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2010-11 Hobey Baker Watch: Preview, Part I

Wow, is it the eve of college hockey season already?

Apparently, yes, thanks to the crazy early series between Michigan and Mercyhurst. Not sure what’s up with that, but if I want to preview the Hobey Baker race, apparently, I’d best get to it.

Generally, what I’ve done in the past is try to “cast” the upcoming season’s finalists based on who the finalists were in the previous season, but that doesn’t work too well for me. In two seasons, I think I correctly named one Hobey finalist. Granted, it was 2009 Hobey winner Matt Gilroy, but still, there’s a better way.

So, instead of playing casting agent, I’ve gone over last season’s all-conference teams, combined that information with my own observations, and come out with a list of 25 names to start from for this season. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better than what I’ve been doing. We’ll start with forwards for now, then add the goalies and defensemen in Part Two.

Jacques Lamoureux, Sr, Air Force – Lamoureux was a Hobey Finalist in 2009, but found himself on the outside looking in last year after his numbers dropped off, not to mention increased competition in Atlantic Hockey with the emergence of Canisius forward Cory Conacher (more on him below). I think that Lamoureux is well worth watching, as he could certainly adjust to the attention he attracted last year. He’ll still be a focus of opposing teams’ game planning, but he may well make the necessary improvements to reassert himself. If that happens, he certainly has the intangibles to complement his on-ice performance and make him a very strong candidate for the top 10 or even the Hobey Hat Trick.

Cory Conacher, Sr, Canisius – Conacher was second in the nation in points per game last season, with 20 goals and 33 assists in 35 games. That performance was good enough for Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year, but that didn’t get him a Hobey finalist spot, probably because there was room for debate about whether Conacher, Lamoureux, or RIT’s Dan Ringwald was the conference’s best candidate for the award. A lack of team success probably didn’t help, either, so Canisius will need to make a strong run at the Atlantic Hockey title for Conacher to get consideration for a finalist spot.

Andy Miele, Sr, Miami - Miele was a second-team All-CCHA Pick last season, and is picked as a preseason first-team selection this year. Miami’s depth tends to be a strength, and it’s hard to say which RedHawks forward will be the leader in terms of conference and national honors.

Carter Camper, Sr, Miami – Camper is a preseason second-team All-CCHA selection, but had as many points as Miele last season. Camper is worth keeping an eye on. So, for that matter, is Pat Cannone. Miami’s a deep team, and I think it’ll be a bigger surprise if the RedHawks DON’T produce a Hobey finalist or two this season. Whether it’s Camper, Miele, Cannone, or one of the goalies (see below) remains to be seen.

Chase Polacek, Sr, Rensselaer - 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.

Broc Little, Sr, Yale - Like Miami, Yale’s high-flying offense figures to produce multiple high scorers, and as a 27-goal scorer a year ago, Little is likely to be one of them. Teammate Brian O’Neill is also worth a look – he tied for seventh in the nation in points per game last season – but with 16 goals and 29 assists, he’s seen primarily as the setup man, and as we all know, Hobey Likes Goals. Keep your eye on Little first, but don’t be surprised to see a number of Yale forwards earn consideration.

Cam Atkinson, Jr, Boston College – Atkinson was a second team Hockey East All-Star last season, and flew just below the Hobey radar, possibly due in part to his sophomore status. However, Atkinson’s performance during the NCAA Tournament put the nation on notice. With big things expected from BC, the time is right for Atkinson to step up to the next level. He finished last season as the nation’s leading goal-scorer after six goals in the tournament, which has to put him as an early favorite for the Hobey.

Brian Gibbons, Sr, Boston College – Gibbons was named to the Hockey East First Team over Atkinson last season, and is worth keeping an eye on, but with 16 goals and 34 assists last year, he’s the kind of player who’s valued more by the coaches and media in his conference than by your average Hobey voting panel. The other thing to consider here – and this is an issue facing Atkinson as well – is that while many BC forwards have earned Hobey finalist honors during Jerry York’s tenure at the Heights, defenseman Mike Mottau remains the only Eagle to win the award under York. Much as Cornell’s system is known for producing great numbers for goalies, York’s Eagles are known for turning out small forwards who rack up the points. The question is this: Will it take unheard-of production for Atkinson or Gibbons to succeed where Nathan Gerbe, Brian Gionta, Chris Collins, and many others have failed? Or will it just take the right breaks in the Hobey race itself?

