Checking out the ‘Frat’ party

If you followed my work in the CSTV days, you know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in fraternity houses. However, this post has nothing to do with any frat parties I may or may not have found myself at along the way (really, unless I was at my own house at my alma mater, I was generally inclined to just get my work done and go to sleep).

However, there is one element of my time as the traveling “Rink Rat” that has popped back into my head lately: the things I wrote about Nathan Gerbe with regards to his candidacy for the 2008 Hobey Baker Award, which someone reminded me about a little while back vis a vis Matt Frattin’s status as a candidate for the award this year.

Of course, you know what happened there: Michigan’s Kevin Porter got the award, as everyone expected, and Gerbe was the Most Outstanding Player at the Frozen Four after leading BC to the NCAA Championship. Along the way, though, there was no shortage of hand-wringing about Gerbe’s one-game suspension in November after a spearing incident against Merrimack, which was accompanied by a statement from Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna about a pattern of “inappropriate behavior” on the ice.

I actually didn’t remember what I’d written about Gerbe at the time, so I went back to read this CSTV blog post, this feature article, and the beginning of this blog, toward the end of the 2007-08 season. As far as I can tell, my thoughts on the matter were as follows:

- Yes, Gerbe’s “inappropriate behavior” could count as a point against him under the Hobey criteria, but it became a dead issue when Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna vouched for him to Inside College Hockey’s Jeff Howe.

- No, Gerbe wasn’t going to win the award anyway, because Porter was having the more Hobey-worthy season.

Of course, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, I’ve been revisiting the Gerbe issue in preparation for my comments on Frattin, who’s having quite the season for the Fighting Sioux, and has made impressive changes in his life since being kicked off the team in 2009, as Patrick C. Miller notes in his profile of the Fighting Sioux senior.

It goes without saying that Frattin’s past infractions go far beyond a spear the refs didn’t catch or any other instance of “inappropriate behavior” on the ice. And, if you’re BC fan who’s upset about Gerbe, or a Michigan fan who’s still bitter about T.J. Hensick, there’s no way that someone who’s been arrested should ever be considered for the Hobey Baker Award, right?

Well, not exactly.

You will never see me condone the things that Matt Frattin did to get himself arrested and kicked off the team at North Dakota. Ever. It’s not a question of “boys will be boys,” or college kids doing stupid things.

However, the criteria for the award include “strength of character, on and off the ice,” and if you ask me, turning down a chance to take the easy way out is a demonstration of character. I felt that way about Mike Carman at Minnesota when he stayed in school despite being academically ineligible, and that’s how I feel about Matt Frattin now.

Again, I make no comparison between academic ineligibility and Frattin’s arrests and guilty plea. I simply think that the person without “strength of character” would have put his development as a hockey player ahead of his development as a student or as a human being, and would have bolted for the pros the second his opportunity to play hockey was taken away from him. Matt Frattin, to me, passed that test, so, when we evaluate him as a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, I think we can stick to evaluating him as a hockey player, without dwelling on the circumstances that affected his absence from the Fighting Sioux for the first semester of last season. So, moving on to the hockey…

With 33 goals on the season, Frattin is the leading goal-scorer in the country, and, as we know, “Hobey Likes Goals.” He’s also seventh in the country in points per game, playing for a North Dakota team that’s a likely top seed in the NCAA tournament. Based on that alone, I think he’s all but a lock as a top 10 finalist.

The question, then, is whether he goes further.

The folks over at Inside College Hockey have pointed out that Frattin has scored the majority of his points against the bottom five teams in the WCHA, scoring more than three times as many points per game against those teams than he did against the Sioux’s top six WCHA opponents. That compares most unfavorably to other top scorers in the WCHA, not to mention Miami’s Andy Miele in the CCHA, RPI’s Chase Polacek in ECAC Hockey, and Cam Atkinson in Hockey East.

Of course, one of the reasons the final vote takes place after regionals is because we want to see how the top players perform in the biggest games, namely, the conference championships and the NCAA tournament. I think that if Frattin comes up in the clutch for the Sioux this weekend or next, he could certainly make his way from the Top 10 into the Hobey Hat Trick.

