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Last Impressions, Part II

So, the weekend has passed, the tournament invitations have been handed out, and now, 16 teams and eight Hobey Baker finalists are going on to the NCAA tournament.

Of course, the main focus this coming weekend will be on the teams, and it should be. With a trip to the Frozen Four hanging in the balance, any talk of individual honors will be secondary, and rightfully so. That said, however, this weekend will be the last chance for eight players to make their case for the Hobey Baker Award.

Of course, for the two Hobey finalists who won’t be playing this weekend – Maine’s Gustav Nyquist and RPI’s Chase Polacek – all that’s left to do is watch and wait. This is more true of Nyquist than Polacek, as I think that in Polacek’s case (to borrow some Oscars terminology), “the nomination is the win.” However, as Nyquist remains the nation’s leader in points per game, the Black Bear sophomore remains a contender to make the Hobey Hat Trick. Of course, the Hobey voters tend to reward players who make the NCAA tournament, but given that Matt Carle won the 2006 Hobey in a year when Denver missed the tournament, it’s not out of the question for Nyquist to make the Hat Trick.

I think there’s at least one spot in the Hobey Hat Trick that’s up for grabs this weekend, possibly more. For a while now, I’ve worked under the assumption that Denver goalie Marc Cheverie was a shoo-in for the Hat Trick, but I’m starting to waver on that assumption, due to the presence of Cornell and goalie Ben Scrivens in the same East Regional as Cheverie and the Pioneers. Scrivens is going into this weekend as the national leader in goals-against average and save percentage, and if the play that got Scrivens those distinctions gets the Big Red to the Frozen Four, that spot could belong to Scrivens. I don’t see both goalies making the hat trick, so figure on one of them winning a spot this weekend (I don’t see Miami’s Cody Reichard in the mix here, if only because his candidacy suffers from the presence of another excellent goalie on the RedHawks in Connor Knapp, which makes it harder to assess Reichard’s true value to the team).

Meanwhile, I do remain convinced that Wisconsin’s Brendan Smith will be one of the three Hobey Hat Trick members, and I don’t see anything happening to change that. So, if one spot in the Hat Trick is going to Smith, and another is going to the winner of the goalie battle between Cheverie and Scrivens, that leaves one spot up for grabs. As I mentioned before, I could see Gustav Nyquist competing for that spot, along with a number of guys who will be playing this weekend.

If New Hampshire’s Bobby Butler could dig in and lead his team to the Frozen Four, he could definitely put himself in the mix for that third Hat Trick spot. I suppose that the same is true of Northern Michigan’s Mark Olver, although for some reason, it just doesn’t sound to me like it could happen.

From there, I think, you add in the two other WCHA finalists, Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion and Denver’s Rhett Rakhshani. Both have played second fiddle on their respective teams when it comes to Hobey contention, but that didn’t stop BU’s Colin Wilson from making it to the Hat Trick last season. That said, neither of these guys has been quite the presence nationally that Wilson was, so again, I don’t necessarily see it, but a big weekend at the regionals, and that third Hat Trick spot could be there.

Now, under normal circumstances, I’d be loathe to pick a Hat Trick that consisted entirely of players from one region, but that’s exactly what happened last season, so I have to consider it. I think that Nyquist and Scrivens are the two most likely players from the East to make it to the Hobey Hat Trick, but it’ll depend a lot on what happens this weekend.

So, those are some things to keep in the very back of your mind as you watch this weekend’s regionals. Sure, it’s about making it to Detroit, but three players can book tickets there, too.

Net Difference

Well, nine out of 10 really ain’t too bad.

The top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award have been announced, and your humble Hobey pundit correctly predicted 9 of the 10 finalists. It’s my best performance yet – although I did have to share top honors among the media forecasters with Adam Wodon of College Hockey News – and while I’d like to have all 10 right one of these years, I’m happy to have improved over last year’s performance.

Still, happy as I am, I can’t help but think about the one I got wrong. I had Cory Conacher of Canisius in my top 10, in a spot that wound up going to Miami’s Cody Reichard. Looking back at it now, I realize that I made two fundamental errors on this one.

First, I picked an Atlantic Hockey player who wasn’t a clear pick. While Atlantic Hockey has gotten better and better about getting players into the Hobey top 10 – Reid Cashman, Eric Ehn, Simon Lambert and Jacques Lamoureux were Hobey Finalists in the space of five years – each of those players was the clear choice in the conference. This year, while I picked Conacher, the folks over at INCH picked RIT defenseman Dan Ringwald, and you could have also made the case for Sacred Heart forward Nick Johnson or even a repeat appearance by Lamoureux. If there’s not a clear-cut choice in the conference, there probably won’t be a finalist from Atlantic Hockey. I neglected that, to my cost.

The other error I made was to think that a team as strong as Miami – a team that spent a good chunk of the year at No. 1 in the country – was going to go home empty-handed from this party. Do I think that’s right? No, but I should have counted on it anyway.

Please note that this is NOT a slight against the Miami program. If I could give a Hobey Baker Award to a team, the RedHawks would be it. I think the culture of the program and the sense of unity among the players, coaches and staff are characteristics that Hobey Baker himself would have admired, even if the RedHawks take a few more penalties than Hobey would have approved of.

That said, though, there’s no one on the team I can point to and say “They don’t win without ___________.” There’s no player that’s performed at so high a level that he stands out from the team. From Jarod Palmer, Tommy Wingels, Carter Camper and Andy Miele straight on down, the RedHawks have so many different weapons that it’s been hard for one player to stand out a la Ryan Jones two seasons ago, Nathan Davis the year before, or Andy Greene before him.

Except, of course, that Reichard was the national leader in goals-against average and No. 3 in save percentage, making him as elite a performer as Miami has had this year, and hence, a finalist.

Here’s the thing, though: While Reichard was first nationally in goals-against average, his partner in Miami’s goaltending tandem, Connor Knapp, was fourth. And while Reichard was third in save percentage, Knapp was ninth. Granted, Reichard played the majority of the minutes, by more than eight games, but to borrow a term from baseball, I’m not sure Reichard’s VORP with Knapp on the team (that’s “Value over replacement player”) is so high as to merit a Hobey finalist nod.