Gustav Nyquist, Jr, Maine – The nation’s leading scorer a year ago is back for another run in Orono, after leading the Black Bears to within a goal of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2007 Frozen Four. Nyquist picked up the majority of his 61 points on assists, but there’s a difference between being the nation’s top scorer and one of the top 10 or 15. If Nyquist continues to develop, he should definitely emerge as a Hobey contender.

Stephane Da Costa, So, Merrimack - The bad news for Da Costa is that he’d need to lead the Warriors into the NCAA tournament to have a shot at the Hobey, and given that Merrimack is picked seventh in Hockey East, that’s not looking terribly likely. That said, the good news is that last year’s National Rookie of the Year was the nation’s No. 7 scorer as a freshman, playing in the conference that’s produced the last three NCAA champions. That bodes well for continued individual success, and the Frenchman could easily contend for Hobey finalist recognition should his career continue on its current trajectory.

Matt Read, Sr, Bemidji State - Read was the subject of Hobey talk early on in the season a year ago, when he scored 21 points in 13 games in october and Novemeber. However, Read’s star faded on the national scene as the season went along, although he was an easy pick as the CHA’s final Player of the Year. Now, he’s a senior, and he’ll captain the Beavers on their maiden voyage in the conference that Just Got Tougher. If he produces in the WCHA as well as he did against CHA opposition, he’ll have a great case for Hobey finalist consideration.

Jack Connolly, Jr, Minnesota-Duluth - One of two returning All-WCHA picks for the Bulldogs, Connolly is the top returning scorer in the conference. The Bulldogs were picked second in the WCHA by the media and third by the coaches, which indicates that Connolly should have plenty of opportunity to impress this season.

Justin Fontaine, Sr, Minnesota-Duluth – Fontaine didn’t tally quite as many points as his running buddy Connolly – he had three fewer points in one less game – but he scored more goals, and he’s a senior. Those are both points in his favor. Of course, time will tell which Bulldog, if any, will emerge as a strong candidate for the Hobey.

Garrett Roe, Sr, St. Cloud State - I’ve had an eye on Roe since I saw him play against Alaska-Anchorage his freshman year at the National Hockey Center, and he’s been one of the top 25 scorers in the nation all three years at St. Cloud. Now, he’s a senior, and while he won’t have the luxury of playing with Ryan Lasch anymore, this could be his moment in the Hobey spotlight, as the top returning player on a team picked to finish second in the WCHA by the conference’s coaches and third by the media.

So, those are the forwards. Coming tomorrow: the goalies and defensemen.

That's My Story and I'm Sticking To It

Oh, come on. You know how I’m calling this one.

If I didn’t pick Bobby Butler or Gustav Nyquist to make it to the Hobey Hat Trick, do you really think I’m going to pick either of them to win the award tonight?

Yeah, I know, predictable.

When I was over at the Detroit Red Wings game Wednesday night working on an NCAA.com piece on Patrick Eaves and his connection to both schools, I had a chance to talk informally with former Maine goalie Jimmy Howard. Howard was very interested in Nyquist’s candidacy, and asked if the Black Bears’ not making the tournament was a factor in why Nyquist isn’t favored to win tonight.

I said no, since, after all, players have won without making the tournament, most recently Matt Carle in 2006. However, Carle’s performance that year was absolutely extraordinary for a defenseman, and of course, the fact that he had been part of two NCAA Championship teams already didn’t hurt either. Nyquist, meanwhile, is an extremely gifted setup man, which is a role that has traditionally been overlooked by Hobey voters unless the totals are insanely high. Furthermore, in the running against a pair of seniors and big goal scorers, it’s tough to see him winning.

That leaves Geoffrion and Butler, and Geoffrion has two key advantages (neither of which, for the record, is his famous last name).