For now, though, Matt Frattin will be a finalist, and it won’t simply be in spite the things he did wrong. It’ll be because of what he’s done right.

Closing in on 16…and on 10

We’re heading into the homestretch.

One week from today,  we’ll know who the 10 finalists are for the 2011 Hobey Baker Award, as they’ll be announced on Thursday night. One week from Sunday, we’ll know who the 16 teams are in the NCAA tournament.  And, while the two are not perfectly correlated, there are connections that are worth examining.

For starters, a couple of players who are very much in the running to be Hobey finalists will be sitting and watching: RPI’s Chase Polacek and Niagara’s Paul Zanette. The Engineers lost their ECAC Hockey first round series to Colgate, putting a major dent in their NCAA tournament hopes, while the Purple Eagles saw their season end at the hands of Canisius in an Atlantic Hockey first-round game.

Provided the right combination of upsets doesn’t throw RPI into the NCAA tournament – and I’m not the right person to tell you what those are –  Polacek ends his season with 21 goals and 27 assists in 37 games, an average of 1.30 PPG. That’s a hair off from his 1.33 PPG average of a season ago, but he’s still very much in the running to be a Hobey finalist. At the moment, he’s 14th in the country, as compared to sixth at the end of last season, but I think that he’ll also get credit for being a senior who stayed when he had a chance to leave. There are a lot of good candidates, so I would call him a lock as a finalist, but I’d call it probable.

Zanette, meanwhile, has emerged as a clear front-runner in Atlantic Hockey, sharing the national lead in goals with North Dakota’s Matt Frattin and ranking second in the nation in points per game behind Miami’s Andy Miele. He was also a nominee for the Hockey Humanitarian (though not a finalist) for his work with the Purple Eagles’ “Niagara Fights Diabetes” effort, which is a nice addition to his résumé. The fact that Niagara is out of the running in Atlantic Hockey could hurt – and RIT goalie Shane Madolora could wind up being the conference Player of the Year, which does muddy thigns a bit – but I’d be reasonably surprised to see Zanette out of the top 10.

Meanwhile, a couple of teams are closing in on NCAA tournament berths a long time in coming, and that is likely to mean Hobey finalist berths for the players most responsible.

I caught some flak in the comments on my last blog post for leaving Union’s Keith Kinkaid out of my list of goalies contending for Hobey finalist spots, which was  an oversight on my part. However, our good friend Ken Schott did a fine job of talking up Kinkaid on this week’s Hobey Watch podcast, and I encourage you to give it a listen. I personally tend to value save percentage (in which Kinkaid is 13th in the nation) over goals-against average (where he leads the country), but the big thing, to borrow from Charlie Sheen, is “winning.” Union’s doing more of it than they ever have – and that includes the D-III era – and Kinkaid is a huge part of that. Expect him to be rewarded accordingly as Union closes in on its first Division I NCAA Tournament berth.

Merrimack, meanwhile, has been to the tournament before, but it’s been more than 20 years. Barring the wrong combination of tournament results, the Warriors’ drought could conceivably continue, but it’s probable that we’ll see Mark Dennehy’s team in the field of 16 a week from Sunday. With that in mind, it’s fairly certain that we’ll see sophomore forward Stephane Da Costa as one of the top 10. I had a chance to watch Da Costa when the Warriors played at Army earlier in the year, and I was very impressed with his command of the game, and the passes he makes. At the time, he was right around a point per game, but Dennehy told me after the game that he considered Da Costa to be the best player in the country. I don’t know about that, but Da Costa’s had 22 points in 12 games since that conversation, and is currently sixth in the country in points per game. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be in.

I’ll have more to say as we get closer to Thursday’s announcement, but for now, Kinkaid and Da Costa are two players to watch this weekend, as they lead their teams toward uncharted territory.

A word with the last guy to put up “Ryan Miller numbers”

Anyone who’s been reading this blog over the past three seasons knows the familiar refrain that comes up whenever a goalie is thought to be in the mix for the Hobey.