All of that said, though, it’s hard to begrudge Reichard this honor. He clearly made the most of the time he had in net, so it’s not like he didn’t play well enough.

And as for my pursuit of a perfect pick, well, there’s always next year…

Making the Call

As your humble Hobey predictor, this is the biggest moment of the year for me.

Yes, I know, there’s also the announcement of the Hobey Hat Trick and the winner to think about, but to me, this is the biggest challenge: pick all 10 finalists for college hockey’s top individual honor. It’s something I’ve been doing better than anyone else for the last couple of years, and now it’s time for me to do it again.

This seemed like one of the more open years in recent memory, which made my job much harder. Now, though, I think I’ve got a top 10 that should pretty much match Thursday’s announcement.

Here it is.

Brendan Smith, junior, defenseman, Wisconsin - I’ve said before that you could legitimately have four Hobey finalists from the Badgers, but if you go to Wisconsin’s official athletic website, there is only one candidate for college hockey’s highest individual honor, and that’s Smith. Personally, I think that UW will have more than one player honored (see below), but there’s no doubt who’s got the best shot at coming home with the hardware. As the nation’s top-scoring defenseman, a top-20 scorer overall, and a clutch player whose presence on the goals that count the most exceeds that of any of Wisconsin’s forwards, Smith remains the favorite (in my eyes) to win the award, and it’s hardly a surprise that he’s my first finalist pick.

Gustav Nyquist, junior sophomore, forward, Maine – For the second year in a row, a Swede will be among the 10 finalists, as Nyquist has led the Black Bears back to the championship weekend with a chance to make it to the NCAA tournament. And did I mention he happens to be the nation’s points-per-game leader? My feeling is that Nyquist needs a superb weekend and an NCAA tournament appearance to truly contend for the award, but at the moment, in good shape to be a finalist (Edited to put in the correct class year.).

Bobby Butler, senior, forward, New Hampshire - A commenter on my last post asked why Butler didn’t make my players-to-watch list last weekend. My feeling at the time was that Butler was a lock to be among the finalists, and – as opposed to Nyquist – his status wasn’t going to be impacted by the conference quarterfinals (UNH’s problems tend to start a bit later, after all). That said, I wasn’t counting on a pair of UVM shutouts putting the Wildcats on the tournament bubble. I said that Butler was a lock as a finalist – as a senior and a big-time goal-scorer, he has two qualities that Hobey voters tend to look very kindly on – and I’m standing by that now. If he’s played his last college game, though, then he’ll have gotten his last Hobey honor when he’s named a finalist. If he’s in the tournament, he’ll have a chance to move up.

Marc Cheverie, junior, goaltender, Denver – The Pioneers’ goaltender was as good as he needed to be numbers-wise against Michigan Tech, and I’ll be very surprised if he’s not in the Hobey Hat Trick. He’s been strong all season, his injury showed how badly Denver needs him in order to be the top team in the country, and he’s had some truly brilliant performances in net (including some where the numbers don’t fully tell the story. I don’t think his numbers will be good enough to win – don’t blame me, blame Ryan Miller (although his .937 save percentage isn’t THAT far from Miller’s .950) – but he’s a certain finalist, and likely for the Hat Trick.

Rhett Rakhshani, senior, forward, Denver - Rakhshani has gotten stronger over the course of the season, entering the Final Five as one of the nation’s top 10 scorers and a senior leader on a team that’s considered a favorite to go to the Frozen Four. He’ll take a backseat to his goaltender when the final votes are tallied, but he’s had a season worthy of a Hobey finalist nod, and I think he’ll get it.

Mark Olver, junior, forward, Northern Michigan - Two things worried me about Olver as a Hobey finalist: the fact that he plays for a school that’s been “off the beaten path” as of late, and NMU’s tendency to come up short on its big late-season runs. The fact that Olver was the top vote-getter in All-CCHA balloting assuaged one concern, and the fact that the Wildcats are going to the Joe took care of the other (for now). How much further can he go? If he can lead NMU to a Mason Cup and/or an NCAA berth, a Hat Trick honor could be in his future.

Ben Scrivens, senior, goaltender, Cornell – Scrivens made a great “closing statement” in the Big Red’s ECAC quarterfinal series against Harvard, stopping 42 of 43 shots in a two-game sweep of Harvard. That leaves him No. 2 in the country in both goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.933), and that should be enough to make him a finalist, regardless of whatever doubts exist about goalies who thrive in Cornell’s system.

Chase Polacek, junior, forward, Rensselaer - When I sized up the contenders a couple of weeks ago, I listed two ECAC Hockey players as “On Solid Ground.” One was Polacek, the other was Yale’s Broc Little. Well, a couple of things happened since I wrote that. One, Both Polacek and Little saw their teams eliminated from the ECAC Hockey playoffs by Brown. Two, Ben Scrivens solidified his hold on a spot. I don’t think there will be three finalists from ECAC Hockey, so somebody’s got to go, and I think it’s Little. Yale’s quarterfinal loss to Brown made a strong case that the absent Sean Backman, not Little, is the key player for Yale, and given that Backman was injured under circumstances that can be charitably described as “ill-advised,” it’s not like he’ll be picking up the votes. On top of that, Little is one reasonably equal part of a very balanced Yale attack, where Polacek was clearly “the man” for RPI, both in terms of overall scoring and in terms of his clutch performance. You will recall that when I calculated “Campellnomics” averages for the nation’s top skaters last month, Polacek led the field with a 1.10 CPPG average. Essentially, that means he could be counted on for one go-ahead goal per game. Little was also among the leaders, but if only one is going in, I’m thinking it’s Polacek.

