Tick Tock, Tick Tock

So much for Jean-Philippe Lamoureux getting to shake Kevin Porter’s hand after the national championship game, huh?

 Oh well…

In any case, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award will be presented tonight, in all likelihood to Kevin Porter, and while I won’t be watching the ceremony here in New York – I don’t get ESPNU…thank you very much, Cablevision – I do have a final thought or two to share on the race for college hockey’s top individual honor.

Unsurprisingly, there’s still a fair amount of displeasure in certain quarters about Nathan Gerbe making the Hobey Hat Trick, and as scintillating a performance as he had yesterday against North Dakota, it can’t change the way people feel about him as a Hobey candidate.

But here’s the problem.

The reality is that the Hobey is effectively college hockey’s Player of the Year award. This may strike you as obvious, but it’s important to keep in mind. Unlike college football, which has the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp in addition to the Heisman, and college basketball, which has multiple player of the year awards – most notably the Naismith Award (which doesn’t include character among its criteria) and the Wooden Award (which does) – college hockey has one award for its top player.

Make no mistake, the Hobey goes to the top player in college hockey. Kevin Porter is getting the award tonight because he’s a <i>better player</i> than Ryan Jones. In my estimation – and granted, I don’t know the players all that well personally – Jones suits the overall award criteria as well as anyone in recent memory, and a shade better than Porter. Eric Ehn probably fit the overall award criteria better than Ryan Duncan, for that matter, but in the end, this is the Player of the Year award, for all intents and purposes, and the best player, or the player who had the best season, wins (in theory). On that score, Nathan Gerbe clearly deserves to be among the three finalists for the award.

But that brings us back to T.J. Hensick, and the Hat Trick snub that hasn’t gone away.

While only those who were on the Hobey conference call know for sure, the prevailing wisdom is that Hensick’s 10-minute misconduct late in the 2007 West regional semifinal against North Dakota cost him a spot in the Hat Trick, if not the award itself. Now, I would suggest that that penalty cost him more because of what it did for his team’s chances at winning, where Gerbe’s infractions meant he had to sit out against New Hampshire, and we can see how much that mattered to BC in the long run. Still, that’s not a satisfying distinction for a lot of people, and that’s certainly understandable.

So, what do we do?

The way I see it, there are two options here. One would be to establish a separate Player of the Year award, with no character criteria, in addition to the Hobey. I don’t really like that idea. For one thing, I doubt anyone would care about the new award, and I also don’t think that we need two Player of the Year awards for our 58 teams.

The other solution is actually something that came up last year, in an impromptu radio discussion with ESPNU’s Bob Norton (and for the record, I was the only one of us who mentioned an eastern prep school…in that I happen to get along particularly well with Taft School alums in college hockey for some unknown reason).

The night before the 2007 Frozen Four, Bob and I were both guests on “Hockey on Campus,” on Boston-based 1510 The Zone, and with Bob’s encouragement, we were brought on air together to discuss the Hobey. Bob was upset about the whole Hensick debacle, and talked about character assassination on the conference call. Bob made the excellent point that a lot of the voters don’t know many of the candidates personally, and so negative discussions of character in that forum can be a dicey proposition.

The solution that Bob arrived at – or at least, the suggestion he made – was that character considerations should be able to help a Hobey candidate’s cause, but not hurt it.

Maybe that’s what happened here, and maybe it’s what should have happened last year, and T.J. Hensick should have been in the Hobey Hat Trick (although I don’t know who you’d take out in that case). However, what’s done is done, and all we can do now is go forward.

And tonight, Kevin Porter will go forward to accept the Hobey.