“Ryan Miller numbers.”

.950 save percentage, 1.32 goals-against average. A tough standard to live up to.

Dave LeNeveu had the GAA and then some (1.20), but the save percentage wasn’t quite there (.940 in that Cornell system that Big Red goalies seem to be penalized for, but we’ll get back to that when a Cornell goalie is in the mix). Brian Elliott backstopped Wisconsin to an NCAA Championship, but Matt Carle skated off with the Hobey. Dave Brown was in the conversation all season long in 2006-07, but Ryan Duncan got it. Dave McKee, Yann Danis, Brad Thiessen…you know the story.

No Ryan Miller numbers, no Hobey.

So of course, when I covered the Rangers-Sabres game on Tuesday night as part of a New York Hockey Journal story I’m working on, I had to get a word with the former Michigan State Spartan about those magical numbers that made him the last goalie to win the Hobey Baker.

“Minus the fact that we didn’t win a national championship,” Miller said, “that was pretty much a fairytale season. We had a great team, and everything seemed to go right except right at the end there.”

As you might expect, Miller has been too busy with the Sabres to keep tabs on exactly how things have been going in the college ranks lately as it concerns his netminding brethren. However, he did say that he doesn’t think it should take a reprise of (or improvement on) his 2001-02 stats to get a goalie the top individual honor in the college game.

“They look at number of goals and assists [for forwards],” Miller said, “but they also talk about who you play against. It comes down to more than just those stats. I think if you factor in the goalies playing against really strong competition, and you can take a team really far in the NCAA tournament, I think you have a goalie who deserves top billing.”

If you really want to read into that, “Really strong competition” could be seen as a dig at the Cornell guys, but I don’t think Miller was really thinking about it that much (and besides, ECAC Hockey is having quite a year, with Yale, Union, RPI and Dartmouth all in the mix for NCAA berths). I will say that I don’t think the next goalie to win the Hobey will come from Atlantic Hockey (sorry, Shane Madolora), but depending on the year, I think another goalie will hoist the Hobey sooner or later, “Ryan Miller numbers” or not.

Probably not this year, though, although I do think that Dartmouth’s James Mello, RPI’s Allen York, Merrimack’s Joe Cannata and Boston College’s John Muse are all worthy of consideration for finalist berths, with one of them getting a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick (and really, with Muse having a good shot at a third NCAA title in four years, he should get a long look).

What do you think? You think Miller has a point about his numbers not being a requirement for future Hobey-winning goalies? Who’s the most Hobey-worthy goaltender on the college ice this season? Leave your thoughts below.

Hobey Top 10 Won’t Dump Chase

In life, as in hockey, the value of timing can never be underestimated.

For example: this week’s Hobey Watch Podcast with Ed Trefzger and Jim Connelly features a guest appearance by RPI head coach Seth Appert, the same week that the Engineers’ Saturday afternoon tilt against Cornell is picked up by the NHL Network. All told, it seemed like a good time for me to take a closer look at RPI senior Chase Polacek.

I’ve had Polacek on my list for Hobey contenders all season long, starting in October when I made my pre-season list. Of course, since he was a Hobey finalist last season, Polacek seemed like a natural, even though repeat Hobey finalists have been insanely rare in the time I’ve been following the race (I want to say there haven’t been any, but I’m not absolutely certain). In any event, this is what I wrote about Polacek in September:

Polacek was the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year last season, and luckily for the Engineers, the nation’s sixth leading scorer turned down any opportunity to turn pro. Unfortunately for the Engineers, that made him the exception rather than the rule among RPI’s top stars. It’ll be interesting to see how the absence of early signees Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri affect Polacek. When a team loses major weapons, the ones who are left will command more attention, so RPI will need to make up for the lost productivity relatively quickly. Still, when you scored 50 points a year ago and you stay in school, you get consideration for the Hobey coming into the season.

When I revisited the pre-season list last month, this is what I had to say:

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.

Polacek has seen his stock rise since I wrote that, as Polacek is sixth in the nation in points per game as of this writing. So, having kept an eye on Polacek in this afternoon’s 3-2 overtime loss to Cornell, here’s what I think.