1. He came back for his senior year when he clearly didn’t have to. Butler would have found a customer for his services had he decided to test the free agent waters after last season, but Geoffrion, as a second-round draft pick and better-known commodity in terms of transition to the pro level, was in a much different situtation.

2. His team is here. Team success isn’t a prerequisite for the Hobey, but it does help, and getting to the Frozen Four is as much success as you can have for the final voting. Geoffrion was a key figure in making it happen with his big weekend at the West Regional, where Butler disappeared for the most part in UNH’s loss to RIT in Albany.

Of course, there are no losers when it comes to the Hobey Hat Trick, and all three players are a credit to college hockey. It should be a great ceremony tonight.

Boy, Is My Face Red

I was…I was…I was not exactly right.

After a very strong 9 of 10 performance picking the Hobey Baker finalists, I went down in flames picking the Hobey Hat Trick. Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion was my one correct pick, as New Hampshire forward Bobby Butler and Maine forward Gustav Nyquist rounded out the group of three finalists, not my choices of Denver’s Marc Cheverie and Geoffrion’s Wisconsin teammate, Brendan Smith.

Wow…how did I get this wrong?

For starters, I had Smith, not Geoffrion, pegged as Wisconsin’s main Hobey candidate for a long time. I was taken in back in mid-season, when Geoffrion was among the nation’s top 10 scorers as a defenseman, and I continued to stick with him even as the scoring numbers came back down to Earth. I did start to sense that he wasn’t about to win it this past weekend, but I did think he would make the Hat Trick.

As for Cheverie, I really didn’t think he played badly in Denver’s loss to RIT, and his importance to Denver’s McNaughton Cup-winning season is unquestioned. Of course, Denver’s postseason was uninspiring, to say the least, and that probably made a difference, the losses at the WCHA Final Five in particular.

Now, I thought Nyquist would still be on the radar for the Hat Trick despite being a spectator this weekend, but I thought that the heroics of Butler against Cornell and Geoffrion against Vermont and St. Cloud would be the end for him. Those performances did wind up having an impact, but not in the way that I thought. Finishing the season as the nation’s leading scorer doesn’t always mean a great deal – just ask Bryan Leitch or Ryan Potulny – but Nyquist was clearly the driving force behind a Maine team that was an overtime goal away from a Hockey East title and a return to the NCAA tournament after a couple of lean years.

Butler, meanwhile, finished the season as the nation’s leading goal-scorer, and it’s as I have been known to say: Hobey likes goals. The fact that he’s already collected Hockey East Player of the Year honors and the Walter Brown Award speaks well to how respected he is in New England, and in retrospect, it was probably unwise on my part to think that a scoreless night in the loss to RIT would be enough to knock him out of the competition. I told some UNH fans on the morning of the East Regional final that I thought Butler had played his way into the Hat Trick, and I really should have stuck with it.

But no use crying over spilt milk now. The question now is, which player got the most votes? After all, the voting’s done, and we know that these three are the top three vote-getters. My feeling is that it’ll be Geoffrion on top. He’s the one who’s still playing, and he’s every bit as much a goal-scorer as Butler. I also have a feeling that with two Hockey East players in the top three, they may have split regional votes with one another, while Geoffrion seems to have gotten the lion’s share of the votes in the west. Of course, that assumes he came in first. If he didn’t , then it means that the four WCHA players took votes from one another, and one of the Hockey East boys, probably Butler wins it.

But that’s not what I think happens. I think Geoffrion wins, and we’ll find out a week from Friday.

We Know Our Four, But What About Three?

Wow.

For a weekend that saw three of the four top seeds make it to the Frozen Four, this certainly feels like a pretty wild regional weekend that we just had. There were wild offensive shootouts, St. Cloud’s first NCAA tournament victory, and, of course, the small matter of an Atlantic Hockey program that’s only been in Division I for five seasons advancing to its first Frozen Four.

Of course, none of that really affects the Hobey Watch…or does it?

