Last year, I correctly pegged nine of the 10 Hobey Baker finalists. This year, I’m down to six.
So, let’s look at the four finalists whom I missed, and gauge the level of surprise.
Lee Jubinville, Princeton: For someone who had this wrong, I can’t imagine being any less surprised than I am. I shouldn’t have figured ECAC Hockey to be shut out for finalists, and I did mention Jubinville as a darkhorse for a finalist berth last week. As the leading scorer on a Princeton team that exceeded all expectations, won the Ivy League title, and isn’t done yet, it’s only natural to reward Jubinville with the first Hobey finalist spot awarded to a player from Hobey’s alma mater.
Simon Lambert, RIT: It’s interesting that Atlantic Hockey’s lone representative isn’t the conference’s Player of the Year, but Lambert is certainly worthy. He’s one of the top five scorers in the nation, an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact that he was recruited to RIT as a Division III player. You know, it’s kind of funny: the only Tigers not represented among the Hobey finalists are the ones I expected to be (Colorado College).
T.J. Oshie, North Dakota: Is anyone else amused that after all the hand-wringing over whether Nathan Gerbe should be considered for the award after his one-game suspension in the fall for an on-ice incident, he’s joined among the finalists by a player who was arrested this season? There’s no denying that Oshie is a great player, but if I’m a Michigan fan, I am livid right now, because this looks – shall we say, “interesting?” – in the wake of last season’s T.J. Hensick saga, not to mention the fact that Oshie beat out a very worthy Chad Kolarik, among others, for this spot.
OK, enough of the controversy, although I maintain that I’m very surprised by the pick. Oshie is a great player at both ends of the ice, a player whose worth isn’t truly captured by his healthy numbers, and one of the biggest reasons that the Fighting Sioux are where they are right now. Not only that, he was part of the celebrated pact in the offseason that brought Oshie, 2007 Hobey winner Ryan Duncan, Joe Finley and Taylor Chorney back to Grand Forks. In this era of widespread early NHL signings, the sort of commitment that those players showed and the follow-through that Oshie and his mates have delivered deserve to be rewarded.
Jeff Lerg, Michigan State: Lerg may be an even bigger surprise than Oshie, albeit for almost the exact opposite reason. There are 16 goalies with a better goals-against average than Lerg, and 10 with a better save percentage. However, only two of those netminders – North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and New Hampshire’s Kevin Regan – join Lerg among the Hobey finalists.
There are, I think, two reasons for Lerg landing in the top 10 over the likes of Richard Bachman, Jeff Zatkoff, Billy Sauer, et al. First, there’s Lerg’s inspiring personal story. He’s a 4.0 student (provided his grades haven’t slipped since Rick Comley told us in the media about that on several occasions last year), a severe asthmatic, and a wonderful kid…not to mention the goaltender for the reigning national champions. The second reason follows from the first, and that is that Lerg is an exceptional big game goaltender. If you need to win one game, and you need to pick a college goalie to put in net, Lerg would top a lot of lists, certainly over the three aforementioned goaltenders who didn’t get a nod, who have a combined one NCAA tournament win between them (although that isn’t entirely fair to the freshman Bachman).
Of course, there may be 10 finalists, but for the next stage, there may only be four…right?
Certainly, I’m expecting the Hobey Hat Trick to be comprised of Kevin Porter and some combination of Nathan Gerbe, Ryan Jones and Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. However, now that Lerg’s a finalist, I have to wonder whether he could crash the party. To this point, certainly, Lamoureux has had the more impressive season, but Lerg has built his reputation on big games, and he could play four of those before the committee votes again.
The next two weekends just got quite a bit more interesting.