Obviously, the first thing that comes out is that Polacek scored his 18th goal of the season this afternoon, and even though RPI was on the power play when he scored it was hard not to be impressed by the way he cut his way through traffic, skated in on net and put the puck past Andy Iles (the RPI fans broke out in a chant of “Hobey Baker” shortly thereafter).

Of course, so much is made of offensive numbers, but the goal Polacek scored – which leaves him 15th in the country in goals per game (.60) – was just one part of his game that impressed me. I liked the work he did on the power play in general, and also liked what I saw of his contributions to the RPI penalty kill (No. 12 in the country at 85.3 percent). I also saw Polacek take two key faceoffs in the waning minutes of regulation, one in the offensive zone during an RPI power play, and one in the defensive zone at the start of a Cornell power play with 3:30 left. He won them both. So, what we have here is a player who’s one of the top scorers in the nation, the national leader in game-winning goals (eight), plays on the power play and penalty kill, takes key faceoffs at crucial times (and wins them!) and wears a letter as assistant captain. That sounds like a Hobey Baker candidate to me.

Then, there’s the fact that Polacek stayed in school when he had the opportunity to leave, helping to keep the Engineers on the rise, as they have been since Seth Appert came to town. That’s one more factor that clearly counts for something, as the last three Hobey winners – Kevin Porter, Matt Gilroy and Blake Geoffrion – were all seniors with professional opportunities.

At this point, I think RPI would have to go seriously south for there to be a chance of Polacek not making it to the Finalist stage of Hobey voting, and while a pair of overtime losses this weekend leave RPI on the wrong side of a tie for 15th in the Pairwise (before most of the Saturday schedule, mind you) a Rensselaer tournament berth  - especially if accompanied by ECAC hardware – makes Polacek a serious contender for the Hat Trick and beyond.

One final note on the Engineer front: Bryce Merriam played in goal for the Engineers in place of the injured Allen York, who has also garnered Hobey consideration. York is third in the nation in goals-against average and sixth in save percentage, and if RPI strengthens its NCAA bid over the remaining time between now and the Hobey voting, he’s a potential finalist. My gut feeling, though, is that if RPI only gets one finalist in, then it’s Polacek.

A “Little” thought or two about Yale

In case you’re looking for something to talk about while waiting for tonight’s college hockey games to get started, I figured it was about time for me to chime in on Broc Little as pertains to the Hobey Baker race.

That Yale offense that had been sputtering for a few games – and was held to a single goal a week ago in a 1-0 win over Harvard – found its groove against my alma mater last Saturday night, in a game I covered for the Valley News.  That included Little, who scored his 14th goal of the season in a 4-2 win over Dartmouth.  Heading into play tonight, Little is 18th in the country in points per game (1.26) and 13th in goals per game (.61).

As someone who’s included Little in the Hobey discussion all season long, I was paying special attention to Little during the game, and was certainly impressed by the goal he scored, a beautiful shot from the slot to the top right corner of the net. Some of his attempts to beat defensemen seemed to fall in the category of “too clever for his own good,” but overall, I could certainly see how he was one of the top scorers in the country for a good chunk of this season. With speed, creativity, and a strong shot, Little definitely has a package of skills that leads to a great season, and even with his recent slump that saw him go six games without a goal, his scoring pace is ahead of the junior year that put him on the radar.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. As I’ve mentioned before, Yale has several bigtime scorers on the roster, although all of them suffered during Yale’s offensively-challenged January. At one point, as you may recall, Yale boasted four of the nation’s top seven scorers. Now, it’s five of the nation’s top 30 in points per game: Little at 18th, Brian O’Neill and Andrew Miller tied at 22nd, Chris Cahill at 29th and Denny Kearney at 30th.

Now, that’s a bit higher up the chart than the balanced scoring on last year’s Miami team – Andy Miele, Jarod Palmer, Carter Camper and Tommy Wingels ranked from 62nd to 78th, all averaging about a point per game – but it does come back to this question: with such a balanced offense, what are the chance’s Yale’s primary Hobey candidate (like last year’s Miami team) is a goalie?

