year, Dumoulin strikes me as the guy. There’s a precedent for a stalwart two-way defenseman without big-time numbers in the mix; St. Lawrence defenseman Drew Bagnall was 33rd nationally in defenseman scoring in 2006-07, when he was honored as one of the top 10 Hobey finalists. I think that’s partly a function of the coaches doing this round of voting, since they sometimes see things that aren’t as apparent to us “ink-stained wretches” (not that we use all that much ink any more). I like the coaches to put Dumoulin in the top 10.

So, that’s my top 10 for now. Check back when the official top 10 is released, and we’ll see where I went wrong and where I went right.

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