A “Little” thought or two about Yale

In case you’re looking for something to talk about while waiting for tonight’s college hockey games to get started, I figured it was about time for me to chime in on Broc Little as pertains to the Hobey Baker race.

That Yale offense that had been sputtering for a few games – and was held to a single goal a week ago in a 1-0 win over Harvard – found its groove against my alma mater last Saturday night, in a game I covered for the Valley News.  That included Little, who scored his 14th goal of the season in a 4-2 win over Dartmouth.  Heading into play tonight, Little is 18th in the country in points per game (1.26) and 13th in goals per game (.61).

As someone who’s included Little in the Hobey discussion all season long, I was paying special attention to Little during the game, and was certainly impressed by the goal he scored, a beautiful shot from the slot to the top right corner of the net. Some of his attempts to beat defensemen seemed to fall in the category of “too clever for his own good,” but overall, I could certainly see how he was one of the top scorers in the country for a good chunk of this season. With speed, creativity, and a strong shot, Little definitely has a package of skills that leads to a great season, and even with his recent slump that saw him go six games without a goal, his scoring pace is ahead of the junior year that put him on the radar.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. As I’ve mentioned before, Yale has several bigtime scorers on the roster, although all of them suffered during Yale’s offensively-challenged January. At one point, as you may recall, Yale boasted four of the nation’s top seven scorers. Now, it’s five of the nation’s top 30 in points per game: Little at 18th, Brian O’Neill and Andrew Miller tied at 22nd, Chris Cahill at 29th and Denny Kearney at 30th.

Now, that’s a bit higher up the chart than the balanced scoring on last year’s Miami team – Andy Miele, Jarod Palmer, Carter Camper and Tommy Wingels ranked from 62nd to 78th, all averaging about a point per game – but it does come back to this question: with such a balanced offense, what are the chance’s Yale’s primary Hobey candidate (like last year’s Miami team) is a goalie?

Like North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux a couple of years ago, Ryan Rondeau has turned a perceived weakness into a strength for the Bulldogs. He’s fourth in the country in goals-against average (1.92) and seventh in save percentage (.929). That kind of improvement from his 2009-10 numbers (4.06, .880) is pretty much unheard of. There’s an excellent chance that Yale goes into the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed (not unlike the Miami team of a year ago), and if that happens, improved goaltending is definitely going to be a factor. Does that make Rondeau a darkhorse for a spot in the Hobey top 10? It’s possible, although I still like Little’s chances as a Hobey finalist as well.

As to whether either Little or Rondeau has a shot at the Hobey Hat Trick (or even the award itself), I think that’s a story that will be told in the days and weeks to come. At the moment, Little’s scoring isn’t quite there, and as much as he’s improved, Rondeau certainly doesn’t have “Ryan Miller numbers.”

There’s a long time between now and the Hobey voting, though.