To be honest, I’m really not sure what happened this weekend in terms of the Hobey Baker race…or at least, I’m still without too good a grip on who will be part of the Hobey Hat Trick when it’s announced on Wednesday. What I do know comes under the general heading of “stock rising” and “stock falling.” I suppose it makes the most sense to start with that before I make the call again for the Hobey Hat Trick.

    STOCK RISING

Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin - A game-winning goal against Vermont on Friday and an early goal to help get the Badgers rolling against St. Cloud on Saturday is an excellent “closing statement” for the Badger forward. He now has as many goals as anyone in the country not named “Bobby Butler,” and unlike Butler, he’s going to the Frozen Four.

Bobby Butler, New Hampshire – Butler and his wildcats fell short of the Frozen Four, but Butler had two goals in the win over Cornell and looked dangerous in UNH’s loss to RIT. Running up against a hot goalie in Jared DiMichiel doesn’t undo a Hobey candidacy, especially not when Butler is a senior and the national goal-scoring leader.

    STOCK HOLDING

Brendan Smith, Wisconsin - Smith had a solid weekend in the Badgers’ victories at the West regional, but wasn’t spectacular. I think the thing I realized about Smith this weekend is that while he was looking like Matt Carle circa 2006 earlier in the season, he’s not there right now, and doesn’t necessarily have the numbers to win the Hobey. I think he could easily be in the Hat Trick, but there’s a bit of doubt creeping in as to whether he walks away with the whole thing.

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan - By many accounts, Olver was the best player on the ice in the Wildcats’ first-round loss to St. Cloud State, but the reality is that he needed serious tournament heroics to vault into the upper echelon of Hobey contenders. That didn’t happen. Olver didn’t lose anything this weekend – he’s had a fantastic season and was fully deserving of his honors from the CCHA and the coaches who made him a finalist – but he didn’t win anything, either.

Rhett Rakhshani, Denver - Rakhshani was there in the clutch for Denver all season long, but couldn’t get the Pioneers even with RIT in their stunning first-round loss to the Tigers. Like Geoffrion, Rakhshani was his team’s secondary Hobey candidate (behind Marc Cheverie), and like Olver, needed a big weekend to have a shot at the hat trick. He didn’t get it, so he’s done.

Cody Reichard, Miami - Had it been Reichard in net for Miami’s double-overtime win over Michigan on Sunday night, a spot in the hat trick could easily have been his. However, the fact that Miami stuck to its goaltending rotation emphasizes why Reichard is a tough sell as a Hobey contender to begin with. A goalie who’s played a bit more than half of his team’s games doesn’t really work for the Hobey, although someone who accepts his role so readily and displays commitment to the team over thirst for individual glory the way Reichard has is certainly living up to the principles that Hobey Baker himself valued.

    STOCK FALLING

Ben Scrivens, Cornell – They weren’t all his fault, but letting in five goals against New Hampshire on Friday will get the Big Red netminder a big ol’ “Thanks For Playing” from Hobey. Cornell goaltenders get so little respect as it is that even a solid performance this weekend might not have been enough without a regional tittle. As it is, Scrivens’ candidacy went down in flames.

Marc Cheverie, Denver – I don’t know how much Cheverie’s stock fell by, but the RIT loss didn’t help him any. He certainly didn’t mess up his chances as badly as did his fellow netminder, Scrivens, since his overall goaltending numbers were solid. I still think Cheverie could have a shot at the Hat Trick – think Brad Thiessen last year – but any thought of his becoming the first goalie since Ryan Miller to win the Hobey is officially gone.

So, now that we know who’s up and down, how does that affect the Hobey Hat Trick? Well, with there being three spots, I see five players who could potentially fill those spots: the two Wisconsin entries, Geoffrion and Smith, Cheverie, and the two Hockey East contenders, Butler and Maine’s Gustav Nyquist, since the Hat Trick has included a non-tournament player as recently as 2006.

I feel like Smith is solidly in. Assists on the tying and winning goals against Vermont as part of a solid weekend performance may not set the world on fire, but he’s been one of the nation’s best players all season long. I’m not as sure of him as a winner as I was before, but he’s in the Hat Trick.

I think Nyquist is out. I think that Butler probably outclasses him in the eyes of the voters as the Walter Brown Award winner and Hockey East Player of the Year, especially when you add they key goals in UNH’s win over Cornell.

