…and we’re back.
So yesterday, I looked at 11 players from the CCHA and WCHA that I’d identified before the season as Hobey Baker contenders, and narrowed them down to 6 potential finalists, with one or two who could contend for the award.
Now, it’s over to the east, and the 14 players from Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey and Hockey East that I thought worth keeping an eye on before the season.
Jacques Lamoureux, SR, F, Air Force – Lamoureux was the nation’s leading goal-scorer and a Hobey Baker finalist two years ago, and that generally commands a bit of attention before every season that follows. This season, however, he has just five goals and 10 assists in 17 games. That does put him among the top 100 scorers in the country, and Air Force is contending again in Atlantic Hockey, but I think that we’ve more or less heard the last of him as a Hobey contender.
Cory Conacher, SR, F, Canisius – Conacher was No. 2 in the nation in points per game a year ago, and when he started the season with a hat trick at Western Michigan, it looked like he was going to pick up where he left off. At mid-season, though, he’s 59th in the country in points per game with an even 18 points in 18 games. That’s a solid season for the Golden Griffins, who are tied for fourth in Atlantic Hockey, but again, it’s not going to impress Hobey voters.
Chase Polacek, SR, F, Rensselaer – Polacek was the nation’s No. 6 scorer last season, and made the laudable decision to return for his senior year. It was uncertain how the early departures of Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri would affect Polacek. As it turns out, Polacek’s points-per-game average (1.39) is higher than it was at the end of last season (1.33), although his goal-scoring has dropped. He’s 15th in the nation in PPG right now, and I think that if RPI continues to play well and make a run at returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995, Polacek’s stock will rise. He remains a player well worth keeping an eye on.
Broc Little, SR, F, Yale – Before the season, I wrote “Keep your eye on Little first, but don’t be surprised to see a number of Yale forwards earn consideration.” I think that turned out to be a solid call, although I certainly didn’t expect Yale to have four of the nation’s top seven scorers. Little, however, is the goal-scorer – to the tune of 12 in 13 games for a national-best average of .92 goals per game – and it’s pretty clear that as the top scorer on the nation’s No. 1 team, Little is a serious contender for the Hobey.
Cam Atkinson, JR, F, Boston College – Speaking of goal-scorers, Atkinson is fifth in the country in goals per game at .83 (15 goals in 18 games), and No. 12 in overall points per game. His six goals in last year’s NCAA Tournament en route to a national championship told us to keep an eye on him this year, and he hasn’t disappointed. As the leading scorer for a Boston College team that is once again a top squad in Hockey East and a national contender, Atkinson is a very likely Hobey finalist, but after that, the outlook is murky. When you think about players like Brian Gionta, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Collins, Pat Eaves and other BC forwards who have had similar success under Jerry York, you can’t help but wonder if BC’s playing style – which enables this kind of scoring – works against those forwards when the votes are counted. Will Atkinson do what those others didn’t and hoist the Hobey? Stay tuned.
Brian Gibbons, SR, F, Boston College – Gibbons was on the Hockey East First Team last season, not Atkinson, but as we know, Hobey Likes Goals. Gibbons has lit the lamp 10 times this season as part of his 25 points, but Atkinson is ahead of him in both goals and overall points, and that makes him BC’s leading contender for the Hobey. I think Gibbons has a chance at a finalist nod of his own, but I’d expect to see BC’s eggs go into the Atkinson basket when it comes time to promote Hobey contenders. A return to the Hockey East First Team is quite possibly in the cards, not to mention All-American honors, but when it comes to the Hobey, Atkinson is BC’s man.
Gustav Nyquist, JR, F, Maine - Nyquist, to his credit, had announced his return to Orono before the Hobey ceremony last year, and there’s no doubt that the Black Bears are glad to have him back. They’re fourth in Hockey East and contending for a return to the NCAA Tournament, but Nyquist has not been the same prolific scorer that he was a year ago. Six goals and 16 assists is nothing to shake a stick at, but in terms of the Hobey race, it’s not going to impress. Nyquist is worth keeping an eye on in the second half for a possible finalist berth if he and the Black Bears turn it on, but it’ll take some doing.
Stephane Da Costa, SO, F, Merrimack – I went to watch Da Costa myself when the Warriors played Army last week, and watching him, it’s hard to believe that he only has 12 assists this season. His passes are crisp, and often creative, and he’s clearly legit. Unfortunately, he’s not going to make much of a move in the Hobey race sitting 34th in the country in points per game, although again, if he and the Warriors make a move in the second half, there’s an outside chance that Merrimack could have its first Hobey finalist.
Evan Stephens, SR, D, Dartmouth - This is one pick that just plain hasn’t worked out. It’s not that Stephens is doing anything badly, it’s just that he’s not scoring all that much. He’s got two goals and four assists in 13 games for a Dartmouth team that’s having an okay year. I said before the season that he had an outside chance at a finalist berth if the breaks went his way, and they haven’t.
Taylor Fedun, SR, D, Princeton – Fedun is having a very fine year with the Tigers. He’s No. 8 in the country in defenseman scoring, while the Tigers are 10-5-1 and contending for an NCAA tournament berth. Does it translate to a Hobey finalist nod? Only if Princeton makes it back to the NCAAs, and maybe not even then. Still, he’s doing exactly what they need him to do.
Jeff Dimmen, SR, D, Maine - Dimmen hasn’t played since November 19 due to an ankle injury, but even before he was sidelined, Dimmen had not enjoyed the kind of success he did in his junior season, when he scored 12 goals and handed out 18 assists. He could prove a valuable contributor down the stretch for the Black Bears – which I’m sure is what really matters to him – but the whole possibility of a Hobey finalist bid really didn’t work out.
Blake Kessel, JR, D, New Hampshire – Ask Kessel, and I’m sure he’ll say that the important thing is that New Hampshire is tied for the Hockey East lead, and in contention for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament (and while play regional games at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester if and when they make the tournament). However, he’s another blueliner who hasn’t delivered on his scoring promise this season. He’s having a good enough year, with three goals and nine assists in 17 games, but I don’t see him in the Hobey picture at all. Could he turn it on in the second half? Sure. Would he be able to get into the Hobey picture? I doubt it. Does it matter to him? Probably not.
Allen York, JR, G, Rensselaer – I think it’s safe to say that this one has worked out so far. Second in the nation in goals-against average, sixth in save percentage, playing for an RPI team that’s seventh in the Pairwise and making a strong bid to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years. He stopped 28 of 29 shots in a win over Boston University, and stopped 20 of 23 shots in 4-2 loss to Yale. That last stat might not sound terribly impressive, but when you consider that the .869 save percentage in that game is a good bit higher than the .855 that opposing goaltenders average against Yale, it adds a bit more context. Look for York to make a strong push for Hobey finalist consideration during the second half of the season. Whether he gets more than that remains to be seen, but given goalies’ history with the Hobey, it doesn’t look good.
Keith Kinkaid, SO, G, Union – Kinkaid has been solid for a Union team that is contending again in ECAC Hockey and looking for that elusive first NCAA Tournament bid. Solid, but not spectacular. Of course, Kinkaid and the Dutchmen have 16 of their 22 ECAC Hockey games left to play, so there’s time for him to make a push, but I see him as a finalist at best.
So, in the East, we have a couple of true contenders out of my preseason list in Atkinson and Little, some strong finalist candidates in guys like Gibbons, York and Polacek, and a bunch of outside chances.
All I can say is that this definitely beats “casting” for roles.