Blake Geoffrion, senior, forward, Wisconsin – This is the toughest call for me to make, because could easily be one of three different Wisconsin forwards: Geoffrion, classmate Michael Davies or sophomore Derek Stepan. However, I think it’s going to be Geoffrion, and this is why. First, I’d take Stepan out of the mix. He’s a sophomore, and most of his points are assists. That doesn’t stand up well next to his two senior teammates. That leaves it between the two seniors, Geoffrion and Davies. You can make the case for Davies – he’s the Badgers’ top scorer with 1.37 points per game, and that leaves him as the nation’s No. 5 scorer. Still, I’m sticking with Geoffrion for two reasons. First, he has six more goals, and is No. 6 in the country in goals per game. Goal-scoring is a skill that has been highly valued, and I think that will play a role. Also, Geoffrion has been part of the national conversation longer. While Davies deserves tremendous credit for going from a mid-20s point man to a 48-point man with a shot at 50, Geoffrion has been growing his reputation as a goal-scorer consistently over the course of his Wisconsin career (and it doesn’t hurt when you have one of the most famous last names in the sport). It’s the pick I feel shakiest about, but I’m going with Geoffrion.

Cory Conacher, junior, forward, Canisius - I’m a believer now. Conacher heads to Rochester for the Atlantic Hockey championship as the No. 2 scorer in the country, playing for a team that is enjoying its best season since 2000-01. He assisted on the overtime goal that guaranteed the Golden Griffins a spot in Rochester. Add that to the fact he’s doing it with diabetes, and it’s not hard to give Conacher the nod here over Matt Read, Nick Johnson, or anyone else from the CHA and Atlantic Hockey. Top scorers from Atlantic Hockey may have been ignored in the past, but that was before Holy Cross beat Minnesota and Air Force beat Michigan.

There you have it, folks. Those are my 10 picks. Will I go 10 for 10? Will I lead the media field in correct picks (again)? The possibilities are out there.

Last Impressions, Part I

Well, the regular season is officially over, and in just over a week, we’ll learn who the finalists are for the Hobey Baker Award. I’ll be checking in with my predictions the day before the announcement, but there are still some games to be played before we get to that point, and I have a feeling they could affect how things stand heading into the announcement. Here are a few players who are facing a big weekend on both the team AND individual levels.

Gustav Nyquist, Maine: A top four finish in Hockey East is certainly a welcome development as Maine recovers from a couple of rough seasons, and as the leading scorer in the nation, Nyquist is a key figure in that resurgence. That said, however, the Black Bears’ season-ending sweep at the hands of UMass and late-season performance in general haven’t been particularly inspiring, and as things currently stand, I think Nyquist is a shoo-in finalist but fairly unlikely to advance to the Hobey Hat Trick. This weekend’s games against UMass-Lowell are key to Nyquist’s Hobey status. If he plays big and the Black Bears win, he’s got a shot to play his way into the Hat Trick at the Hockey East championship (and maybe even an NCAA regional). If they lose, he’s a finalist and no more.

Broc Little, Yale: The nation’s leader in goals per game could get a little more attention this weekend in the Bulldogs’ ECAC Hockey quarterfinal game against Brown, with teammate and fellow All-ECAC First Team member Sean Backman likely out for the season. I feel like Little will be a finalist anyway, but a strong performance against Brown could solidify his standing.

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan: This weekend’s NMU-Alaska series may eliminate one of these teams from NCAA tournament consideration, and if it’s NMU, Olver’s candidacy could take a hit. Between the late charge, NMU’s remote location, and what hasn’t been considered a strong year for the CCHA for most of the season (Miami has more losses to CHA teams than it has in conference), a Wildcat loss could leave Olver out of sight, out of mind, allowing someone else to jump up and snag his spot. Of course, there’s a simple way to deal with that: beat the Nanooks.

(Side note: should I have included Scott Greenham on my Hobey finalist analysis last week? His numbers may not be what Chad “Dos Nueve” Johnson’s were last year – and he wears 29 with the Rangers, so that’s what I’ve been calling him – but he’s certainly a central figure in the Nanooks’ run at an NCAA tournament berth. Hmmm…something to think about.)

Blake Geoffrion and Michael Davies, Wisconsin: You could almost put four Badgers in among the 10 Hobey finalists this year in Geoffrion, Davies, Derek Stepan and, of course, Brendan Smith. All four have had outstanding statistical years for a team that has to be considered a favorite to advance to the Frozen Four. That said, “almost” doesn’t count here, and it’s much more likely that there will be two Badgers in the mix this season. One will be Smith, who’s among the overall national scoring leaders as a defenseman, and has been there for the Badgers when it’s counted, over and over again. The other will be one of the Badgers’ two senior forwards. My gut says Geoffrion, based on his gaudy goal total, but the last week before the voting may make a difference, depending on who does what in this weekend’s playoff series against Alaska-Anchorage.

Marc Cheverie, Denver: The Pioneers netminder is a mortal lock as a finalist for the Hobey, and I think he’s pretty likely to make it into the hat trick. That said, it’s a key weekend for him (and the Pioneer defense that backs him up), since WCHA first-round foe Michigan Tech presents Cheverie with the best chance he’ll have to lower his GAA, raise his save percentage, and possibly add a shutout or two. Right now, I don’t think he wins the award, but if he improves his numbers at the Huskies’ expense – which won’t be a walk in the park; DU coach George Gwozdecky is right to praise MTU’s toughness – it could change the picture a little.

Ben Scrivens, Cornell: In my view, Scrivens’ Hobey finalist candidacy is a little unsteady, as I could see him being penalized for a system that is conducive to gaudy goaltending numbers (oddly enough, I never hear this complaint about Boston College forwards, although no BC forward has won the Hobey under Jerry York…but we’ve been through that). A strong performance against Harvard this weekend could move the Big Red netminder further beyond reproach. A “system failure” against the Crimson, and Scrivens could be toast.

Nick Johnson, Sacred Heart and Cory Conacher, Canisius – For starters, I highly recommen you read Ben Kirst’s feature article on Conacher. All this time I’ve considered him as a possible Hobey finalist – and to borrow a popular phrase from the Oscars, the nomination would be his win – I had no idea about his Type I Diabetes, which certainly makes his accomplishments on the ice this season even more impressive than they already were. That said, I think Johnson has a slight edge on Conacher by virtue of playing for a more successful team, and by being a bit bigger in the clutch (according to the measurements I took last month). A strong performance one way or the other, though, might tip the scales. I’m starting to waver a little bit on the relative merits of these two Atlantic Hockey stars, and I might not be the only one.