Like North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux a couple of years ago, Ryan Rondeau has turned a perceived weakness into a strength for the Bulldogs. He’s fourth in the country in goals-against average (1.92) and seventh in save percentage (.929). That kind of improvement from his 2009-10 numbers (4.06, .880) is pretty much unheard of. There’s an excellent chance that Yale goes into the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed (not unlike the Miami team of a year ago), and if that happens, improved goaltending is definitely going to be a factor. Does that make Rondeau a darkhorse for a spot in the Hobey top 10? It’s possible, although I still like Little’s chances as a Hobey finalist as well.

As to whether either Little or Rondeau has a shot at the Hobey Hat Trick (or even the award itself), I think that’s a story that will be told in the days and weeks to come. At the moment, Little’s scoring isn’t quite there, and as much as he’s improved, Rondeau certainly doesn’t have “Ryan Miller numbers.”

There’s a long time between now and the Hobey voting, though.

The case for Miami’s dynamic duo

In a recent post I pointed out that Miami’s Andy Miele and Carter Camper are having great seasons, but if the RedHawks don’t make the NCAA tournament, they probably won’t win the award.

Last night, I had a chance to see them play against Michigan on CBS College Sports, and I would like to add a related comment:

If the RedHawks DO make the NCAA tournament, my vote almost certainly goes to one of the two.

One of the things that I noticed watching the game last night is the way that Miami goaltender Cody Reichard seemed to be fighting the puck at times, despite finishing with 30 saves on 32 shots. A look at the RedHawks’ goaltending numbers indicates that it wasn’t just last night, and it’s not just Reichard.

The 2010 Hobey Baker Finalist and reigning CCHA Player of the Year, who posted a .914 save percentage as a freshman and a .921 save percentage last season, has a .902 save percentage this year, 51st in the country, and by far the worst of his career. His partner in Miami’s goaltending tandem, Connor Knapp, had a similarly rough freshman year (.904), but after stopping 92.1 percent of opponents’ shots last season, is back down to .901, 56th in the country.

But here’s where things get interesting.

While Reichard and Knapp are 51st and 56th in the nation, respectively, in save percengtage, they’re 20th and 18th, respectively, in goals-against average (2.27, 2.26).  Overall, Miami ranks 15th in the nation in scoring defense at 2.41 goals per game, which is a drop from last year’s best-in-the-nation 1.95 (or even the 2.17 that had them eighth two seasons ago).

How is that happening? Hard work, a staple of Miami’s success in recent years.

The penalty kill is 6th in the country, stopping 86.9 percent of opposing power plays. The PK is one of my favorite stats for showing you how hard a team is working, especially in front of goalies who aren’t having great seasons. It’s clear that Miami is working as hard as ever, and that’s the sort of thing that starts with the leaders (Camper’s the captain, with Miele as one of his assistants) and spreads throughout the entire locker room.

If Miami can overcome  the less-than-stellar play by their goaltenders this season and make the NCAA tournament – and make no mistake, they’ll need better performances in net down the stretch – it will be a testament to the performance this season by Camper and Miele, both as high-powered point-producers at the offensive end and as leaders of the RedHawks’ all-out defensive effort.

Dave Starman asked on his Twitter page last month (@DaveStarmanCBSC) if the Hobey Baker Award is Carter Camper’s to lose. With Miami in danger of missing the tournament, I’d have to say no…and having Miele as a fellow front-runner doesn’t help, either.  However, the fact that Miele and Camper have been able to keep Miami in the mix despite the RedHawks’ goaltending issues almost makes me think they DON’T need to make the NCAA tournament to win the Hobey.

Of course, knowing Miami, I don’t think the Hobey will be much consolation to either RedHawk if their season ends before the tournament begins.

However, if Miami is still playing at the end of March, I think it’s very likely that some kind of hardware comes back from St. Paul in April.

