March 29, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

CHN Player of the Year: Austin Smith

CHN Staff Report

PRINCETON, N.J. — Colgate senior Austin Smith, who led the nation in goals this season with 36, has been named the 2011-12 College Hockey News Player of the Year.

This season represented one of the most difficult selections since CHN started presenting the award in 2006, with our staff split among several candidates. In fact, a case could easily be made for eight of the 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists, of which Smith is one.

That doesn't even include forwards Drew Shore (Denver), Brock Nelson (North Dakota) and Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota), none of which are Hobey finalists. Two of them were on our All-CHN team, and Bjugstad was considered as well and was part of our "Hobey Watch" series for most of the season. It's possible, if not likely, those three wind up better pros than any of the current Hobey candidates.

But, that is not the criteria for the season award. Smith's 36 goals are the most in college hockey since Minnesota's Ryan Potulny — our first winner — in 2006. In addition, he led the nation in shorthanded goals with six, plus added seven power-play goals and five game-winning goals. Perhaps the most astounding statistic was that, on a team that barely finished over .500, Smith was a plus-25, tied with Boston College Hobey finalist defenseman Brian Dumoulin.

Certainly there were compelling cases to be made for almost all of the Hobey finalists. Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly and Maine's Spencer Abbott are electrifying playmakers. Miami's Reilly Smith made a late charge and closed what was an enormous gap between Austin Smith and next-highest goal scorer, finishing just six behind with 30. Like his namesake, Reilly Smith carried his team's goal production.

Wisconsin's Justin Schultz is perhaps the most talented player in the field, and like Smith, played on a team that was mediocre this season. Goalies Shawn Hunwick and Troy Grosenick both have compelling stories, and Grosenick — along with Dumoulin — is still playing in the Frozen Four.

Ultimately, Smith's season was most compelling, though splitting hairs among numerous outstanding players. Smith had the most goals of any ECAC player since Clarkson's Todd White had 37 in 1996-97. He's not a power forward in that sense, but instead a great two-way player with sniper's instincts. He is the first ECAC player to be honored this way by CHN, and would be the first ECAC Hobey winner since Harvard's Lane MacDonald in 1989.

The Dallas native was a fifth-round NHL Draft pick of the Dallas Stars in 2007. He has signed signed with Dallas, and has no points in three games since joining the Stars' AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, though he does have a shootout goal.

Let the debate begin.

Previous CHN Player of the Year winners:

2006 Ryan Potulny, Minnesota
2007 T.J. Hensick, Michigan
2008 Kevin Porter, Michigan
2009 Matt Gilroy, Boston University
2010 Marc Cheverie, Denver
2011 Matt Frattin, North Dakota

Previous CHN Rookie of the Year winners:

2008 Richard Bachman, Colorado College
2009 Jordan Schroeder, Minnesota
2010 Stephane Da Costa, Merrimack
2011 T.J. Tynan, Notre Dame
2012 Joey LaLeggia, Denver

Previous CHN Coach of the Year winners:

2007 Jeff Jackson, Notre Dame
2008 Red Berenson, Michigan
2009 Keith Allain, Yale
2010 Enrico Blasi, Miami
2011 Mark Dennehy, Merrimack / Jeff Blashill, Western Michigan
2012 Norm Bazin, Massachusetts-Lowell

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