So, if you’re thinking Hobey this weekend – but really, with rivalries like Michigan-Michigan State, Harvard-Cornell, Minnesota-North Dakota and Army-Air Force, will you? – these are the guys to watch.

Narrowing the Field

So, the calendar has turned to March, and in two weeks, the finalists for the 2010 Hobey Baker Award will be announced. So, it’s time to start taking a serious look at who’s going to be in the field.

Of course, we already know some of the players who are involved, and I’m pretty sure about some others. I’m not sure about how exactly the field of 10 will look, but I am certain that these 24 players are the ones who make up the field.

THE MORTAL LOCKS

Gustav Nyquist, Maine – He currently sits as the nation’s leading scorer, the Black Bears are back in the top four in Hockey East, and in NCAA Tournament contention. His overall chances may depend on his team’s success in March, but it’s safe to say he’ll be in the top 10.

Bobby Butler, UNH – A senior leader among the nation’s top five scorers for the current Hockey East front-runner? Like Nyquist, his overall chances at the award are tied to his team’s fortunes, but Hobey likes seniors, at least as finalists.

Brendan Smith, Wisconsin – He’s the top-scoring defenseman in the country, the No. 16 scorer overall, and he has more goals than six of the forwards who are ahead of him. He’s also improved his defensive play for a team that is a favorite to advance to the Frozen Four.

Marc Cheverie, Denver – He leads the country in save percentage, win percentage and goals-against average, minds the net for the No. 1 team in the land, and doesn’t play with a superstar skater who gets most of the glory. His chances of winning the award itself are pretty slim – Hobey doesn’t particularly like goalies, and his numbers don’t quite measure up to other recent goalie finalists – but he’s certain to be one of the top 10.

ON SOLID GROUND

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan – Olver has been a key player for a Northern Michigan team that’s come on strong late in the year (as usual) to potentially put itself in NCAA Tournament position, and he even managed to snatch the conference scoring lead on the last weekend of the regular season. Trouble is, the U.P. isn’t a great place to get noticed – particularly in what is generally considered a down year for the CCHA – and Northern wasn’t really a factor until relatively recently. Still, as the leading scorer on a team that’s in the mix, Olver could be the best Hobey candidate the CCHA has this season.

Broc Little, Yale – He’s the top goal-scorer in the land, and we all know how Hobey likes goals. He also gets a good “student-athlete” boost playing in the Ivy League, and Yale’s overall success probably doesn’t hurt either. I say “probably” because Yale is the top offensive team in the country, which may make it possible to discount Little’s contributions a bit, and he might be shorted a bit in the respect department playing in ECAC Hockey. Still, I think Little is *almost* a sure thing.

Chase Polacek, RPI – He’s the top overall scorer in ECAC Hockey, and his contributions on the scoresheet tend to be of the “clutch” variety, and he was recently rewarded with an All-ECAC Hockey First Team nod. That said, it remains to be seen how the rest of the country will perceive him. RPI still hasn’t quite regained its form as an elite program, and it’s hard to get noticed when you’re not really a player on the national stage. The numbers are going to be hard to argue with, and I think Polacek will get a nod, but don’t be *too* terribly surprised if Polacek finds himself on the outside looking in.

QUESTION MARKS

Corey Tropp, Michigan State – The Spartan forward had been the CCHA’s scoring leader until recently, and has been coming up big in the clutch on a pretty regular basis for a Spartan team that’s bounced back from a horrible season last year. Tropp has bounced back himself, although it’s not from poor play, but from the suspension that had him gone from the team. That’s really where the question lies. My gut feeling is that he gets a finalist nod, as the Hobey folks have shown themselves willing to overlook instances of bad behavior, both on the ice (Nathan Gerbe) and off it (T.J. Oshie). Still, you never know.

Rhett Rakhshani, Denver – Among the WCHA’s top forwards, no one was as clutch as Rakhshani when I applied the Campbellnomics system to the top scoring forwards in the WCHA. He also has the benefit of having produced those clutch goals for the No. 1 team in the land, and as an senior and a draft pick of the New York Islanders, he gets bonus points for sticking it out until his senior year. Where it gets a little tricky is that Cheverie is pretty clearly Denver’s top Hobey candidate, and it remains to be seen how that perception will affect Rakhshani’s candidacy.

Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin – Our friends at INCH think that Geoffrion is the Badgers’ top Hobey contender, and while I think that distinction belongs to Brendan Smith, Geoffrion certainly has a strong case. He’s a senior leader on one of the nation’s top teams, the No. 5 goal-scorer in the country, and a name player and NHL draft pick who stuck it out for all four years of college. The main thing that could derail Geoffrion’s candidacy is a case of “too many cooks spoil the sauce.” Wisconsin has four players who could make a case as a Hobey candidate, and while Smith’s scoring numbers as a defenseman separate him from the pack, the three forwards – Geoffrion, Michael Davies, and Derek Stepan – could wind up taking votes from one another. Also, he’s missed time recently due to injury, which could play a role. I think Geoffrion’s the best of the bunch among the Wisconsin forwards, but I’m not on the committee.

Mario Valery-Trabucco, Union – He’s the leading scorer in ECAC Hockey play, playing for a team that’s in NCAA tournament contention and a program that usually isn’t. That should probably be enough to make him a Hobey Baker finalist. Then again, it should have been enough to make him a first-team All-ECAC selection, but that’s not the case, either. He wouldn’t be the first high-scorer in the conference to get a total snub at Hobey-time – does the name “Bryan Leitch” ring a bell? – but past performance isn’t always an indicator of future results, especially since the Hobey committee has a certain amount of turnover to it. Still, if the coaches in his own conference aren’t going to go to bat for Valery-Trabucco, who will?

Dave Jarman, Sacred Heart OR Cory Conacher, Canisius – Conacher is the No. 2 scorer in the nation, and has been firmly entrenched in the top 5 for months. Of course, Jarman doesn’t have to take much of a backseat in that department, and he has the bonus of having helped lead Sacred Heart on a dramatic second-half run that saw them finish second in Atlantic Hockey under first-year head coach CJ Marrottolo. The thing about this slot – and my instinct says there is a spot for an Atlantic Hockey player here – is that it goes to a player from a successful team, and sometimes even that isn’t enough (just ask former Mercyhurst stars Jamie Hunt and Dave Borelli).

