Checking out the ‘Frat’ party

If you followed my work in the CSTV days, you know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in fraternity houses. However, this post has nothing to do with any frat parties I may or may not have found myself at along the way (really, unless I was at my own house at my alma mater, I was generally inclined to just get my work done and go to sleep).

However, there is one element of my time as the traveling “Rink Rat” that has popped back into my head lately: the things I wrote about Nathan Gerbe with regards to his candidacy for the 2008 Hobey Baker Award, which someone reminded me about a little while back vis a vis Matt Frattin’s status as a candidate for the award this year.

Of course, you know what happened there: Michigan’s Kevin Porter got the award, as everyone expected, and Gerbe was the Most Outstanding Player at the Frozen Four after leading BC to the NCAA Championship. Along the way, though, there was no shortage of hand-wringing about Gerbe’s one-game suspension in November after a spearing incident against Merrimack, which was accompanied by a statement from Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna about a pattern of “inappropriate behavior” on the ice.

I actually didn’t remember what I’d written about Gerbe at the time, so I went back to read this CSTV blog post, this feature article, and the beginning of this blog, toward the end of the 2007-08 season. As far as I can tell, my thoughts on the matter were as follows:

– Yes, Gerbe’s “inappropriate behavior” could count as a point against him under the Hobey criteria, but it became a dead issue when Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna vouched for him to Inside College Hockey’s Jeff Howe.

– No, Gerbe wasn’t going to win the award anyway, because Porter was having the more Hobey-worthy season.

Of course, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, I’ve been revisiting the Gerbe issue in preparation for my comments on Frattin, who’s having quite the season for the Fighting Sioux, and has made impressive changes in his life since being kicked off the team in 2009, as Patrick C. Miller notes in his profile of the Fighting Sioux senior.

It goes without saying that Frattin’s past infractions go far beyond a spear the refs didn’t catch or any other instance of “inappropriate behavior” on the ice. And, if you’re BC fan who’s upset about Gerbe, or a Michigan fan who’s still bitter about T.J. Hensick, there’s no way that someone who’s been arrested should ever be considered for the Hobey Baker Award, right?

Well, not exactly.

You will never see me condone the things that Matt Frattin did to get himself arrested and kicked off the team at North Dakota. Ever. It’s not a question of “boys will be boys,” or college kids doing stupid things.

However, the criteria for the award include “strength of character, on and off the ice,” and if you ask me, turning down a chance to take the easy way out is a demonstration of character. I felt that way about Mike Carman at Minnesota when he stayed in school despite being academically ineligible, and that’s how I feel about Matt Frattin now.

Again, I make no comparison between academic ineligibility and Frattin’s arrests and guilty plea. I simply think that the person without “strength of character” would have put his development as a hockey player ahead of his development as a student or as a human being, and would have bolted for the pros the second his opportunity to play hockey was taken away from him. Matt Frattin, to me, passed that test, so, when we evaluate him as a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, I think we can stick to evaluating him as a hockey player, without dwelling on the circumstances that affected his absence from the Fighting Sioux for the first semester of last season. So, moving on to the hockey…

With 33 goals on the season, Frattin is the leading goal-scorer in the country, and, as we know, “Hobey Likes Goals.” He’s also seventh in the country in points per game, playing for a North Dakota team that’s a likely top seed in the NCAA tournament. Based on that alone, I think he’s all but a lock as a top 10 finalist.

The question, then, is whether he goes further.

The folks over at Inside College Hockey have pointed out that Frattin has scored the majority of his points against the bottom five teams in the WCHA, scoring more than three times as many points per game against those teams than he did against the Sioux’s top six WCHA opponents. That compares most unfavorably to other top scorers in the WCHA, not to mention Miami’s Andy Miele in the CCHA, RPI’s Chase Polacek in ECAC Hockey, and Cam Atkinson in Hockey East.

Of course, one of the reasons the final vote takes place after regionals is because we want to see how the top players perform in the biggest games, namely, the conference championships and the NCAA tournament. I think that if Frattin comes up in the clutch for the Sioux this weekend or next, he could certainly make his way from the Top 10 into the Hobey Hat Trick.

For now, though, Matt Frattin will be a finalist, and it won’t simply be in spite the things he did wrong. It’ll be because of what he’s done right.