March 14, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hobey Hopefuls, V.4

by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer

Early Thursday evening, the 10 semifinalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award will be revealed. There are some names almost certain to be on the list, while others will inevitably come as a surprise. The final answer won't come for a few more weeks.

In the last month, the award has been a hot discussion point around the nation, as fans and media debate the merits of the most likely candidates. At College Hockey News, we've been as anxious as anyone to point out the arguments for and against each player.

While it's certain that every name provided Thursday night will be that of an outstanding player having a better season, the arguments will only grow more heated. Here's the latest attempts of Adam Wodon, Dan Myers, Avash Kalra, Scott McLaughlin and I at whittling the list down.

1. Austin Smith, Senior, Right Wing, Colgate

The case for:

The argument in favor of Austin Smith hasn't changed much since we published the first Hobey Hopefuls. Despite playing for a Colgate team that has hardly dominated a weaker ECAC, Smith still leads the nation in goal scoring by a nine. His value to the Raiders can't be denied either. In their first series against Quinnipiac, Smith picked up a goal and an assist in each of Colgate's wins in the series. On Saturday, he went scoreless, and the Raiders lost. His pair of goals against the Bobcats gave him 36 on the season, while his assists put him at an even 20 on the year. Nationally, those 56 points tie him with Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly. His plus-26 rating places him second in the country.

What lies ahead:

The defeat of Quinnipiac last week sent Smith and Colgate to Atlantic City, N.J., for the ECAC Semifinals. Smith and his teammates will play Union Friday at 4:30 p.m. from Boardwalk Hall, as they look for the program's first ECAC Championship since 1990. In two games against Union this year, Colgate was 0-2-0, but Smith leveled a goal and assist in the meetings against the conference's best team. A win would send the Raiders to the ECAC Championship game against either Harvard or Cornell. Guiding the Raiders to the NCAA Tournament with a pair of big performances would certainly help the winger's profile.

2. Justin Schultz, Junior, Defenseman, Wisconsin

The case for:

As a defenseman, Justin Schultz's numbers don't compare to the other forwards on this list. Pair that with playing for a Wisconsin team that struggled to find consistency, and it certainly wasn't easy for the junior to make his case as well as he could have. Still, his 16 goals, 28 assists and plus-11 rating on an average WCHA team provide his ultimate worth. Many consider Schultz to the top all-around player in the country, and his dominance was evident watching any shift he took for the Badgers. Opposition offenses were essentially forced to play without the right side out of the ice when Schultz skated for UW.

What lies ahead:

Well, no one really knows the answer to this question except Schultz, his advisor and the Anaheim Ducks. The junior's season ended in overtime on Sunday, when the Badgers fell to Denver, 3-2, in overtime in Game 3 of their WCHA quarterfinal series. At this point, many believe Schultz will forgo his senior season to sign with the Ducks. Reports surfaced on Tuesday that he is no rush, as he looks to finish the spring semester in Madison.

3. Jack Connolly, Senior, Center, Minnesota-Duluth

The case for:

Jack Connolly was crowned WCHA Player of the Year last week, becoming the first UMD player to earn the award since Junior Lessard in 2004. That year, Lessard became the fourth Bulldog to win the Hobey, and Connolly has positioned himself well to match Lessard, trophy for trophy. Tied with Smith for second nationally in scoring with 56 points, Connolly has 18 goals and 38 assists on the year. His role as the Bulldogs' top three-zone center isn't exactly difficult to understand either with a fantastic plus-18 rating on the season.

What lies ahead:

Connolly and UMD have at least two more games ahead of them, but fans in Duluth are counting on a few more as the Bulldogs look to win a conference championship and repeat as national champions. Friday, UMD, the No. 2 seed in the WCHA Tournament, plays either Michigan Tech or Denver in the WCHA Semifinals. Connolly had success against each of these clubs this season. However, the Huskies did keep the dominant center scoreless in a series in late January. That said, he posted five points on two goals and three assists in a win at North Dakota on Feb. 11.

4. Spencer Abbott, Senior, Left Wing, Maine

The case for:

Maine's rise to home ice in the Hockey East Tournament and strong position in the Pairwise coincided with the point Spencer Abbott began his breakout. On Dec. 2, Abbott scored three goals and assisted on two more in a 6-4 win at Vermont. Since that night, he's scored 45 points on 15 goals and 30 assists. In those 25 games, Maine is 18-6-1. For the year, Abbott is the national leader in scoring with 20 goals and 39 assists for 59 points. He also leads he nation in points per game, averaging 1.59. Sunday, Abbott picked up a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win over Merrimack in Game 3 of their quarterfinal series.

What lies ahead:

Maine plays Boston University Friday night at 8 p.m. at the TD Garden in a Hockey East Semifinal. In two of the three games Maine played against BU this year, Abbott went without a point. However, he did pick up a goal and an assist against BU in the other meeting. A win over the Terriers would position Maine to play for a Hockey East Championship, where it would meet either Boston College or Providence. The Eagles were similarly tough on Abbott, holding him scoreless twice before he assisted on three goals in the final meeting. Against the Friars, Abbott averaged a point a game with three points in as many meetings.

5. Shawn Hunwick, Senior, Goaltender, Michigan

The case for:

As he left the ice of Yost Arena two weekends ago, the Michigan fans praised Shawn Hunwick with chants of "Hobey Baker." There are few goaltenders who have played as well as Hunwick from start to finish this season. Among those that have, none boast the same level of success. In 37 games this season, Hunwick has a 1.97 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. None of the goaltenders ahead of him in GAA have played in more than 30 games. Similarly, none of the three in front of him in save percentage have played more than 29 games.

What lies ahead:

The Wolverines enter this weekend's CCHA Tournament as a virtual lock to qualify for their 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. However, Hunwick and his teammates must first contend with a Bowling Green club fresh off an upset of Ferris State in the quarterfinals of the CCHA playoffs. Providing the consistently brilliant goaltending he has all season will be important Michigan, as it moves down the stretch.

6. Drew Shore, Junior, Center, Denver
7. Reilly Smith, Junior, Left Wing, Miami
8. Travis Oleksuk, Senior, Center, Minnesota-Duluth
9. Troy Grosenick, Sophomore, Goaltender, Union
10. Nick Bjugstad, Sophomore, Center, Minnesota

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