Analysis: Duncan's Hobey
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS The consensus is in — Ryan Duncan winning the Hobey Baker is a surprise. Twenty four hours after the announcement, the college hockey world is still talking about the implications.
First, it appeared Duncan was chosen as the best of a hat trick of good — not great — players. The 2006-07 season simply lacked a consensus Hobey Baker caliber player, like, for example, Paul Kariya in 1993.
In Duncan's defense, however, he did take advantage of the underperformance of college hockey's top talent. At the beginning of the season, if you were to select potential Hobey candidates, Duncan's name wouldn't even have been mentioned, neither nationwide nor on his own team. With the many first-round draft picks on rosters all over the country — Brian Boyle, Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson — to name a few, the lack of a college hockey superstar in 2006-07 was disappointing.
What occurred, then, was the emergence of a group of lunch-pail players putting up numbers that could go unnoticed for only so long, a move that played perfectly into Duncan's hand. Not sold? Of the 10 Hobey finalists, none were first-round draft picks.
Next, Duncan's sophomore status is particularly interesting.
With his selection, Duncan became only the third sophomore, alongside Michigan State's Ryan Miller and Minnesota's Neil Broten, to ever win the award, as it is historically given to upperclassmen. With a qualified senior in Notre Dame goaltender, David Brown, why did the committee buck its own jurisprudence and select Duncan instead?
My take, Duncan's selection is a symbolic move by the committee, as they have finally embraced the changing times. With more and more blue-chip recruits leaving increasingly earlier in their young careers (what used to be after one's junior year is now sophomore and sometimes even freshman), having an age preference on the game's most prestigious individual honor is poor logic, if nothing else.
While Duncan may not be the candidate to be the face of this change, what's more important is that it's been done, and now, hopefully, the award will open itself up to represent the nation's top player, not the nation's top senior.
Finally, Duncan winning signifies another major change in college hockey — the acceptance of anemic point totals by Hobey Baker award winners. Duncan's 57 points is a microcosm of the overall depletion of scoring that has infected the game the past few years. To put Duncan's winning totals — 31 goals, 26 assists — in perspective, the lone other UND player to win the Hobey, Tony Hrkac in 1987, tallied 116 points — 46 goals, 70 assists.
Even Duncan was quick to point to the disparity, quipping how he shied from putting his name in the same category as Hrkac given that he failed to score even half as many points in his Hobey year. While it is no fault of Duncan's per se to win despite barely cracking the half-century mark, it does chip away a bit at the prestige of the award, as it was once thought only to be given to players with truly jaw-dropping seasons.
So, congrats are definitely in order for Duncan, if not for winning the Hobey, for what his selection means for the future of the award.
It's a big contribution by a little guy.