Some final thoughts before Johnny Gaudreau gets the award

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau (center) scored his 36th goal of the season on Thursday and ended with 80 points (photo: Melissa Wade).

Happy Hobey Day, everyone! That’s right, the Hobey Baker Award will be presented Friday in its namesake’s hometown of Philadelphia, and that brings us to the final edition for 2014 of the USCHO Hobey Watch.

Of course, there isn’t much drama surrounding Friday’s announcement, because Johnny Gaudreau has had this award locked up for at least a month.

The only real question I had heading into the Frozen Four was whether Gaudreau could become only the sixth player in the history of the award to win the Hobey and the NCAA championship on the same weekend (and the first since Matt Gilroy five years ago with Boston University).

That, of course, won’t happen … and congratulations are certainly in order to the Union Dutchmen and coach Rick Bennett on reaching the national championship game.

That having been said, we’ve had a sense for some time that Gaudreau would be leaving Philadelphia with at least one trophy, and we can count on two things being retired in the near future: Gaudreau’s No. 13 jersey at BC (since that’s what happens with Hobey winners at the Heights), and my blog posts about how the small forward from BC never wins the Hobey.

Beyond that, however, I was quite surprised by the other members of the Hobey Hat Trick: St. Cloud State’s Nic Dowd and St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey. When the announcement came out, I stared at my computer for a few moments in disbelief, then dashed off an e-mail to a colleague with the subject heading “I Can’t Even….”

I was so sure that the regional performances of Shayne Gostisbehere, Kevin Hayes and Adam Wilcox had served as such excellent “closing arguments” for the Hobey voters that I thought we’d have a Hobey first, with all three members of the Hat Trick participating in the Frozen Four.

So much for that.

All of that said, however, I’m not complaining.

The more I think about it, the more I recognize what an extraordinary season Greg Carey had for St. Lawrence this year, going from his team’s primary goal-scorer to the most prolific setup man in college hockey and finishing with more points than he did a year ago.

It’s not every player who can make such a dramatic shift in the nature of his game from one year to the next and be even more productive. I had my doubts about how far that might get him in the Hobey voting because of how much St. Lawrence has struggled despite Carey’s efforts.

But I think Carey’s presence in the Hat Trick speaks to both the impressive nature of his achievements and, possibly, a growing respect for ECAC Hockey, which has now been represented in the Frozen Four for three years running and will have a team in the championship game for the second consecutive year.

As for Dowd, he may not have had the eye-popping numbers of some of the other forwards in the field, but when you take into account the nature of this season, it makes what he and the Huskies accomplished this year all the more impressive.

For as much impact as the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference has had on our sport, the formation of the NCHC is, in its own way, even more remarkable. I can’t think of any other sport in which a group of schools would form a conference based on their mutual commitment to excellence in the same sport.

For as much as we hear about the SEC in football, for example, there’s still a Mississippi State or a Kentucky that tends to struggle and not really keep pace with the Alabamas and the LSUs. The NCHC doesn’t have that.

In this first season of conference play, Miami — a perennial NCAA tournament team in recent years that’s been to two Frozen Fours in the previous five seasons — finished last in the regular season (and then nearly made the tournament anyway, to boot).

In that kind of environment, the Huskies’ regular season championship has to be recognized as a significant achievement, and Dowd’s role in St. Cloud’s success probably balances out the difference between his excellent statistical performance and the superlative numbers of a Kevin Hayes (for example).

And yet, maybe, at the end of the day, I overestimated the cases of Wilcox, Hayes and Gostisbehere. Wilcox was top 10 in both save percentage and GAA but didn’t lead in either. Hayes was the No. 2 scorer in the country, but also played on the same line as No. 1, which probably didn’t work in his favor during the voting.

Gostisbehere had what some (myself included) considered to be a real “Hobey moment” in the regionals against Providence, but while his overall game commands a great deal of respect, it’s not like his statistical profile was any more compelling than Dowd’s.

In the end, there’s a certain balance between individual and team success that I feel makes a Hobey candidate, and each member of the Hat Trick hit it in his own way.

Of course, Thursday’s disappointment notwithstanding, Johnny Gaudreau had both in spades this year, which is why he’ll win Friday night.