Ben Scrivens, Cornell – Of the top goalies in the country, it’s tough to find one who’s spent a higher percentage of game time in net for his team. He’s No. 3 in the nation in goals-against average and save percentage, and is a senior, which tends to help in these matters. However, when Cornell goaltending comes up, “the system” is rarely far behind, and it may derail Scrivens as a Hobey candidate here.

James Marcou, UMass – A month or six weeks ago, Marcou would have been hovering somewhere between “MORTAL LOCK” and “ON SOLID GROUND.” Marcou is an assist man, and Hobey likes goals, but when you’re one of the top three scorers in the country playing in a major conference, that won’t stop you from getting a finalist nod. What will probably stop Marcou is the Minutemen’s slide as of late, as his numbers have fallen off along with his team. If the Minutemen can right the ship and make it to the KurtCenter (aka TD Garden), Marcou will be right back where he was, but I don’t think he’s a serious contender for the Hobey.

Brian Gibbons, Boston College – From where I sit, this Eagle has flown under the radar a bit (yuk yuk yuk), as he doesn’t seem to have the same kind of buzz that accompanied, say, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Collins or Patrick Eaves, the last three BC forwards to be recognized as Hobey finalists (of course, when it comes to Gerbe and Collins, I was doing a lot of the buzzing). The fact of the matter is that Gibbons is the No. 12 scorer in the country, playing for a BC team that could steal the Hockey East title from UNH this weekend. That puts him in the mix. Much of the same could be said about Cam Atknison, who has more goals, but I think the difference is small enough that if there’s a guy from BC, it’ll be Gibbons.

OUTSIDE CHANCE:

Jack Connolly or Justin Fontaine, Minnesota Duluth – The Bulldog boys’ scoring has fallen off a bit as of late, and UMD’s success has gone with it. If the Bulldogs can right the ship, make it to St. Paul, and stay in the mix for an NCAA tournament spot, one of them (probably the elder and higher-scoring Fontaine) could have a shot, but these guys picked the wrong time of year to fall off.

Stephane Da Costa, Merrimack – He’s a shoo-in for Hockey East Rookie of the Year, and could even bring home the national ROTY award, but the Frenchman has two things working against him: Merrimack’s overall lack of success, and the rarity of a freshman being nominated for the Hobey. I think Da Costa has a Hobey finalist nod in his future, but I don’t think it’s this year.

Cody Reichard, Miami – He probably shares his time with Connor Knapp too much to be get much traction as a serious Hobey contender, but there is certainly a chance that he’ll get a finalist nod.

Matt Read, Bemidji State – Read was a big part of the Hobey conversation early in the year, but his star has faded a little in the second half of the season. He’s still a likely CHA Player of the Year pick, but Read’s best chance at a Hobey finalist nod (or more) will be next year, in the Beavers’ inaugural WCHA season.

Blake Kessel, New Hampshire – The No. 2 offensive defenseman in the nation behind Brendan Smith, Kessel has been a major weapon for the Wildcats. What I suspect, though, is that as a sophomore on a team that has a senior forward contending for the award, Kessel will collect his Hockey East All-League and All-American hardware and be happy with it…for now.

Michael Davies, Wisconsin – Davies has had a very nice senior year for the Badgers, but takes, to my thinking, a clear backseat to teammates Brendan Smith and Blake Geoffrion when it comes to the Hobey race. He is a senior, and he has a higher point total than Geoffrion, but I think that Geoffrion’s goals give him the preferred spot behind Brendan Smith.

Derek Stepan, Wisconsin – See above, although Stepan is, to my thinking, a less likely pick than Davies. He’s a sophomore as opposed to a senior, and his numbers are skewed more heavily towards assists than Davies’ are. One thing Stepan may have going for him is his performance at the World Juniors, although that’s not really a matter for consideration where the Hobey is concerned.

An Olympic Hobey Moment

So, has everyone come down from that Olympic high of Sunday night? Ready to focus on the quarterfinals today?

It’s been a fun couple of days for college hockey fans – and not just the BC fans who saw their team smash Merrimack on Tuesday ngiht – reveling in the success of so many college hockey alumni in Sunday night’s US-Canada game.

And for someone who spends a good chunk of his time sizing up the race for the Hobey Baker Award – and has, on occasion, endured conversations about the Hobey-winners who never made it on the next level – Sunday night’s US win was gratifying on another level.

For all the great performances in Sunday’s game – I’m still trying to figure out how Ryan Kesler got that shot off – two of the players standing tallest were the two Hobey winners on the team.

The go-ahead goal, of course, came from Chris Drury, the 1998 winner from Boston University, who adds another chapter to his legacy as a consummate winner, the well-worn story that stretches from his Little League World Series victory with Trumbull, Conn. all the way through his Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and including the 1995 NCAA title and 1998 Hobey Baker Award that bookend his celebrated career at BU.

(Now, if only Chris could add a great accomplishment with the Rangers to that, I’d be happier than ).

Meanwhile, watching Ryan Miller in net, fending off shots from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Dany Heatley and Jonathan Toews, it was easy to see how he stopped 95 percent of his shots over the course of the 2000-2001 season en route to the last Hobey to be won by a goaltender. If my dad hadn’t grown up a Michigan fan, I probably would have been doing some “Go Green, Go White” cheers on my couch on Sunday.

Of course, Hobey Baker never played in the Olympics. He repreented the US internationally in a much more important venue, flying in World War I. Still, it does seem appropriate that two of the biggest stars of Sunday’s win were Hobey Baker winners.

After all. while I’ll be the last one to try to compare the US win over Canada on Sunday to the Miracle on Ice (Although I can hardly blame the major media outlets who have done so, given the 30-years-minus-a-day timing), it is somewhat fitting that two Hobey Baker winners helped played key roles in the biggest US hockey win since 1980. After all, remember who won the very first Hobey Baker Award:

Neal Broten.

