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March 31, 2014 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Second Thoughts

Gaudreau for Hobey Should Be Unanimous

by Ryan Lambert/Columnist

You know it's going to happen.

There hasn't been a clearer Hobey vote in the last 20-something years than Johnny Gaudreau, a player who leads the country in scoring with 77 points, and by a margin so wide as to be ludicrous. Linemate Kevin Hayes, in the same number of games, is 14 points back. Greg Carey, with one fewer, is 20.

Gaudreau's 1.97 points per game has him so far ahead of the field that if he didn't pop in a single goal, all season he'd still be tied for for 24th in scoring. Instead, he led the nation with 35. A common misconception is that Hobey voting is closed before the NCAA tournament begins, but in reality ballots were due the Monday following regionals. Thus, what Gaudreau did this weekend against two of the three best netminders in the country — i.e. piling up eight points — must necessarily be taken into consideration. This is and should always be a slam-dunk. If you think anyone else is deserving, you are objectively wrong.

And yet, when the ballots are counted, it's a pretty good guess that Gaudreau will, somehow, not be the unanimous winner. You know someone with a vote will cast their ballot for some other player, due to concerns about East Coast Bias and Leadership and other issues that should not be issues at all. For example, one notable analyst recently called St. Cloud State's Nic Dowd a favorite for the Hobey, which should be viewed as calling the New York Rangers a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Dowd had a great season for the Huskies and no one is saying he didn't, but Gaudreau has more assists (42) than Dowd had points (40) this season.

One of the big criticisms of Gaudreau's game, echoed time and again by people who seem to have an odd fascination with tearing down every multiple-point performance he posted this season (and there were 21 of them, so they got in lots of practice), was that he doesn't play defense. First of all, if that's the case that must have been someone else in the No. 13 jersey applying tremendous back pressure on the BC penalty kill all weekend. And second of all, it wouldn't matter if he never once entered his defensive zone all season, as long as he scored about 0.9 goals per game and set up another 1.1 or so, he could have taken naps at the attacking blue line for all Jerry York would have cared. Of course, there's also the consideration that he doesn't have to play defense because he has the puck constantly and quite often he is personally loading it into the back of the opponent's net. His 3.97 shots on goal per game is 15th in the nation, and this is a player whom York regularly rested as games got out of hand so as not to: a) tire him out, and b) embarrass the other team. In the latter case, sometimes it couldn't be helped.

Evidence of the easing off from the Gaudreau line can be found in many games over the course of the season, perhaps most notably against Bowling Green, when he had three points in first 6:45 and none the rest of the game. A full season of Gaudreau being let off the chain for the full 60 every night might have ended in the biblical apocalypse.

"I know, coaching Johnny ... his anticipation of when to transition from defense to offense is going to happen," Denver coach Jim Montgomery, who coached Gaudreau in the USHL, said after the game. "He doesn't end up on breakaways like he does by a fluke. His timing is impeccable. I've been trying to show our players that when you realize a turnover has happened, he's already two strides ahead of you and behind you."

As to the leadership concern, he could have also taken to smoking on the bench and telling kids to drop out of high school in postgame interviews, and he'd still have 77 points and this still wouldn't be worthy of discussion. As to East Coast bias, Gaudreau could post these numbers playing on Jupiter's third-largest moon and his stats would still necessitate a unanimous win.

“We've had some really good players at BC over the years, and he certainly is going to be one of those top players,” York said following Sunday's win over Lowell, in which Gaudreau had two deeply inventive assists. “He seems to have a whole other gear when the game produces a hat, or a trophy, or whatever you want to call it. He kind of rises his game up. He's hard to hit, you know, he's not very big, but he's elusive. He has a really good feel for how to play hockey. He had it before he came to me, and we've seen the benefits of it. We gave him some good linemates, and let him be creative. It's fun to watch him play.”

Unless, of course, you're playing against him. Denver coach Jim Montgomery, who saw firsthand the way in which Gaudreau's talent can singlehandedly leave a defense staring wide-eyed at its own guts on the ice at its feet and coached the Hobey winner in waiting in the USHL, compared Gaudreau's creativity to that of perhaps the most creative hockey player of all time.

"On film it's great [to think you know what he's going to do] but live it's like the first time I played against Mario Lemieux," he said just minutes after seeing Gaudreau post a 3-3-6 line against Sam Brittain. "It's like, 'Why don't people go pressure him?' Then you get out on the ice against him and everything's moving except the puck, and you're buckled. That's what happens when you play creative players."

Calling Gaudreau (or Lemieux for that matter) merely “creative” is like calling Picasso “good at painting.” The things he does, no one else can do. Not only in this particular season of college hockey, but any in the last two decades. He is a supreme and exquisite and rare talent, one which college hockey hasn't seen since Paul Kariya. That he did all this scoring not only in an era in which the goaltending is worlds better than anything Kariya ever faced in college, but also against the top defensive conference in the nation says a lot for his quality. Hockey East teams allowed an average of 92.3 goals per game this season, and no other conference got below 96. These are the teams against which Gaudreau played more than half his games.

