A first look at the Hobey landscape for 2014

Austin Czarnik is one of two Hobey Baker Award candidates from Miami (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Welcome back to the Hobey Watch, everyone! It’s been quite a first half of the season, and as we turn over the calendar into 2014, it’s time to start sizing up the candidates for college hockey’s top individual honor.

When we called it a year last April after Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State hoisted the Hobey Baker Award in Pittsburgh, there were three major story lines I was looking ahead to for the Hobey in 2014. In this first Hobey Watch of 2014, I want to revisit the big questions and get a sense of where we stand at the midway point of the season.

Conference calls

When sizing up Hobey candidates — and particularly when attempting to pick the top 10 finalists — conference affiliations are useful for keeping things organized. It’s pretty rare when a major conference doesn’t have a Hobey finalist, so with the CCHA gone and the NCHC and Big Ten now part of the mix along with a vastly different WCHA, it’s worth looking at how the national picture has changed.

The most notable development on that front seems to have come from Oxford, Ohio, where Miami has a pair of intriguing candidates in sophomore Riley Barber and returning Hobey finalist Austin Czarnik. If there was ever a concern about the quality of Miami’s opposition, it should be gone, given that Miami now plays in the NCHC, but the problem is that the RedHawks currently reside in the NCHC basement.

Still, that wouldn’t preclude either player from getting a Hobey finalist nod, given their individual performance. Barber is the stronger goal scorer of the two, with 14 tallies in 20 games, but the whole “Hobey loves goals” argument lost some steam last year with Drew LeBlanc’s win, so it remains to be seen how these guys will be evaluated.

Meanwhile, in the WCHA, Ferris State is looking strong, and with CJ Motte posting a 17-1-3 record in the Bulldogs’ net, he’s looking like a likely Hobey finalist. His GAA (2.07, 16th in the country) and save percentage (.932, 11th) aren’t at the top level where he could be considered a true Hobey contender, but as the most notable player for a notable team, he’s on track for at least a finalist nod, with the opportunity to do more if Ferris State does big things in the postseason.

Speaking of netminders …

The goalie question

The lack of a Hobey winner in goal since Ryan Miller in 2001 is one of the most familiar tropes in Hobey conversation, but last year introduced us to a pair of netminders with the potential to become just the third goalie to capture college hockey’s top individual honor. As we open the Hobey Watch for another year, it’s a good time to look back in on Connor Hellebuyck of Massachusetts-Lowell and Jon Gillies of Providence.

The good news for Hellebuyck is that he leads the nation in save percentage (.945) and is second in GAA (1.75), with that save percentage awfully close to the magical .950 that Ryan Miller posted in his Hobey campaign. The bad news is that he’s splitting time with Doug Carr, and it’s hard to see a part-timer capturing the Hobey. The real takeaway here for Hellebuyck is that he’s shown no signs of a sophomore slump, and if he gets a solo run in the River Hawks’ net next year after Carr graduates, he’ll enter 2014-15 as a top contender for the Hobey.

As for Gillies, the Friars sophomore is two slots behind Hellebuyck in the save percentage department at .937, and while he’s a bit farther down in the GAA department (1.88, ninth in the nation), the Friars are ranked seventh in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and Gillies deserves a great deal of the credit. He’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Johnny be back

When we started up the 2013 edition of this blog, it was looking as if the Hobey might finally go to the “little guy from BC.”

Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau was among the nation’s top scorers, coming off of a high-profile performance as part of a gold-medal effort for the U.S. at the World Junior Championship and looking every bit the part of a Hobey winner. As it turned out, however, Gaudreau’s statistical performance tailed off toward the end of the season, and when BC stalled out in the postseason, failing to capture a Hockey East title or a Frozen Four berth, Gaudreau came up short of the Hobey. Still, with little brother Matthew on his way to the Heights, the expectation was that “Johnny Hockey” would stick around for another run.

Indeed, the elder Gaudreau is back in Chestnut Hill, and once again, he’s flying high for the Eagles, leading the nation in points per game and goals per game. While there are certainly other qualified candidates — including returning Hobey finalist Greg Carey of St. Lawrence, who’s right on Gaudreau’s tail in the points department — Gaudreau is once again in a strong position to capture the Hobey.

Given that BC’s team performance in even-numbered years has been far stronger than odd years in recent memory (you have to go back to 2002 to find the last even-numbered Frozen Four that BC wasn’t a part of), the pieces seem to be in place for Gaudreau. Whether he and the Eagles can keep them together — and whether the other candidates will have their say — remains to be seen.

By no means is this post meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the candidates. There are certainly more players worth discussing than Barber, Czarnik, Hellebuyck, Gillies, Gaudreau and Carey, and we’ll discuss them in the weeks to come. For now, though, this should be a good start.

1 COMMENT

  1. Have you heard of Shane Gostisbehere? Are you familiar with the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference? You should look into both

  2. One name that won’t be a part of the mix this year, is UNO’s Ryan Walters, one of last year’s finalists.

    He has completely fallen off the face of the Earth in this, his senior season. Has 5 goals all season so far, ALL on the power play. None have been a game winner or even a game tying goal. Is only a +1 for the season, too. And, he leads UNO in shots taken so far this season, of all things. In fact, he has taken well over 10% of the entire team’s total shots on goal so far this year.