Fun With Numbers, Part VI: The Defensemen

It should hardly be news to anyone reading this that things don’t always work out the way you plan. As I finish up my series of applying Ken Campbell’s “Campbellnomics” to the top contenders for the Hobey Baker Award (among skaters), it’s worked out a little differently than I planned.

This was originally supposed to be a five-part series, looking at five skaters each each of the “Big Four” conferences and five from Atlantic Hoeky and the CHA. Good idea, I think, if a bit time-consuming to go through 25 players’ game-by-game performances and look at when they scored their points. But as it turned out, the idea got a bit of tweaking, some necessary, and some, well…

The first big change was when I decided to look at defensemen separately from forwards, adding what would be five players to the list. No big deal, although it turned a five-part series into six. The night I decided to do that, I approached Boston University SID Brian Kelley and asked his opinion on which of the Terriers’ offensive defensemen I should include, Colby Cohen or Kevin Shattenkirk.

That question eventually became moot, though, as I decided to go beyond my five-player cutoff in the CCHA and WCHA, adding Miami’s Carter Camper and Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion to my list. If I could decide it was too close to cut those players off, then why not include both Shattenkirk and Cohen?

Finally, I had intended to get all of this done before Friday’s games, so that all the players would be on as even a playing field as posisble.

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out. As I sat down to total the Campbellnomics points for the six defensement on my list, Friday night’s games had been played. So, what to do? Well, as it turns out, five of the six defensemen went without a Campbellnomics point on Friday, and the one who did score didn’t affect his standing. So we’ll go with their pre-Friday averages, make it all nice and even.

We start with the defenseman who got me started on all this, Wisconsin’s Brendan Smith. Smith is the nation’s top scoring defenseman with 12 goals and 21 assists in 27 games, ranking 18th in the nation overall in scoring average with 1.22 PPG. Applying the Campbellnomics system, he checks in with 20.5 Campbellnomics points, giving him an average of .79 CPPG. It’s worth noting that while defensemen’s generally lower goal totals figure to hurt in a system that values goals twice as much as assists, Smith has a higher Campbellnomics average than any of the three Wisconsin forwards I looked at on Friday: Derek Stepan, Michael Davies and Blake Geoffrion.

On the other side of the country, New Hampshire sophomore Blake Kessel is also putting up some big numbers for the Wildcats, averaging 1.11 points per game on six goals and 24 assists in 27 games for the Wildcats. Applying the Campbellnomics system, Kessel checks in with a total of 19 points, just behind Smith, with an average of .73 CPPG (as of Friday morning).

Checking in right behind Smith and Kessel on the defensemen scoring list is Yale’s Thomas Dignard, who has five goals and 15 assists in 19 games for an average of 1.05 points per game. However, Dignard’s numbers take a stunning drop in Campbellnomics, with a total of just 6.5 Campbellnomics points and an average of .36 CPPG.

Now, we’re skipping three players to get to our next two, and I’ll explain that. Two are Canisius’ Carl Hudson and Bemidji State’s Brad Hunt, and I think history shows that it’s very tough for defensemen and forwards to get good Hobey buzz outside the Big Four conferences. The third is Maine’s Will O’Neill. The thing about O’Neill is that he hasn’t gathered much buzz on the national stage yet, and it’s also VERY clear who the Black Bears’ Hobey candidate is. So for the moment, we’ll skip O’Neill.

That brings us to the two BU defensemen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen. Cohen, of course, has the Campbellnomics goal of all Campbellnomics goals on his resum, the OT goal in the NCAA title game last season, and has more goals than assists this season, with 12 goals and 10 assists to his credit for an average of .88 PPG, ranking seventh among defensemen. Meanwhile, Shattenkirk has four goals and 18 assists this season, tying for 11th among defensemen with .81 PPG. When the Campbellnomics system is applied, though, roles are reversed, as Shattenkirk has a total of 15 Campbellnomics point through 26 games (.58 CPPG), and Cohen totals 12 Campbellnomics points in his 24 games (.50 CPPG). For what it’s worth, Cohen’s assist on Ross Gaudet’s tying goal in last night’s BU win over Maine gives him another point and ups his average to .52 CPPG, but his standing doesn’t change, so we’ll stick with .50 for now.

Finally, early on in the season, UMass-Lowell’s Nick Schaus got a bit of Hobey buzz during the Rvier Hawks’ hot start, and while he’s faded a bit, he has just as many points as Shattenkirk. That said, however, Campbellnomics isn’t nearly as kind to Schaus, awarding him a total of 7.5 points, for an average of .29 CPPG.

So, that gives us a leaderboard as follows:

Brendan Smith, Wisconsin: .79 CPPG

Blake Kessel, New Hampshire: .73 CPPG

Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston University: .58 CPPG

Colby Cohen, Boston University: .50 CPPG

Thomas Dignard, Yale: .36 CPPG

Nick Schaus, UMass-Lowell: .29 CPPG

And, overall…

PlayerSchoolCPPGRankNational Scoring Rank
Chase PolacekRPI1.1016
Corey TroppMichigan State1.03219
Casey WellmanUMass1.02315
Blake GallagherCornell.98414
Bobby ButlerUNH.9153t
Broc LittleYale.87633
Tommy WingelsMiami.85761t
Rhett RakhshaniDenver.82816
Jacques LamoureuxAir Force.80932
Brendan SmithWisconsin.791018
James MarcouUMass.78113t
Austin SmithColgate.781230
Blake KesselUNH.731341
Matt ReadBemidji State.731424
Mario Valery-TrabuccoUnion.7115t12
Cory ConacherCanisius.7115t1
Justin FontaineMinn.-Duluth.7115t15
Gustav NyquistMaine.69182
Blake GeoffrionWisconsin.651924t
Mark OlverNorthern Michigan.642017
Carter CamperMiami.632161t
Brian GibbonsBoston College.622211
Kevin ShattenkirkBoston University.5823100+
Dave JarmanSacred Heart.57247
Jack ConnollyMinn.-Duluth.552510
Michael DaviesWisconsin.54269
Derek StepanWisconsin.522723
Colby CohenBoston University.5028100
Carl HagelinMichigan.502949
Zac DalpeOhio State.463046t
Thomas DignardYale.363150
Nick Schau

Fun With Numbers, Part V: The WCHA

For the record, despite my disappointing grade in freshman calculus once upon a time, I am perfectly capable of counting, so yes, I do know that I tracked six CCHA players instead of five. With a team like Miami, having been so dominant and so balanced this season, I thought it made sense to toss one more RedHawk into the mix, particularly since Carter Camper and Tommy Wingels have (for now) the same number of points.