That we're having this discussion shows how bad the Hobey voting process is to begin with. Take, for example, the inclusion of CJ Motte in the final 10: Like Dowd, Motte was very good this season for an underwhelming Ferris club, but he was only ranked sixth in both GAA and save percentage when the tournament began. So why was he included over, say, Connor Hellebuyck, who was first in both categories? Motte led the nation in wins, literally the most useless goaltender statistic there is.

Thus we can safely infer that is a group of old-school coaches who are supposed to have a solid understanding of the sport and how it works in 2014, but still get it wrong. And you know that it will be from a pool of people who think like them that a ballot is cast for, say, Greg Carey. Carey is also an excellent college hockey player but is not a sorcerer on the level of Gaudreau, the likes of whom hasn't been seen in college hockey since Kariya bolted for Anaheim 20 years ago. And some stats say Gaudreau might be even better than that.

To write down anyone but Gaudreau next to the No. 1 spot on your ballot is to engage in intellectual dishonesty at best and outright idiocy at worst, and the people who do so should be publicly shamed for not giving the vote the solemnity we're all supposed to act like it has. Homerism is understandable to a certain extent, but the evidence here is so overwhelming that the point should be moot.

Not that it matters. We'll never know whether Kariya was everyone's pick because all this balloting is kept secret, and it was well before the Internet became a well-trafficked thing that everyone used. But unless they say Gaudreau was a unanimous winner, we will know for sure that he wasn't. And he won't be.

Second thoughts

NCAA tournament field

Minnesota: This is what being the No. 1 seed gets you: A cakewalk to the Frozen Four. The Gophers outscored their opponents 11-3 this weekend, and even that three-spot was a little generous from Adam Wilcox.

Boston College: Gotta give a shout out to Ryan Fitzgerald and Ian McCoshen for becoming the first Eagles besides Gaudreau, Hayes, or Billy Arnold to score in quite a while. They picked a hell of a time to get after it.

Union: All of Union's winning over the last three or four years has boosted their ticket sales and other revenues appreciably, and with another trip to the Frozen Four (where one has to consider them the favorite to win), that's likely to improve even more in the future. It's often overlooked because of recruiting and so on, but that's how programs stay successful too.

Wisconsin: If there was any No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup that was going to produce an upset, it was this one. Not very hospitable of North Dakota to do this to Wisconsin after the Badgers got them into the tournament in the first place.

Ferris State: “Dominates” is a strong word for a team that was chasing the game more or less from the outset. Score effects are real. Ferris's chances of impressing in this tournament were not.

Quinnipiac: This was an almost unbelievably ineffective performance by the Bobcats, who really couldn't stop tripping over themselves down the stretch. That early Jankowski goal was a backbreaker.

Massachusetts-Lowell: One has to wonder about Lowell's future. If Connor Hellebuyck doesn't come back for a junior season, there has to be very real concern between the pipes, as well as the current biggest question mark: On the blue line.

Notre Dame: Steven Summerhays did not, perhaps, have the very best last two games. After giving up four goals to Lowell on just 22 shots, then conceded the same number on 28 to St. Cloud, as his team lost in overtime. He has to be better than that because he is better than that.

St. Cloud State: The Huskies have to be hoping they never play in a building with the words "Energy Center" in its name again. Their season has ended in such a rink in four of the last five years. Last season at Consol Energy Center, and three of the last five at Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota State: The Mavs feel, as they should, that this is now a program built to compete long-term. The things Mike Hastings has done in his short time there are remarkable, truly.

Providence: The Friars are another program well-positioned to succeed over the coming several years (though perhaps next season is contingent on Jon Gillies' attitude toward continuing his college career), but man did they ever run into a buzzsaw in Bridgeport.

Colgate: Pretty amazing stat here: Colgate has allowed one goal in its last three games against Ferris State, and that lone goal was the one that sent them home from the NCAA tournament.

Vermont: Gotta love Barry Melrose saying this hit on Shayne Gostisbehere by Jonathan Turk is just “finishing his check.” This is the definition of an intentional knee-to-knee shot.

North Dakota: Big-time performance from Zane Gothberg. Just huge. Bet he would have never expected this at the start of his NCAA career, huh?

Denver: “Crushes” is the absolute correct adjective here. Even score effects couldn't get the Pioneers within 13 shots of BC's total. They suffered from front to back, and it wasn't pleasant to watch.

Robert Morris: The good news for the Colonials here was that in scoring in their 7-3, Cody Wydo set the team's career record with his 65th goal. It was also his 31st of the season, which is no small feat itself.

Player of the Week

Gaudreau had eight points in two games against the Nos. 1 and 3 best goaltenders in the country and in my opinion that is a good number to get.

The Johnny Gaudreau Goal of the Week

This was, inexplicably, the goal that capped the first hat trick of Gaudreau's career. Of course this shot went in.

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