    He’s been part of what is wrong with UNO’s season more than what has been right, I am sorry to have to say.

  3. I’m going to throw Witt into this discussion, he’s the only reason NEU is doing anything this year. I don’t know what happend to this kid over the summer, but he’s blocking 60 shots a game for a team that plays zero defense. Hellebyuck, Ouellette, and Gilles play in very defensive based systems, Witt is a kid on an island out there and he’s playing up to the task so far. Regardless, I’d love to see it go to one of these four netminders, they’re carrying their teams.

  4. This list looks like it was left over from last year without consideration of how well or not well they are playing this year and no consideration of players with a surprising start. The column is a huge disappointment.

  5. If Colgate and Cornell both lose the first round …. a distinct possibility given that QU is back to full strength and UNION is playing some lights out hockey, they are toast.

    • That’s obvious. The real question is can either team win their semifinal and lose the championship game and still get in.

    • Not necessarily. I’ve found a few scenarios were Colgate can lose on Friday and still make it, as well as scenarios where Cornell beats Colgate in the championship game and all 4 teams make it. I had put them here but they were deleted.

    • agreed with jhptygate- colgate/cornell can get in with a loss if things elsewhere go their way- New Hampshire and Ohio State losing, North Dakota winning the NCHC, Minnesota State/Ferris state winning the WCHA (that also gets Vermont in, oddly enough) Obviously not ideal but possible. If the bubble shrinks further than 15, you’re right, they’re done.

      • The way I see it.. The most serious bubble-buster looming is in the NCHC… N. Dakota has to win the NCHC or the bubble goes to #14. Less probable is UNH winning HEA, and pushing the bubble up another spot to #13… even less probable are outside-the-bubble teams (like OSU or BGSU) winning either the BIG and WCHA. Given all that, Vermont, Colgate, and Cornell appear to be the teams most in harm’s way.

      • the difference there is that if North Dakota doesnt win its semi then colgate and cornell jump them in the pairwise putting them in the same position relative to the bubble as if ND won its conference. The problem would be if ND wins its semi and loses its final.

  6. If all of the higher seeds win throughout the weekend, including a Colgate win over QU, Colgate finishes with a PWR of 12, even with a Saturday loss to Union. That gets them in, no?

  7. I can get all four teams in. If all the higher seeds win in the other leagues, Colgate and Cornell win in their semis and Cornell wins the Championship game all four make the tournament.

  8. The most obvious reason the third place game should not have been eliminated is that it could, and has in the past, allow another ECAC Hockey team to make the NCAA Championships. Given that, what possible reason is there to eliminate it?

  9. For Colgate, the deciding seems to be beating/losing to Quinnipiac. If they win, they’re in. If not, they’re only thinking about classes after Friday.

    IF Colgate beats Quinnipiac, then…
    *Colgate would pass Vermont in the rankings EVEN with a loss in the finals.
    *Colgate would pass Minnesota State (as long as they don’t win the WCHA.
    *Colgate would make the tourney EVEN if North Dakota loses. Yes, a bid is stolen, but Colgate would still pass North Dakota in the rankings, keeping them safe.
    *Colgate (and Vermont and Cornell) would stay ahead of New Hampshire in RPI, just as long as New Hampshire DOESN’T win HEA tourney.
    *Colgate would stay ahead of Cornell, IF Cornell doesn’t beat them in the final.
    For Colgate to win once and still miss the tourney, it seems the worst of all scenarios has to happen:
    *Cornell to beat Union, then beat Colgate in the final
    *Minnesota St. to beat Bowling Green and likely then Ferris State to win the WCHA.
    *New Hampshire to beat UML, then win the HEA final, stealing a bid.

    And something quirky like Michigan losing to Penn St. again could happen. I’d rather be Colgate than Vermont or Cornell, but it’s never fun knowing you’ll have to beat Quinnipiac to make the tournament.

  10. If Cornell wins one game, then they, too, should make it, largely because then they would have beaten the #3 team in the country.

    For them to miss the tourney after beating Union, these things have to happen:

    *Minnesota State winning the WCHA
    *New Hampshire winning the HEA
    *Colgate beating Quinnipiac and Cornell to win the ECAC

    If Cornell and/or Colgate win their first round games, what happens in the NCHC doesn’t seem to matter.

  11. Now if Colgate loses to QU, they REALLY need Bowling Green to beat Minnesota St. And that’s with everything else breaking their way.

    If Cornell loses, they’re screwed.

    • Just spoke with Hagwell: Still too early to note or predict ticket sales, but Cornell and Union each requested more than the vague “standard block” of tickets, so the Dutchmen and Big Red should be quite well represented. Not sure about QU/Colgate’s level of fan interest so far… Hagwell anticipates actual numbers by Tues/Wed, so stay tuned.

  12. The only way Cornell will defeat Union is if they hire Feola to disallow a few more goals – like happened this past weekend. Union is going all the way in the NCAAs this year….too solid a team.

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