Since I was Justin the neighborhood…a couple of Schultz’s old Wisconsin teammates on his Hobey campaign

In my last post, I noted that since Matt Carle finished 10th in scoring in the country in 2005-06 with 1.36 PPG, the person who’s come closest to matching those numbers is Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz. Schultz is currently tied 14th in the country with 1.30 PPG, which is on a pace to best former teammate Brendan Smith, who finished 15th last season with 1.24 PPG. Schultz also leads the Badgers in points with 39, and shares the team lead in goals with 15 in 30 games (four more goals than Carle had in 39 games).

Well, today, I was at New York Rangers practice, working on a story for New York Hockey Journal, and in between interviews for that story, I took the opportunity to talk to Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh, two of the leaders of last year’s team that went to the national championship game, about Schultz, Smith, and what it is about Wisconsin that produces such prolific scorers on the blueline.

“I don’t want to compare those two guys,” Stepan said. “They’re very different, but they’re both competitors, and that’s something where they’re very similar. They compete hard, they hate to lose, but they’re different styles in the way they get things done.”

McDonagh, meanwhile, sees more similarities between Schultz and Smith.

“They’re both good skaters,” McDonagh said, “Tall lanky guys, both can shoot the puck real hard, and both have real good vision for finding guys and finding lanes to the net.”

And, while he wasn’t one of those bigtime point producers himself, McDonagh noted that the Wisconsin blueline has featured some strong offensive d-men in recent years.

“It’s always been good,” McDonagh said. “Even before I was there, they had Tom Gilbert, Ryan Suter was there before him. They’ve got a good plethora of offensive d-men. Eaves thrives on jumping up in the play, and on the power play, he likes having two defensemen up top no matter what. Some teams do five forwards or four forwards and a D, but he’s always got two of them up there.

“I know Schultzy’s been running it since his freshman year, so it’s no coincidence that he’s come around and put the puck in the net.”

Schultz is starting to make more and more sense as a Hobey candidate, with the top two scorers in the country playing for a team that is in danger of not making the NCAAs, Yale’s array of high-scoring forwards not being so high-scoring at the moment, and the lingering question of whether one of BC’s high-scoring forwards – in this case, Cam Atkinson – will get that Hobey that has eluded Brian Gionta, Chris Collins, Nathan Gerbe, Patrick Eaves, Tony Voce, etc. If the Badgers continue to play well, and Schultz remains in the territory he’s in on the scoring charts, Wisconsin may not have nearly so long to wait for its second Hobey winner as it did for its first.

Double or nothing for Miami?

I had the pleasure of listening to this week’s Hobey Watch podcast, with their special guest, Miami head coach Rico Blasi, and it got me thinking about the RedHawks’ high-scoring duo of Carter Camper and Andy Miele.

After this weekend’s games, it’s now Miele who leads the national scoring race, with one goal and two assists more than Camper, making it really hard to pick which one is the more likely Hobey winner. And naturally, Blasi isn’t planning on promoting one over the other, which is pretty much what you’d expect from a program that prides itself on its “Brotherhood.” (and I mean that in the best way possible).

Certainly, there’s no reason why Camper would keep Miele from winning the Hobey, or vice versa. Just look at Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling in 2005. I’m also reminded of a couple of years ago, when Chad Kolarik – who could have easily been a Hobey finalist himself that year – told anyone who would listen that Kevin Porter was the real Hobey candidate on the team. I could see something like that happening at Miami, although I don’t know which one would promote the other over himself (perhaps both?).

However, the reality is that while both players are having fantastic individual seasons, and are near-certain finalists, that could be as far as it gets. I’m going to predict that if Miami doesn’t make the NCAA tournament, neither one of them is going to win the Hobey.

Yes, the first Hobey I saw handed out in person – 2006 – went to a player whose team didn’t make the NCAA tournament, Denver’s Matt Carle. Carle, however, had won two NCAA titles already at DU, and that season, he was 10th in the nation in scoring  with 1.36 PPG. No blueliner has been that high up since, although Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz is as close as it comes this season, 14th in the country at 1.30. The point, though, is that there were extenuating circumstances for Carle, and they don’t exist for Miami’s dynamic duo.