So basically, that leaves three players for two spots – Butler, Geoffrion and Cheverie – and I’m thinking that it’s Geoffrion and Cheverie.

Cheverie faded down the stretch, obviously, especially in terms of postseason wins, but I think that like Brad Thiessen last year, his regular season performance will be enough, especially since he didn’t disgrace himself against RIT (two goals allowed on 24 shots, with neither goal one you could fault him on).

Geoffrion was one of the tournament’s top performers this weekend, and was already getting a lot of buzz from people who think that he, not Smith, is the better Badger candidate. They may or may not be right, but I think he gets in and we spend another week and a half debating which one is better.

That leaves Butler on the outside looking in, which is hard to figure, as I’ve long been of the opinion that the entire Hobey Hat Trick is unlikely to come from one region of the country. But there we were last year in Washington, with a pair of BU Terriers and a Northeastern Husky among the top three vote-getters for college hockey’s top individual honor. If it happened in Hockey East, it can certainly happen in the WCHA, which was pretty clearly the class of college hockey this season, as much as Hockey East was last season.

So, there you have it: My Hobey Hat Trick prediction is Blake Geoffrion, Brendan Smith and Marc Cheverie. Last year, my mistake was doubting a Hat Trick from one conference. I’m not making the same mistake again, but am I making a different one now? We’ll know on Wednesday.

Hobey Watch – NCAA Tournament Edition, Day 1

Following Friday’s East Regional semifinal games at the Times Union Center, I have the following statements to make about the race for the 2010 Hobey Baker Award.

- Thanks for playing, Ben Scrivens.

- Welcome to the competition, Bobby Butler.

Going into the weekend, my feelings were that the Hobey Hat Trick would consist of:

1) Wisconsin defenseman Brendan Smith, absent a T.J. Hensick-type situation that would take him out of the running.

2) Either Denver goalie Marc Cheverie OR Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens, pending the outcome of the East Regional.

3) A player to be determined, with a strong possibility (but not a guarantee) that the player would come from an Eastern team.

That feeling has not changed.

Here’s what happened tonight:

First of all, while both Cheverie and Scrivens had their seasons ended in regional semifinal upsets, Cheverie had a very respectable performance, stopping 23 of 25 shots against an RIT team that did give him a legitimate test. Had Denver won today’s game 3-2, Cheverie’s performance wouldn’t be criticized one bit, and it shouldn’t be now, either. The two goals scored on him were off of a bad turnover and a well-executed power play, and it’s hard to fault him on either.

Scrivens, meanwhile…well, let’s put it this way. When asked about Scrivens’ performance tonight (31 saves on 36 shots), the Big Red bench boss began his response by talking about what a great career Scrivens has had. Schafer would go on to say that he doesn’t comment on goalie performances until he’s reviewed tape, but that kind of opening can be taken to mean, “There’s no way I’m throwing this kid under the bus, but he really didn’t play well tonight.” Scrivens didn’t get much help – Cornell turned the puck over way too much – but he really didn’t look very good.

I think that Cheverie’s strength over the course of the season will serve him well – especially now that he’s just .002 behind Scrivens in save percentage – combined with the fact that he’s playing against WCHA opposition in a system not particularly known for enabling great goaltending statistics, as opposed to ECAC Hockey opponents and the notorious Cornell “system.” So, barring anything crazy, I think Cheverie’s in and Scrivens is out.

Now, as for the third spot, Bobby Butler is staking his claim. Two goals today give him sole possession of the NCAA lead with 29, and the hardware he’s already collected – Hockey East Player of the Year, Walter Brown Award – bolsters his resum that much more. If Butler turns in a similar performance tomorrow, that third Hobey Hat Trick spot could easily be his. The only other players I see competing for it are Blake Geoffrion with a monster performance in the West regional, or Gustav Nyquist if UNH and Wisconsin both fall short, as Nyquist’s huge regular season numbers will still stand up.

But who knows? There’s a lot of hockey to be played, and as we’ve seen today, anything can happen.

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.

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