Net Difference

Well, nine out of 10 really ain’t too bad.

The top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award have been announced, and your humble Hobey pundit correctly predicted 9 of the 10 finalists. It’s my best performance yet – although I did have to share top honors among the media forecasters with Adam Wodon of College Hockey News – and while I’d like to have all 10 right one of these years, I’m happy to have improved over last year’s performance.

Still, happy as I am, I can’t help but think about the one I got wrong. I had Cory Conacher of Canisius in my top 10, in a spot that wound up going to Miami’s Cody Reichard. Looking back at it now, I realize that I made two fundamental errors on this one.

First, I picked an Atlantic Hockey player who wasn’t a clear pick. While Atlantic Hockey has gotten better and better about getting players into the Hobey top 10 – Reid Cashman, Eric Ehn, Simon Lambert and Jacques Lamoureux were Hobey Finalists in the space of five years – each of those players was the clear choice in the conference. This year, while I picked Conacher, the folks over at INCH picked RIT defenseman Dan Ringwald, and you could have also made the case for Sacred Heart forward Nick Johnson or even a repeat appearance by Lamoureux. If there’s not a clear-cut choice in the conference, there probably won’t be a finalist from Atlantic Hockey. I neglected that, to my cost.

The other error I made was to think that a team as strong as Miami – a team that spent a good chunk of the year at No. 1 in the country – was going to go home empty-handed from this party. Do I think that’s right? No, but I should have counted on it anyway.

Please note that this is NOT a slight against the Miami program. If I could give a Hobey Baker Award to a team, the RedHawks would be it. I think the culture of the program and the sense of unity among the players, coaches and staff are characteristics that Hobey Baker himself would have admired, even if the RedHawks take a few more penalties than Hobey would have approved of.

That said, though, there’s no one on the team I can point to and say “They don’t win without ___________.” There’s no player that’s performed at so high a level that he stands out from the team. From Jarod Palmer, Tommy Wingels, Carter Camper and Andy Miele straight on down, the RedHawks have so many different weapons that it’s been hard for one player to stand out a la Ryan Jones two seasons ago, Nathan Davis the year before, or Andy Greene before him.

Except, of course, that Reichard was the national leader in goals-against average and No. 3 in save percentage, making him as elite a performer as Miami has had this year, and hence, a finalist.

Here’s the thing, though: While Reichard was first nationally in goals-against average, his partner in Miami’s goaltending tandem, Connor Knapp, was fourth. And while Reichard was third in save percentage, Knapp was ninth. Granted, Reichard played the majority of the minutes, by more than eight games, but to borrow a term from baseball, I’m not sure Reichard’s VORP with Knapp on the team (that’s “Value over replacement player”) is so high as to merit a Hobey finalist nod.

All of that said, though, it’s hard to begrudge Reichard this honor. He clearly made the most of the time he had in net, so it’s not like he didn’t play well enough.

And as for my pursuit of a perfect pick, well, there’s always next year…