Of course, we won’t know whether Miami is in or out by the time the finalists are selected (although if the RedHawks aren’t still playing at that point, it’s pretty likely they’ll be out), but when the Hobey winner is chosen, Camper and Miele need to have played in this season’s tournament to win. The next six games – against Michigan, Western Michigan, and Lake Superior – will tell us a lot as to whether they’re in or out of the running.

And, if Camper and Miele wind up out, and Yale’s offensive machine has slowed down (Broc Little is the top ‘Dog at 18th in the country with 1.29 ppg), who’s the front-runner? Paul Thompson? Chase Polacek? Schultz? Cam Atkinson?

It’s about to get very interesting…

The newer faces in the Hobey race

It won’t take any sting out of a 5-4 loss to Dartmouth on Saturday night, but the fact that New Hampshire’s Paul Thompson is the nation’s new points-per-game leader makes it a perfect opportunity to look at those players who have emerged as contenders in the Hobey Baker race. This should answer all the “What about?” questions that emerged when I looked back at my preseason 25.

A couple of groups are worth talking about before we get into individuals.

The Atlantic guys: This group consists of Robert Morris’ Nathan Longpre (seventh in the nation with 1.45 ppg) and Denny Urban (second in defenseman scoring with 1.17 PPG), Niagara forwards Paul Zanette and Brian Haczyk (tied for eighth at 1.41 ppg) and RIT’s Andrew Favot (22nd at 1.29 PPG). The fact that there’s five (maybe only four) players in this category creates a problem, because it means there’s a healthy debate about who the best player in Atlantic Hockey is. History shows that Atlantic will get no more than one player in the top 10 Hobey finalists, and when it happens, there’s little to no debate about who the top player in the conference. The smallest points-per-game margin between a Hobey finalist from Atlantic Hockey and the next highest scorer was two years ago, when Jacques Lamoureux of Air Force averaged only .04 PPG more than Mercyhurst’s Steve Cameron, and in that year, Lamoureux was the nation’s leading goal-scorer by a wide margin.  Other than that, it was .20 for RIT’s Simon Lambert over Sacred Heart’s Bear Trapp in 2008,  .27 for Air Force’s Eric Ehn over teammate Andrew Ramsey in 2007, and .11 for Quinnipiac’s Reid Cashman over Mercyhurst’s David Wrigley in 2005 (a margin made more impressive by Cashman being a defenseman).  By comparison, Mercyhurst’s Dave Borelli enjoyed a .09 PPG margin in 2006 and Canisius’ Cory Conacher had a .14 PPG margin last season.

What does all this tell us? Well, there probably needs to be a clear-cut Player of the Year in Atlantic Hockey for there to be a chance of a Hobey finalist from the conference. Still, it’s worth watching these guys in the second half to see if one of them breaks out of the pack. If the top player happens to play for the top team – which is certainly possible with the Purps and Colonials chasing RIT for the conference lead – then the chances of a Hobey finalist from Atlantic certainly improve.

Yale players not named Broc Little - Certainly, Little is Yale’s top Hobey candidate, currently tied for fourth in the nation at 1.59 PPG. However, the Bulldogs did, in the not-too-distant past, boast four of the top seven scorers in the country, so it’s worth asking what the chances are for Andrew Miller, Denny Kearney and Brian O’Neill in this race. Going by the “Hobey likes goals” theory, O’Neill seems like the most likely choice as a second Hobey finalist from the Bulldogs, while Miller seems like the least likely with five goals. Yale’s overall situation recalls last season’s Miami team, where four balanced scorers canceled one another out in the Hobey race, leaving a goaltender, Cody Reichard, as the RedHawks’ representative in the Hobey race. Ryan Rondeau has made a quantum leap from his efforts of a year ago, but I don’t think that he’s Hobey material yet. Keep an eye on Yale’s situation, because someone from this team will be a Hobey finalist, possibly more than one “someone.”

With those groups out of the way – and in all honesty, they’re not major players in the Hobey race – let’s take a look at a few of the new faces who have established themselves as Hobey contenders.

