Last Impressions, Part I

Well, the regular season is officially over, and in just over a week, we’ll learn who the finalists are for the Hobey Baker Award. I’ll be checking in with my predictions the day before the announcement, but there are still some games to be played before we get to that point, and I have a feeling they could affect how things stand heading into the announcement. Here are a few players who are facing a big weekend on both the team AND individual levels.

Gustav Nyquist, Maine: A top four finish in Hockey East is certainly a welcome development as Maine recovers from a couple of rough seasons, and as the leading scorer in the nation, Nyquist is a key figure in that resurgence. That said, however, the Black Bears’ season-ending sweep at the hands of UMass and late-season performance in general haven’t been particularly inspiring, and as things currently stand, I think Nyquist is a shoo-in finalist but fairly unlikely to advance to the Hobey Hat Trick. This weekend’s games against UMass-Lowell are key to Nyquist’s Hobey status. If he plays big and the Black Bears win, he’s got a shot to play his way into the Hat Trick at the Hockey East championship (and maybe even an NCAA regional). If they lose, he’s a finalist and no more.

Broc Little, Yale: The nation’s leader in goals per game could get a little more attention this weekend in the Bulldogs’ ECAC Hockey quarterfinal game against Brown, with teammate and fellow All-ECAC First Team member Sean Backman likely out for the season. I feel like Little will be a finalist anyway, but a strong performance against Brown could solidify his standing.

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan: This weekend’s NMU-Alaska series may eliminate one of these teams from NCAA tournament consideration, and if it’s NMU, Olver’s candidacy could take a hit. Between the late charge, NMU’s remote location, and what hasn’t been considered a strong year for the CCHA for most of the season (Miami has more losses to CHA teams than it has in conference), a Wildcat loss could leave Olver out of sight, out of mind, allowing someone else to jump up and snag his spot. Of course, there’s a simple way to deal with that: beat the Nanooks.

(Side note: should I have included Scott Greenham on my Hobey finalist analysis last week? His numbers may not be what Chad “Dos Nueve” Johnson’s were last year – and he wears 29 with the Rangers, so that’s what I’ve been calling him – but he’s certainly a central figure in the Nanooks’ run at an NCAA tournament berth. Hmmm…something to think about.)

Blake Geoffrion and Michael Davies, Wisconsin: You could almost put four Badgers in among the 10 Hobey finalists this year in Geoffrion, Davies, Derek Stepan and, of course, Brendan Smith. All four have had outstanding statistical years for a team that has to be considered a favorite to advance to the Frozen Four. That said, “almost” doesn’t count here, and it’s much more likely that there will be two Badgers in the mix this season. One will be Smith, who’s among the overall national scoring leaders as a defenseman, and has been there for the Badgers when it’s counted, over and over again. The other will be one of the Badgers’ two senior forwards. My gut says Geoffrion, based on his gaudy goal total, but the last week before the voting may make a difference, depending on who does what in this weekend’s playoff series against Alaska-Anchorage.

Marc Cheverie, Denver: The Pioneers netminder is a mortal lock as a finalist for the Hobey, and I think he’s pretty likely to make it into the hat trick. That said, it’s a key weekend for him (and the Pioneer defense that backs him up), since WCHA first-round foe Michigan Tech presents Cheverie with the best chance he’ll have to lower his GAA, raise his save percentage, and possibly add a shutout or two. Right now, I don’t think he wins the award, but if he improves his numbers at the Huskies’ expense – which won’t be a walk in the park; DU coach George Gwozdecky is right to praise MTU’s toughness – it could change the picture a little.

Ben Scrivens, Cornell: In my view, Scrivens’ Hobey finalist candidacy is a little unsteady, as I could see him being penalized for a system that is conducive to gaudy goaltending numbers (oddly enough, I never hear this complaint about Boston College forwards, although no BC forward has won the Hobey under Jerry York…but we’ve been through that). A strong performance against Harvard this weekend could move the Big Red netminder further beyond reproach. A “system failure” against the Crimson, and Scrivens could be toast.

Nick Johnson, Sacred Heart and Cory Conacher, Canisius – For starters, I highly recommen you read Ben Kirst’s feature article on Conacher. All this time I’ve considered him as a possible Hobey finalist – and to borrow a popular phrase from the Oscars, the nomination would be his win – I had no idea about his Type I Diabetes, which certainly makes his accomplishments on the ice this season even more impressive than they already were. That said, I think Johnson has a slight edge on Conacher by virtue of playing for a more successful team, and by being a bit bigger in the clutch (according to the measurements I took last month). A strong performance one way or the other, though, might tip the scales. I’m starting to waver a little bit on the relative merits of these two Atlantic Hockey stars, and I might not be the only one.

So, if you’re thinking Hobey this weekend – but really, with rivalries like Michigan-Michigan State, Harvard-Cornell, Minnesota-North Dakota and Army-Air Force, will you? – these are the guys to watch.