Will a Goaltender Ever Win the Hobey Baker Again?
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Long before experiencing his first NHL Stanley Cup playoffs this season, Ryan Miller – the starting goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres – was one of many in his family to wear the green and white for the Michigan State Spartans.
And in 2001, he became the second member of his legendary lineage (Kip Miller, 1990) to win college hockey's most prestigious award, the Hobey Baker. In doing so, he joined Minnesota's Robb Stauber (1988) as the only other goaltender to ever win the award.
Of course, the Hobey Baker Award is intended to represent the total package of a college hockey player. Skill, integrity, sportsmanship, and strength of character are among the criteria. Over time, however, the Hobey has unquestionably been transformed into an award for the player with the most high-profile statistics.
And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it unfortunately – and for whatever reason – makes it much more difficult for a goaltender to win the award.
After all, in the five years since Miller won the award, the recipient has been either the nation's leading forward or defenseman. All five winners have hailed from the offense-centric WCHA conference.
And even though all five players have been more than deserving of winning the Hobey Baker, the question simply becomes — what's it going to take for a goaltender to ever again win the award?
Below are four sets of goalie stats. One represents Miller's in 2001, while the other three represent goaltenders who have been Hobey Hat Trick finalists since Miller won the award. Before reading on, consider the numbers, and try to identify which of the impressive sets of statistics belonged to Miller.
A) 1.20 GAA; .940 SV%; 8 shutouts
B) 1.55 GAA; .938 SV%; 9 shutouts
C) 1.32 GAA; .950 SV%; 10 shutouts
D) 1.24 GAA; .947 SV%; 10 shutouts
Ryan Miller's 2001 season featured the highest save percentage in college hockey history (.950), and thus, his stats during his Hobey Baker campaign are featured in choice C.
Assuming once again that the award has become one that is based purely on statistics, is there really that much separating Miller's stats from the others? Examine them again.
Even choice B — whose numbers are perhaps slightly less impressive when compared to the others on paper — should be seriously considered because those statistics were earned by the only goaltender of the four to actually win a national championship. And he put up those numbers in the aforementioned WCHA, where the defensive play leaves something to be desired (proof: of the top 25 goaltenders in goals-against average in 2006, only two others were from the WCHA).
The rest of the answers, along with the stats of the player who actually won the award that year, are as follows:
A) David LeNeveu (2003), Cornell; Hobey winner: Peter Sejna, F, Colorado College (36 goals, 46 assists)
B) Brian Elliott (2006), Wisconsin; Hobey winner: Matt Carle, D, Denver (11 goals, 42 assists)
D) David McKee (2005), Cornell; Hobey winner: Marty Sertich, F, Colorado College(27 goals, 37 assists)
A popular theory is that these three goaltenders didn't win the award because their highly impressive statistics were merely a product of the sound defensive system playing in front of them. It's often true that a defensive system has an impact on the statistics, but usually, that effect is more magnified when the defense is poor than when it is sound. When goals-against averages are that low, and save percentages and shutout totals are that high, the goaltenders have plenty to do with it.
Another prevalent theory is that a goaltender will only win the Hobey when there isn't a particularly dominant scorer that season. However, in 2001, Miller won the award when North Dakota's Jeff Panzer scored an impressive 81 points, in a season in which the Sioux advanced all the way to the national championship game, falling to Brian Gionta (the other Hat Trick finalist that year) and Boston College.
But in 2003, Sejna's 83 points were enough to edge LeNeveu, who had set the NCAA record for the lowest goals-against average in a season, with 1.20.
Meanwhile, in 2005, McKee — whose numbers on paper were just as good as Miller's were in 2001 — didn't win the award either, as the Texas native was edged out by Sertich and his 64 points. And that was after a season in which McKee erased the legendary Ken Dryden from atop of many of the Cornell and ECAC goaltending records.
Again, Sertich was extremely deserving of the award, as have been all the recipients the last five years. Beyond his statistics, Sertich also volunteered with schoolchildren in Colorado Springs, and he participated in food drives. He fit the ideal that the Hobey Baker Award is supposed to represent. I certainly do not mean to suggest that Sertich should not have won the award, or even that these goaltenders should have indeed won the Hobey.
But based on the numbers alone — and after all, those are what have come to matter the most — if McKee didn't win the award, what's a goaltender going to have to do to win the Hobey?
Perhaps, from now on, every goaltender who is a finalist for the award may be compared to the likes of LeNeveu, McKee and Elliott. And people might say, "If they didn't win the Hobey, why should so-and-so win it?"
And so, the trio of LeNeveu, McKee and Elliott may have unknowingly cursed college goaltenders for years to come. And unless a goaltender posts a goals-against average under 1.20 and a save percentage over .950, perhaps Ryan Miller will always be the answer to the trivia question, "Who was the last goaltender to ever win the Hobey Baker Award."