The “character” issue, again

The last time I tried updating this blog when I was sick, I mixed up the names of Minnesota-Duluth’s “FCC” line and North Dakota’s “Pony Express” line, which opened me up to a fair bit of criticism from the North Dakota fans. That misstep notwithstanding, I’m going to try again anyway, and make a final assessment of the “character” issue as it pertains to this year’s Hobey Baker award.

In the past, when I’ve discussed this issue, it’s been mainly to assert that Matt Frattin should not be disqualified from consideration from the award on account of his run-ins with the law that got him kicked off the team. That point stands. If Frattin were truly lacking in character,  he would have signed with the Maple Leafs, started his pro career, and never given North Dakota another thought. The fact that he is still a college hockey player shows character, and he is certainly worthy of being considered.

However, there’s a big difference between the question of whether Frattin’s past misdeeds should disqualify him from consideration and whether a player who hasn’t had disciplinary problems should get a leg up on Frattin when voting for the award.

I think it’s a very good thing that Frattin put in the work to regain his spot with the Fighting Sioux. At a time when college hockey is criticized for its short season (particularly in comparison with major junior), anytime a player chooses to remain in school despite losing his opportunity to play for an extended period due to disciplinary issues, it shows character, particularly when that player is a pro prospect like Frattin. There’s an important lesson in what Frattin did: when you do something wrong, you don’t run away from the consequences. You stick it out, learn your lesson, and try to do better. I would have no problem using Matt Frattin’s actions since being kicked off the team as an example for others to follow.

None of this, however, has a thing to do with Andy Miele or Cam Atkinson, the other two of the three top vote-getters in the Hobey Hat Trick. That’s the problem. It’s all well and good to commend Matt Frattin in general for showing character, but when you’re comparing him to other players, it’s hard to credit him for his decision.

Neither Cam Atkinson or Andy Miele has ever had a disciplinary issue during three or more years of college hockey. If we’re comparing these players to one another in terms of how they fit into the various Hobey criteria, then I have to say that both Atkinson and Miele have a leg up on Frattin in the character department. It’s all well and good to learn from your mistakes, but that doesn’t put you on equal footing with people who never made those mistakes in the first place.

It’s worth taking a moment to remind everyone that the final voting has already taken place, and there will be no vote among the “Hobey Hat Trick” to determine the final winner. The final vote has already happened, and these guys are the top three.

Four years ago, on the eve of the Frozen Four, I was interviewed on Hockey on Campus along with then-ESPNU commentator Bob Norton. This was in the wake of the whole T.J. Hensick controversy, and Bob made an interesting statement: character should be used to build a Hobey candidate up, but not to tear him down. I can see his point, especially when it comes to hearsay and controversy, as in the case of Hensick and his ill-timed penalty in Michigan’s NCAA tournament game with North Dakota (oddly enough, the first NCAA tournament game for Frattin’s teammate, Chay Genoway). However, there’s no hearsay involved here. What happened with Matt Frattin, good and bad, is a matter of record, and it’s a part of his profile as it pertains to the Hobey.

But just a part. We’ll deal with other aspects between now and next Friday.

Updated, 9:54 p.m.: OK, that’s it. No more blogging when sick. Period.

I did, in fact, forget about Cam Atkinson’s arrest in the summer of 2008 with his father and brother for beating up some cyclists in his hometown of Greenwich, Conn. It happened before he was at BC, there hasn’t been any sort of issue with him since that I’m aware of, and let’s face it, this is a two-horse race between Miele and Frattin. Still, I was incorrect at first, and for that, I apologize.

However, as for Miele’s supposed “academic issues,” I do remember with some clarity what happened there. Miele arrived at Miami in time to start the second semester in the 2007-08 season, and after giving some thought to the possibility of starting his college hockey career the following fall, he did begin playing for the RedHawks in the second semester. That’s not the same thing as being suspended for academics like Mike Carman at Minnesota.

Hopefully, that clears things up a bit.