Men of the Month

It’s hard to believe – especially if you’re a fan of an Ivy League team whose season just began, but an entire month of the 2009-10 college hockey season is in the books. We’re now past the point of using last year to try to project what might happen this year, and that is especially true in the case of the race for the Hobey Baker Award.

The last time I wrote, I was looking at what last season might have to say about this season. Now, we’re starting to see who some of this season’s best players have been. With a month of college hockey gone, not only do we have a decent statistical basis on which to evaluate top players, but we also have Player of the Month awards. So, in this entry, I’m going to look at this month’s honorees from across the country and evaluate their likelihood of being a factor in the Hobey race.

In the CCHA, Alaska goaltender Scott Greenham was a surprise winner of the award, not in the sense that he was undeserving, but in the sense that it was hard to see this kind of a performance coming going into the season. The Nanooks went 5-0-1 in October, and with Greenham posting a .949 save percentage and a 1.14 GAA, it’s not hard to see why. Greenham’s play in October put him solidly in what we here at the Hobey Watch like to call “Ryan Miller territory,” and if he stays there, there’s certainly no reason why he couldn’t be a contender for the Hobey. Of course, he’d need some help from the team in front of him to get there, but the Nanooks produced a Hobey finalist last season in Chad Johnson, and they may well have another where that came from.

Now, playing devil’s advocate, all six of the Nanooks’ games in October were in the state of Alaska, against opponents who traveled from the lower 48. When it’s Alaska’s turn to travel and contend with jet lag and all the other occupational hazards that go with going on the road, we’ll start to get a better sense of how much of a contender Greenham is. That isn’t to say he’s not a contender – Johnson certainly was – but we don’t really know yet.

In Atlantic Hockey, the player of the month is R.I.T. defenseman Dan Ringwald, who had nine points (3g, 6a) in seven games for the Tigers. Nice numbers, certainly, especially from a defenseman, but RIT went 2-5-0 in October. On the one hand, that makes Ringwald’s +1 rating all the more impressive. On the other, it’s hard to get noticed on a sub-.500 team, even more so when that team doesn’t play in one of the Big Four conferences. That said, RIT’s five losses were against ECAC Hockey opponents Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Colgate, plus a pair against reigning Atlantic champ Air Force. Given the way the Tigers decimated UConn, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see them emerge as a force to be reckoned with once again in Atlantic Hockey, and if that happens, Ringwald will get more of a look as a potential Hobey finalist. I have my doubts about him as a potential winner, but we’ll see.

In Hockey East, it’s hardly surprising that UMass forward James Marcou is the Player of the Month. All he did was score 11 points in five games as the Minutemen went 4-1. Last year, I couldn’t help but norice how often Marcou’s name turned up on the Hockey East press releases, and I think that this year, he could easily be a finalist. Is he a contender to win the Hobey? I’ll need to see more goals, because we know Hobey likes his forwards to score goals, but Marcou has definitely put himself on the radar as much as anyone else in the season’s first month.

Now, as of this writing, ECAC Hockey, the CHA and the WCHA have not named monthly award winners, so I’m going to have to pick players who grabbed attention.

In ECAC Hockey, the fact that half the conference’s teams started play last weekend makes it tough to pick a player, but Quinnipiac forward Brandon Wong makes it easy. Wong had three goals and six assists for the Bobcats, who went 4-1-0 in October, including a pair of wins at Ohio State. One of Wong’s goals was the game-winner in one of those road wins over the Buckeyes, and performing well in non-conference action is often a good way to get yourself noticed. Wong has made noise before, and has a history as a goal-scorer (27 as a freshman, in case you’ve forgotten), so it’s going to be well worth watching Wong – all about alliteration! – as the season progresses. Can he win the Hobey at Quinnipiac? My gut feeling is no, but then again, if he keeps putting up the numbers, my guts – like John Cusack’s in High Fidelity – may be proven to have doo-doo for brains (yes, I said doo-doo…this is a family site, people!). And I have no problem invoking Cusack…he’s buddies with former Wisconsin Badger Chris Chelios (gotta love the Malibu Mob).

In the CHA, Bemidji State forward Matt Read has 10 points in six games for the 5-0-1 Beavers. Bemidji is going to be watched a good bit more this season – between the Beavers’ run to the Frozen Four last season and their impending WCHA membership – so if Read can continue to produce, he may give Jacques Lamoureux a  run for his money when it comes to that Hobey finalist spot that seems to go to one small-conference player each year.

Finally, there’s the WCHA, where there are three players well worth a Hobey look based on October numbers. One is Wisconsin defenseman Brendan Smith, who has nine points in seven games. Now, the Badgers’ start this season hasn’t exactly been red hot – they’re 3-2-1 with a couple of tough conference losses to Colorado College and Minnesota State, but when the Badgers win, they win big, and Smith’s +2 rating complements his two goals and seven assists nicely. Plus/minus isn’t that big in the Hobey finalist considerations – see Smith’s former teammate, Jamie McBain – but if Smith continues to produce at this level, don’t be surprised to see Smith – a former first-round NHL draft pick and a rare college pick by the Detroit Red Wings – force his name into serious Hobey consideration.

The other players worth watching out of the WCHA after a strong October are a pair of Bulldogs: Minnesota Duluth’s Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine. What I like about their Octobers is that they’ve both shown excellent balance on the scoresheet, scoring goals AND handing out assists. The Bulldogs are off to a solid start, and if it continues, these two should have a shot to get into the upper echelon of the Hobey talk.

Speaking of which, let the talk continue.