After regional weekend creates more questions than it answers, here’s a Hat Trick prediction

So what in the world do I do with this?

I expected the weekend’s events at the NCAA regional tournaments to provide some kind of answers as to the race for the Hobey Baker Award, but all I’m left with now are more questions.

First, we’ll address the question that’s been on a number of minds lately: Where’s Connor Hellebuyck? The Massachusetts-Lowell goaltender has made an outstanding case for being the best player in the country, and while he’d much rather have what he’s got (a spot in the Frozen Four) than what he doesn’t have (a chance at the Hobey), it has raised some eyebrows that Hellebuyck wasn’t one of the top 10 finalists.

The reality is that Hellebuyck has several factors working against him. The first is that he’s a freshman, and freshmen have always had a hard time getting Hobey recognition. The other issue is his number of games played. Goalies have certainly been nominated for the Hobey with a half-season’s worth of games — Cody Reichard of Miami comes to mind here — but winning is a different story.

Of course, Hellebuyck has been the River Hawks’ No. 1 goalie for some time now (as opposed to Reichard, who split time consistently with Connor Knapp in his Hobey finalist year), but when you factor in his class year, it was always going to be a hard road to hoe.

All of that having been said, Hellebuyck’s numbers are certainly mind-boggling (particularly after his performance in Manchester last weekend), and he should go into the 2013-14 season as a Hobey favorite. In the meantime, it reaffirms the need for a national goaltender of the year award, to honor outstanding players at a position that has a difficult history with the Hobey.

Now, for the matter at hand: predicting the Hobey Hat Trick.

I think we can start by eliminating the players who are out of the running after this weekend’s games. Carsen Chubak certainly gained respect in Niagara’s loss to North Dakota, but it was always going to take a trip to the Frozen Four to have a shot here.

Kyle Flanagan of St. Lawrence is still out of it. If there’s going to be a finalist from St. Lawrence, it’s going to be Greg Carey, since as we know, “Hobey Loves Goals.”

Austin Czarnik is done as well, as he was also a long shot going into the regionals, and Miami’s failure to reach the Frozen Four did him in. Ryan Walters’ run also ends here, as he’s probably third at best among WCHA candidates, and the WCHA had a very rough weekend (with one notable exception, which we’ll get to).

That leaves six players in the running.

Greg Carey, St. Lawrence: For a guy who didn’t play last weekend, Carey did pretty well for himself. The performance by Yale and Quinnipiac in reaching the Frozen Four — not to mention Union’s job of knocking off Boston College, has generated some much-deserved respect for ECAC Hockey, which lends an extra air of legitimacy to Carey’s still-best-in-the-country 28 goals. I’m starting to really like the idea of Carey as a dark horse contender for a Hat Trick spot.

Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College: I said before the regionals that Gaudreau’s spot in the Hobey Hat Trick was pretty well locked up, and while I’m not 100 percent sure anymore, I still think he’s pretty safe. With the weekend that we had, the vote is going to be extremely close, which means that I could see Gaudreau winning it and I can also see him being left out of the Hat Trick altogether. Gut says he’s still in. Do I see him winning? I’ll tell you after I see the top three.

Eric Hartzell, Quinnipiac: Hartzell certainly helped his cause over the weekend with Quinnipiac earning its trip to Pittsburgh, although the Bobcats’ early struggles against Canisius in the first round may have limited the benefits. Still, one game does not a Hobey candidacy make, and at the end of the day, he’s still top 10 nationally in save percentage and goals against average, playing in a conference that is tougher than it’s been given credit for. I like Hartzell for a spot, but I’m not sure how much I like him.

Corban Knight and Danny Kristo, North Dakota: The North Dakota guys are kind of tricky here. On the one hand, Kristo is the one whose statistics tend to fit the Hobey profile more (26 goals and 26 assists versus Knight’s 16 and 33). On the other hand, Knight is the captain, the chosen candidate of the UND coaching staff and the one who had his charges dropped in the preseason party incident. If their team was headed for the Frozen Four, I would guess they’re both in the Hat Trick, but since UND is out, I see one spot at most here, and I’m entertaining the possibility of a vote split that leaves them both out.

Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State: In the most important category, LeBlanc had a great weekend: The Huskies have shattered their reputation for going home early by earning the program’s first trip to the Frozen Four. In terms of statistics, he went 0-fer, but he’ll take it under the circumstances, I’m sure. And I think the Hobey committee will take it, too.

WCHA player of the year. WCHA scholar-athlete of the year. On-ice leader of a Frozen Four team. If that’s not the profile of a Hobey Hat Trick player, I don’t know what is. Yes, I know I’ve been making a big deal about the fact that “Hobey Loves Goals,” and that LeBlanc is primarily a setup man for the Huskies, and I’m still not entirely convinced that he can win the Hobey, but I’m certainly more of a believer than I was last week.

As much as I like to read into the patterns that have built up over the years regarding the Hobey, the fact of the matter is that the Hobey voters have shown a willingness to “think outside the box” every now and then. After all, Boston University’s Matt Gilroy hardly fit the profile of a Hobey winner, but there he was in 2009, one of only five players to win the Hobey and the national championship in the same year. The Hobey committee thought “outside the box,” and this year’s “box” got the opening-scene-of-Ace-Ventura treatment over the weekend, so there may be nothing left to do but think outside it.

So, with all of that laid out, here’s what I believe:

• 1. I believe that Drew LeBlanc is in the Hobey Hat Trick, with an excellent shot to win.

• 2. I believe that the Hobey Hat Trick will include at least one player from ECAC Hockey.

• 3. I think North Dakota is going to be left out.

Here’s my call, folks: Johnny Gaudreau, Eric Hartzell and Drew LeBlanc. I had a devil of a time deciding between Carey and Hartzell, but at the end of the day, I think Hartzell’s senior class standing and his role in getting the Bobcats to the Frozen Four will win out over Carey’s gaudy goal total. Honestly, though, I could see LeBlanc-Carey-Hartzell, too, but I have to make a call, and the call I’m making is Gaudreau-Hartzell-LeBlanc.

There you have it. We’ll find out Wednesday if I’m right. In the meantime, feel free to make a call of your own.