The reason I bring this up is because in looking at another top team, Wisconsin, as I apply Ken Campbell’s “Campbellnomics” stats to the WCHA’s top-scoring forwards, I expanded one more time, and included not one, not two, but three Badgers in my analysis.

(Cue UHF line: “Badgers? Badgers? We don’t need no stinking Badgers!)

Actually, we do need them, sicne they’re one of the top teams in the country, and they have one of the top offenses in college hockey. Of course, it’s also an offense that has some balance to it, with four players with 28 points or more, including three 30-point scorers, and where the Badger forwards are concerned, that’s not a good thing in the Hobey race (we’ll get to Brendan Smith in our last installment). With a team that’s winning big – thanks to both that prolific offense and a stifling defense – and getting production from many different sources (seven players have five or more goals), the chances that a given player will be involved on the deciding goal(s) of the game are reduced. That’s trouble in the Campbellnomics system, which awards points only on six types of goals: first goal, go-ahead goal, tying goal, comeback goal, last lead, and overtime (you get one point per goal and half a point per assist for each category the goal falls into).

Applying the system to the Badgers’ top forwards, the fine seasons being enjoyed by Derek Stepan and Michael Davies take a hit. Davies, who’s 13th in the country with 1.28 points per game on 11 goals and 21 assists, totals just 13.5 Campbellnomics points, for an average of .54 CPPG. Derek Stepan, meanwhile, has 31 points (6g, 25a) in 25 games, and ranks 18th in the country with 1.24 points per game, but the digits get flipped in Campbellnomics, and he has 13 points for an averaged of .52 CPPG. The big impact man among Wisconsin’s forwards is Blake Geoffrion, which makes sense, since the system favors goals, and he’s the top goal scorer for Mike Eaves’ team. Geoffrion’s 18 goals and 10 assists in 26 games give him an average of 1.08 PPG (45th in the nation), and his Campbellnomics score is 17 points, good for .65 CPPG.

Meanwhile, at Minnesota Duluth, forwards Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine have been having big years for the Bulldogs, ranking 10th and 17th, respectively, in the nation in points per game. Surprisingly, despite similar point breakdowns (16g, 23a for Connolly, 17g, 19a for Fontaine), Fontaine scores significantly higher in the Campbellnomics system, as his 20.5 Campbellnommics points average out to .71 CPPG, compared to 16.5 Campbellnomics poitns and .55 CPPG for Connolly.

The big winner in the WCHA, though, is Denver forward Rhett Rakhshani. Rakhshani – and how come no video game geek in Denver has nicknamed him “Prince of Persia?” – is 16th in the nation in scoring with 17 goals and 18 assists in 28 games for an average of 1.25 points per game, and when the Campbellnomics system, he leapfrogs the WCHA’s other top scoring forwards, for 23 Campbellnomics poitns and a .82 CPPG average.

Of course, through all of this, there’s an elephant in the room, since Brendan Smith is the one who got me started on all this. But that’s fine, because the defensemen are next.

Fun With Numbers, Part IV: The CCHA

It’s been an interesting year in the CCHA.

Obviously, the conference has an impressive crown jewel in Miami, the nation’s top ranked team and a likely top seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. That said, however, according to the latest PairWise Rankings, only three teams from the conference would make the tournament were the season to end today, and Michigan, for the first time in 20 years, wouldn’t be one of them.

More relevant to our discussion, however, is the dearth of top-ranked scorers. Of the top 20 players in the nation in points per game, none of them plays in the CCHA. Corey Tropp is tops, ranking 22nd, but we’ll get to him. But with what we’ve been up to lately, that may not be much of an issue. After all, to borrow from Ken Campbell – and really, I’m borrowing his whole “Campbellnomics” system – we’re not asking how many, we’re asking how many mattered.

To recap, we’re awarding a point per goal and half a point per assist for every one of these six categories a player’s point falls into: first goal, go-ahead goal, tying goal, last lead, comeback goal, overtime goal.

We’ll start with Corey Tropp, the top scorer in the conference with 1.22 points per game on 20 goals and 19 assists in 32 contests. Applying the Campbellnomics system, we find that Tropp has had as big a hand as you would expect in the Spartans’ success this season, he checks in with 33 Campbellnomics points, for an average of 1.03 CPPG.

Next on the list is Northern Michigan’s Mark Olver, who’s had a strong season for the Wildcats, with 33 points (15g, 18a) in 29 games for an average of 1.14 PPG, good for 32nd in the country. Unfortunately for Olver – and even more unfortunately for other top CCHA players we’ll be looking at tonight – the big points in this system usually involve winning games, and the Wildcats haven’t done as much of that as they would like this season. All told, Olver checks in with 18.5 Campbellnomics points and .64 CPPG, a respectable total on a team that’s not winning big.

Speaking of teams not winning big, Ohio State has had a rough landing after last season’s trip to the NCAA tournament, which means that a number of Zac Dalpe‘s 31 points (15g, 16a) have gone to waste. Dalpe has been able to amass just 13 Campbellnomics points in 28 games this season, averaging out to just .46 CPPG, the lowest average of any player we’ve looked at. But that’s what happens when a team isn’t winning.

And if there’s any consolation for the disappointing season in Columbus, it’s that “That School Up North,” better known to the rest of us as Michigan, is also suffering through a down year. That’s left the Wolverines’ top scorer, Carl Hagelin, a similar problem to Dalpe. Hagelin has 33 points in 31 games this season on 13 goals and 20 assists, but that 1.06 PPG average only proves good for 16.5 Campbellnomics points, or an average of an even 0.5 CPPG.

