2010-11 Hobey Baker Watch: Preview, Part I

Wow, is it the eve of college hockey season already?

Apparently, yes, thanks to the crazy early series between Michigan and Mercyhurst. Not sure what’s up with that, but if I want to preview the Hobey Baker race, apparently, I’d best get to it.

Generally, what I’ve done in the past is try to “cast” the upcoming season’s finalists based on who the finalists were in the previous season, but that doesn’t work too well for me. In two seasons, I think I correctly named one Hobey finalist. Granted, it was 2009 Hobey winner Matt Gilroy, but still, there’s a better way.

So, instead of playing casting agent, I’ve gone over last season’s all-conference teams, combined that information with my own observations, and come out with a list of 25 names to start from for this season. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better than what I’ve been doing. We’ll start with forwards for now, then add the goalies and defensemen in Part Two.

Jacques Lamoureux, Sr, Air Force – Lamoureux was a Hobey Finalist in 2009, but found himself on the outside looking in last year after his numbers dropped off, not to mention increased competition in Atlantic Hockey with the emergence of Canisius forward Cory Conacher (more on him below). I think that Lamoureux is well worth watching, as he could certainly adjust to the attention he attracted last year. He’ll still be a focus of opposing teams’ game planning, but he may well make the necessary improvements to reassert himself. If that happens, he certainly has the intangibles to complement his on-ice performance and make him a very strong candidate for the top 10 or even the Hobey Hat Trick.

Cory Conacher, Sr, Canisius – Conacher was second in the nation in points per game last season, with 20 goals and 33 assists in 35 games. That performance was good enough for Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year, but that didn’t get him a Hobey finalist spot, probably because there was room for debate about whether Conacher, Lamoureux, or RIT’s Dan Ringwald was the conference’s best candidate for the award. A lack of team success probably didn’t help, either, so Canisius will need to make a strong run at the Atlantic Hockey title for Conacher to get consideration for a finalist spot.

Andy Miele, Sr, Miami – Miele was a second-team All-CCHA Pick last season, and is picked as a preseason first-team selection this year. Miami’s depth tends to be a strength, and it’s hard to say which RedHawks forward will be the leader in terms of conference and national honors.

Carter Camper, Sr, Miami – Camper is a preseason second-team All-CCHA selection, but had as many points as Miele last season. Camper is worth keeping an eye on. So, for that matter, is Pat Cannone. Miami’s a deep team, and I think it’ll be a bigger surprise if the RedHawks DON’T produce a Hobey finalist or two this season. Whether it’s Camper, Miele, Cannone, or one of the goalies (see below) remains to be seen.

Chase Polacek, Sr, Rensselaer – Polacek was the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year last season, and luckily for the Engineers, the nation’s sixth leading scorer turned down any opportunity to turn pro. Unfortunately for the Engineers, that made him the exception rather than the rule among RPI’s top stars. It’ll be interesting to see how the absence of early signees Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri affect Polacek. When a team loses major weapons, the ones who are left will command more attention, so RPI will need to make up for the lost productivity relatively quickly. Still, when you scored 50 points a year ago and you stay in school, you get consideration for the Hobey coming into the season.

Broc Little, Sr, Yale – Like Miami, Yale’s high-flying offense figures to produce multiple high scorers, and as a 27-goal scorer a year ago, Little is likely to be one of them. Teammate Brian O’Neill is also worth a look – he tied for seventh in the nation in points per game last season – but with 16 goals and 29 assists, he’s seen primarily as the setup man, and as we all know, Hobey Likes Goals. Keep your eye on Little first, but don’t be surprised to see a number of Yale forwards earn consideration.

Cam Atkinson, Jr, Boston College – Atkinson was a second team Hockey East All-Star last season, and flew just below the Hobey radar, possibly due in part to his sophomore status. However, Atkinson’s performance during the NCAA Tournament put the nation on notice. With big things expected from BC, the time is right for Atkinson to step up to the next level. He finished last season as the nation’s leading goal-scorer after six goals in the tournament, which has to put him as an early favorite for the Hobey.

Brian Gibbons, Sr, Boston College – Gibbons was named to the Hockey East First Team over Atkinson last season, and is worth keeping an eye on, but with 16 goals and 34 assists last year, he’s the kind of player who’s valued more by the coaches and media in his conference than by your average Hobey voting panel. The other thing to consider here – and this is an issue facing Atkinson as well – is that while many BC forwards have earned Hobey finalist honors during Jerry York’s tenure at the Heights, defenseman Mike Mottau remains the only Eagle to win the award under York. Much as Cornell’s system is known for producing great numbers for goalies, York’s Eagles are known for turning out small forwards who rack up the points. The question is this: Will it take unheard-of production for Atkinson or Gibbons to succeed where Nathan Gerbe, Brian Gionta, Chris Collins, and many others have failed? Or will it just take the right breaks in the Hobey race itself?

Gustav Nyquist, Jr, Maine – The nation’s leading scorer a year ago is back for another run in Orono, after leading the Black Bears to within a goal of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2007 Frozen Four. Nyquist picked up the majority of his 61 points on assists, but there’s a difference between being the nation’s top scorer and one of the top 10 or 15. If Nyquist continues to develop, he should definitely emerge as a Hobey contender.

Stephane Da Costa, So, Merrimack – The bad news for Da Costa is that he’d need to lead the Warriors into the NCAA tournament to have a shot at the Hobey, and given that Merrimack is picked seventh in Hockey East, that’s not looking terribly likely. That said, the good news is that last year’s National Rookie of the Year was the nation’s No. 7 scorer as a freshman, playing in the conference that’s produced the last three NCAA champions. That bodes well for continued individual success, and the Frenchman could easily contend for Hobey finalist recognition should his career continue on its current trajectory.

Matt Read, Sr, Bemidji State – Read was the subject of Hobey talk early on in the season a year ago, when he scored 21 points in 13 games in october and Novemeber. However, Read’s star faded on the national scene as the season went along, although he was an easy pick as the CHA’s final Player of the Year. Now, he’s a senior, and he’ll captain the Beavers on their maiden voyage in the conference that Just Got Tougher. If he produces in the WCHA as well as he did against CHA opposition, he’ll have a great case for Hobey finalist consideration.

Jack Connolly, Jr, Minnesota-Duluth – One of two returning All-WCHA picks for the Bulldogs, Connolly is the top returning scorer in the conference. The Bulldogs were picked second in the WCHA by the media and third by the coaches, which indicates that Connolly should have plenty of opportunity to impress this season.

Justin Fontaine, Sr, Minnesota-Duluth – Fontaine didn’t tally quite as many points as his running buddy Connolly – he had three fewer points in one less game – but he scored more goals, and he’s a senior. Those are both points in his favor. Of course, time will tell which Bulldog, if any, will emerge as a strong candidate for the Hobey.

Garrett Roe, Sr, St. Cloud State – I’ve had an eye on Roe since I saw him play against Alaska-Anchorage his freshman year at the National Hockey Center, and he’s been one of the top 25 scorers in the nation all three years at St. Cloud. Now, he’s a senior, and while he won’t have the luxury of playing with Ryan Lasch anymore, this could be his moment in the Hobey spotlight, as the top returning player on a team picked to finish second in the WCHA by the conference’s coaches and third by the media.

So, those are the forwards. Coming tomorrow: the goalies and defensemen.