Paul Thompson, F, SR, New Hampshire - Thompson is now the nation’s leading scorer after adding two more points to his season total in Saturday’s loss to Dartmouth, but he’s been great all season. Through 20 games this season, Thompson has only three fewer goals and six fewer total points than he did in 39 games a season ago, and given that he was a point-per-game player as a junior, this is someone who started as a major contributor and took his game to another level. Saturday’s setback doesn’t change the fact that UNH is tied with BC atop Hockey East with games in hand, and as their leader, I’d say that Thompson is a very likely Hobey finalist, with the potential for more if both he and the Wildcats keep it up.

Jack Maclellan, F, JR, Brown - I’ve been pointing out Maclellan’s  strong play for a while, and with a goal and an assist in the Bears’ upset of No. 1 Yale today, more people are likely to start taking notice. The problem for Maclellan is that Brown is still sitting in ninth in ECAC Hockey play, but more than half the conference schedule remains to be played, and Brown has gone 1-0-3 against Hockey East teams, with Maclellan averaging 2.25 PPG in those contests. I think Brown is going to climb in the ECAC standings down the stretch, putting Maclellan in solid position to snag a Hobey finalist slot. I think moving further is a stretch at this point, but Maclellan does have one more year in Providence, so he’s a player worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Matt Frattin, F, SR, North Dakota - Until this weekend, Frattin may well have been the hottest player in the country, until an eight-game goal-scoring streak and a nine-game point streak were snapped in Friday’s game against Minnesota. Frattin is still the nation’s leader in total goals, and while North Dakota hit a hiccup against the Gophers, the Sioux appear to have hit their stride much earlier this season than they have in past seasons, and Frattin is a big part of that, making him a strong Hobey candidate.

Justin Schultz, D, SO, Wisconsin - The nation’s leading scorer among defensemen, Schultz has emerged as a successor to Brendan Smith on the Badger blueline. His 1.23 PPG average is just a hair off of Smith’s pace of a year ago, and his 14 goals are more than many of the forwards we’ve discussed this season, including Maclellan, Little, Carter Camper and Andy Miele. I’d be very surprised if Schultz didn’t end up as a Hobey finalist, especially since he doesn’t have the same competition on his own team that Smith did a season ago.

James Mello, G, JR, Dartmouth – Of all the goaltenders who weren’t on the radar at the start of the season, Mello has done the most to put his name into the Hobey mix. He’s got the top save percentage in the country among everyday starters (Princeton’s Sean Bonar splits time with Mike Condon in the Tiger net), he held Yale to one of its worst offensive performances of the season last weekend, and perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t have to compete with a skater for Hobey attention. John Muse’s save percentage is just .006 off of Mello’s, and he’s got two NCAA titles on his résumé, but in the Hobey race, he takes a backseat to BC teammate Cam Atkinson, and maybe even Brian Gibbons. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Muse wind up as the first team All-American goalie in the East, but I think Mello’s building a very nice case for himself to earn a possible Hobey finalist spot, especially if Dartmouth can build off of Saturday’s win over UNH and make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.

Jerry Kuhn, G, SR, Western Michigan – Kuhn is No. 8 in the country in save percentage and No. 12 in goals-against average for a Western Michigan team that is just on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament berth. With WMU 39th in the country in scoring offense, the burden of getting the Broncos to the NCAAs is going to fall squarely on Kuhn, and if he has them in position to pull it off when March rolls around, look for him to snare a Hobey finalist spot. He’s not going to be the first goalie to win it since Ryan Miller, but he could get a finalist berth.

Scott Greenham, G, JR, Alaska – See above. Greenham is eighth in goals-against average and ninth in save percentage for a Nanooks team that’s in the mix. If the Nanooks are still in the mix in March, Greenham is a candidate for a Hobey finalist spot. If they’re not, he isn’t.

So, that’s where we are. Between these players and the 11 or 12 who are left over from my pre-season list, we’ve still got a group of more than 20 players for 10 Hobey finalist spots, with a handful of players worth watching to win it all.

Revisiting the 25, Part II – The East

…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.

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