It’s a very rare occasion when the Most Outstanding Player is not a member of the team that won the NCAA regional. That precedent exists for a good and obvious reason, namely that’s it’s almost impossible to outshine the best player for the winning team.
In the case of the 2006 NCAA East Regional, the Most Outstanding Player (MOP) was Maine’s John Hopson. Hopson was a fine choice for the award; he scored three goals over the course of the weekend and he comes with a compelling side-story.
Having spent the first three years of his collegiate career playing for Alaska-Anchorage, he decided to transfer to Maine after his brother Keenan became a member of the Black Bears. That decision resulted in a long and painful year off while he was ineligible following the transfer; ultimately, though, the decision was rewarding because he has spent a very successful year playing alongside his brother in Orono.
In helping Maine to victories over Harvard and Michigan State, Hopson played outstanding hockey and was likely the best player on the ice for his team. But he certainly had company on the Black Bear roster, and he was but a part of his team’s offensive output; captain Greg Moore scored an important empty-net goal in both games, second-leading scorer Josh Soares scored a goal against Harvard and contributed two assists in the win over Michigan State, and forward Michel Leveille had a goal and a pair of assists against the Crimson.
While Hopson was a fine choice for MOP, I don’t believe he was the most outstanding player for the regional, and he certainly wasn’t the most valuable player on the ice in this afternoon’s final between Michigan State and Maine. Those two distinctions belong, in my opinion, to talented Michigan State freshman forward Tim Crowder, in large part because he was just as successful offensively without having the same level of support that Hopson received.
Crowder recorded the same number of goals as Hopson — three total, one in the win over New Hampshire and a pair on the power play in the loss to Maine — but had fewer shots and a lower plus/minus. The actual numbers aren’t as important as the timing of the goals or the fact that for almost two-thirds of the weekend, Crowder represented the sum total of the Spartans’ offense.
On Saturday, his goal — an odd, knuckling puck fired from just inside the blue line that New Hampshire goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak missed to his blocker side — was the lone score in the early game between New Hampshire and Michigan State. No one realized, at first, how critical that score would be. As the game wore on and the two goaltenders, Pietrasiak and the Spartans’ Jeff Lerg, made save after save, Crowder’s goal became increasingly important.
Its early lead allowed Michigan State to counterattack effectively when New Hampshire pushed to come up with the game-tying goal, and in the end Crowder’s score was the entire margin of victory. And for the better part of two periods on Sunday, he again was the Spartans’ offense.
Up 3-0 with time winding down in the first period, Maine was playing aggressively and with confidence while Michigan State looked shellshocked. Spartan coach Rick Comley had called a timeout earlier in the period in an effort to rally his troops, but the timeout did not accomplish its objective. Hopson’s second goal of the game followed a few minutes later, and that score gave the Black Bears a 3-0 lead and effectively silenced the Michigan State fans in the crowd.
It was Crowder’s first goal, which came on the power play with under a minute left in the opening period, which did what the timeout could not, rallying the Michigan State players and serving to revitalize the Spartan fans in the crowd.
“It was a great goal to score,” Crowder said. “[That goal] got us back in the game.”
The Spartans came out firing to begin the second, and after a Maine power-play score early in the second period again switched the momentum, Crowder replied with another power-play goal at the eight-minute mark which helped spark the Spartans’ comeback attempt.
Though the comeback ultimately fell short, Crowder’s efforts were instrumental in turning a potential rout into a nailbiter that was in doubt until the last seconds. And without his efforts Saturday, Michigan State might not have beaten UNH to arrive in the Regional Final.
In the end, I think that’s the perfect definition of outstanding.