Year of the Goalies II?

I’ve got to admit, I didn’t pay all that much attention to the Oscars on Sunday night – for one thing, I was watching the Rangers’ last game under Tom Renney, featuring a three-assist performance by Dartmouth’s own Lee Stempniak for the Maple Leafs – but one thing you tend to hear around Oscar time is that for certain nominees, the nomination is a win in and of itself.

Maybe that’s why I pay so much attention to the finalists for the Hobey Baker, as much as I follow the race for the award itself. It’s certainly true that for a number of Hobey Baker finalists, just making it to the top ten, let alone the Hobey Hat Trick is an achievement in and of itself. Some names that come to mind from recent years include RIT’s Simon Lambert, Quinnipiac’s Reid Cashman, Dartmouth’s David Jones, Princeton’s Lee Jubinville, and of course, Air Force’s Eric Ehn, all of whom were the first Hobey finalists from their respective institutions. A guy like St. Lawrence’s Drew Bagnall, who could have been expected to fly under the radar with an exceedingly solid game that’s short on flair (and numbers), is another example.

So, in keeping with my general interest in Hobey finalists, I’m wondering how many goalies we’ll see in this years field.

My first year covering college hockey professionally was the 2004-05 season, when David McKee of Cornell, Dov Grumet-Morris of Harvard, Jordan Sigalet of Bowling Green and Tuomas Tarkki of Northern Michigan were all finalists. This, to me, seems to be shaping up to be another year like that, where we can see four (or more) goalies among the 10 finalists, not only because there’s a shortage of eye-popping numbers among their skaters, but because there are some truly noteworthy goaltending performances this season.

Of course, we’ve spent plenty of time on Cornell’s Ben Scrivens and Northeastern’s Brad Thiessen, but here’s a few more you might want to consider.

Zane Kalemba of Princeton may be on the verge of stealing Scrivens’ thunder. His goals-against average is now lower than his Ivy League rival’s, and Scrivens has a .001 advantage in save percentage. He also has the added bonus of an image of Hobey Baker on his helmet. Not that he’s campaigning, mind you – his Princeton-themed helmet also includes pictures of Nassau Hall and Albert Einstein – but it’s certainly fun to have a Hobey finalist from Hobey’s alma mater, as we saw last year when Lee Jubinville became the first Princeton player to be named a finalist.

At the other end of the country, there’s Guy Gadowsky’s old program at Alaska, where Chad Johnson is third in the country in save percentage and fourth in goals-against average for a Nanook team on the verge of its first-ever first rounnd playoff bye in the CCHA. He’s had an excellent year, and with so few skaters out there with overwhelming numbers, it would hardly be a surprise to see Johnson make the top ten.

I think we could see a repeat of 2005, and put four goalies in the top ten. Could we see five or six? Much less likely…Hobey doesn’t like goalies that much. Still, there are a couple of other goalies who could be considered.

Andrew Volkening at Air Force is among the top ten in the country in goals-against average, and brings certain intangibles as an Air Force cadet. Still, while the Hobey voters have recognized skaters out of Atlantic Hockey, I don’t think that the league as a whole gets enough respect that a goalie facing Atlantic Hockey forwards night in and night out can get a Hobey finalist nod. Besides, it’s fairly obvious that Jacques Lamoureux is the Falcons’ real Hobey contender.

It also might be worth keeping an eye on Jeff Lerg at Michigan State. As bad as the Spartans have been this season, Lerg is No. 11 in the country in save percentage – which isn’t bad when you get hung out to dry on a regular basis – and his personal story (which you don’t need me to repeat at this point…the grades, the size, the asthma) remains as compelling as ever. Still, it’s almost impossible to consider a goalie with a 9-17-3 record for this award, and it’s a tribute to Lerg’s outstanding on- and off-ice performance over his career that he even gets mentioned in this space.

The race for the top 10 this year may wind up being as interesting as the competition for the Hobey itself, and in that race, while five goalies may be a longshot, four is a possibility worth keeping an eye on.