But what, then, of the team that is winning, and winning big, those top-ranked Miami RedHawks? The scoring has been very balanced for Rico Blasi’s team – as the fine folks at INCH noted this week, four RedHawks have 24 points or more this season, so there hasn’t been the same kind of opportunity for one player to shine above all the others. That said, Miami does have a pair of players leading the team in points per game in forwards Tommy Wingels and Carter Camper. I initially planned to zero in solely on Wingels (Especailly after he stepped up bigtime at the Frozen Four last season), but I figured that as long as I was going through all of Miami’s games, I may as well take a look at Camper as well (particuarly since I know that a lot of TV folks like saying his name…). It paid off, as Camper (12g, 19a) . Wingels, with 14 goals and 17 assists this season, has a total of 25.5 Campbellnomics points, and an average of .85 CPPG. Camper, meanwhile, showed he’s hardly an afterthought with 19 Campbellnomics points and an average of 0.63 CPPG.

So, just to recap:

Corey Tropp, Michigan State: 33 (1.03)

Tommy Wingels, Miami: 25.5 (.85)

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan: 18.5 (.64)

Carter Camper. Miami: 19 (.63)

Carl Hagelin, Michigan: 16.5 (.5)

Zac Dalpe, Ohio State: 13 (.46)

Now, Tropp, as others have pointed out, is problematic because of his suspsension last season. That said, he’s proven that he’s more than just the top scorer in the CCHA, because he’s there when it counts, more often than not. Also, Tommy Wingels hasn’t been part of the Hobey conversation this season until recently, but even with three other skaters with 24 points on his team, and a lower point total than others, his Campbellnomics average also shows a player who knows how to step up when it counts.

What do you think? Is Wingels a likely Hobey Finalist (or better) this season?

Fun With Numbers, Part III: ECAC Hockey

We’re wrapping up our tour of the East tonight, as we apply Ken Campbell’s “Campbellnomics” system from the Hockey News to the top Hobey Baker candidates in ECAC Hockey (among forwards, anyway). These guys haven’t been getting much Hobey buzz this season, but as this system that values the most meaningful goals of the game shows, there are definitely some players worth paying attention to here.

Again, under this system, players earn a full point for a goal and a half a point for an assist for each of the six categories – go-ahead goal, tying goal, first goal, last lead, comeback goal, overtime – that a goal falls into.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the big “Campbellnomics” winners at the Beanpot final on Monday night would have been BU’s Kevin Shattenkirk (two points for a go-ahead goal and the first goal) and BC’s Carl Sneep (two points for the go-ahead goal and the last lead. Chris Kreider and Cam Atkinson would have come up empty, which shows the flaws in the system, but I still say these are numbers worth considering.

We’ll start with the ECAC Hockey player I’ve been watching the longest, Cornell’s Blake Gallagher. Gallgher got off to the hottest start Cornell has seen in a forward in a very long time, and although he’s cooled off a bit from his goal-per-game pace in the first month-plus of Cornell’s season, he’s still No. 14 in the country in points per game with 14 goals and 14 assists in 22 games (1.27 PPG). Applying the Campbellnomics system, Gallagher stands up quite well, totalling 21.5 Campbellnomic points for an average of .98 CPPG.

Meanwhile, a player at another school whose fans enjoy shouting the word “RED” – RPI’s Chase Polacek, has quietly established himself as the No. 8 scorer in the country, averaging, 1.43 points per game on 18 goals and 23 assists. Even more impressive is that Polacek has amassed 33 Campbellnomics points, for an average of 1.1 CPPG. As a frame of reference, the NHL leader in this category, Sidney Crosby, is averaging 1.14 CPPG, so Mr. Polacek is doing quite well for himself this season.

The big story in the Capital District this season, however, has been at Union, where senior forward Mario Valery-Trabucco has led a breakout season for the Dutchmen with 16 points and 19 assists in 27 games, tying for 11th in the country in total PPG. The Campbellnomics system, however, is not so kind to the Dutchman, crediting him for 20.5 points, or .71 CPPG. A respectable score, certainly, but not quite approaching the gaudy numbers of Polacek and Gallagher.

Valery-Trabucco and his Union teammates are chasing Gallagher’s Big Red, and Yale is in the same position, tied with the Dutchmen for second in the conference behind Cornell. Keith Allain’s Bulldogs have gotten major contributions from several forwards, but I chose Broc Little to represent the Elis here, since the system favors goals, and he has them. He has 18, to be exact, to go with his eight assists. Introduce Campbellnomics to the proceedings, meanwhile, and there’s still nothing small about Little’s contributions, as he checks in with 20 Campbellnomics points in 23 games, or .87 CPPG.

Finally, we check in with Colgate and forward Austin Smith, currently tied for 20th in the country in points per game at 1.22. Factor in Campbellnomics, and he has 21 points in 27 games, good for .78 points per game. That seems to be in the median range that I’ve found so far for top-level forwards.

Of course, ECAC Hockey’s biggest achiever in this category is Polacek, who’s in Sidney Crosby territory with his Campbellnomics average. However, there’s more to consider here than this stat (although it is nice).

So, to recap:

Chase Polacek, RPI: 33 (1.1 CPPG)

Blake Gallagher, Cornell: 21.5 (.98 CPPG)

Broc Little, Yale: 20 (.87 CPPG)

Austin Smith, Colgate: 21 (.78 CPPG)

Mario Valery-Trabucco, Union: 20.5 (.71 CPPG)

Now, as things currently stand, Cornell is the only team in ECAC Hockey bound for the NCAA tournament, and that’s worth considering as part of this exercise. Union and Yale are challenging, of course, so I think an edge, if there is one, lies with Gallagher, Valery-Trabucco, and Little as they challenge for the title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

That said, don’t be surprised if Polacek gets a nod when the finalists are announced. If there’s one thing these numbers show, it’s that Polacek’s performance this is hardly a freak game, as opposed to a player who fades at crunch time.

That’ll do it for tonight, but I’ll also take this opportunity to ask whom I’m missing. Think your team has a player who should be evaluated as a Hobey contender? Let me think, and I’ll get back to you.

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