February 18, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hobey Watch 2013

Tightly-Contested Race Is On

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

Twenty-four hours before the NCAA crowns its national champion, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award foundation will announce the 33rd winner of the trophy annually given to the nation's best hockey player. Last season, Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly capped a brilliant career with UMD by becoming the school's fifth Hobey Baker winner.

Connolly beat out Maine's Spencer Abbott and Colgate's Austin Smith to claim the honor. The Hobey Baker vote can be one of the more contested parts of any college hockey season. The criteria for the award calls for a high-quality hockey player who represents his college or university well. Players have, at times, missed out on the trophy, controversially, because of previous behavioral issues or weaker competition. Regardless of the eventual outcome, there's no doubting that any of the 32 Hobey Baker winners have been worthy of the distinction.

The last two races were both defined by these differences. Many believed Smith deserved the award a season ago, but Connolly's superior schedule and years of dominance in the WCHA gave him the boost he needed to lift the trophy. Two seasons ago, it was some previous off-ice issues from North Dakota's Matt Frattin that seemed to propel Miami's Andy Miele to victory. Looking at this year's class, similar circumstances will likely play a role in the eventual decision. No matter the winner, though, he will be more than qualified. That's really the only thing we can be sure of at this point.

So here's College Hockey News' first look at the 2013 Hobey Baker race. The list may change between now and Friday at the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, a little more than two months from now. Every week, we'll look at the candidates, their most recent performance and the next test they and their teams face.

1. Ryan Walters, Junior, Left Wing, Nebraska-Omaha

The case for:

With at least one point in all but seven games this season, Ryan Walters leads both UNO and the nation in scoring. His 19 goals and 26 assists tie him with St. Lawrence's Greg Carey. For Walters, his consistency throughout the season is important to his candidacy, as is his plus-24 rating. His 1.4 points per game are third nationally. The Mavericks are currently in second place in the WCHA with four league games remaining. Continuing his own success down the stretch will help Walters solidify himself as a leader in the Hobey race and push UNO toward the most favorable position in the WCHA tournament. But if UNO doesn't make the NCAAs — it is currently No. 20 in the Pairwise — it could hurt Walters' chances.

What lies ahead:

Walters and the Mavericks have four league games remaining. They're off this weekend before hosting a resurgent Wisconsin team two weekends from now. UNO ends the season with two games against Minnesota-Duluth on the road.

2. Greg Carey, Senior, Left Wing, St. Lawrence

The case for:

The case of Greg Carey is similar to the case for Colgate's Austin Smith a season ago. People will talk about strength of schedule and quality of competition, but Carey can't control any of that. All any player can do is perform well against the teams in front of him. He has done exactly that this season. The winger is tied with Walters in the national scoring race with 45 points on 23 goals and 22 assists. And people who have seen him play, remark that his shot is NHL caliber. Like Walters, his consistency has been as remarkable as his scoring this season. He has points in 26 of the Saints' 30 games on the year. He and his linemates have kept SLU in the race for a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament. Four regular-season games remain for the Saints, and Carey will need to keep his scoring pace up to keep his name in the running for Hobey.

What lies ahead:

St. Lawrence hosts both Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend. Each team has struggled in the second half. With Walters and the remaining candidates certain to keep their point totals up down the stretch, Carey will need to do the same.

3. Johnny Gaudreau, Sophomore, Left Wing, Boston College

The case for:

Midway through the season, Gaudreau looked like a lock to win BC's first Hobey Baker award since Mike Mottau in 2001. The undersized winger has gone pointless in four games in the second half after posting just one similar result in the first half. Still, he currently leads Hockey East with 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points while maintaining a plus-20 rating. Like other candidates, gifted linemates boost his candidacy, but there's no doubting Gaudreau is the true engine of the Eagles' offense. Of his 22 assists, 19 have been primaries and many have been jawdropping passes that resulted in easy tap ins for his teammates. His 1.48 points per game are second nationally behind only Carey.

What lies ahead:

BC's February schedule is always a bit fractured as a result of the Beanpot. The Eagles' lone game next weekend is Sunday at Merrimack.

4. Corban Knight, Senior, Center, North Dakota

The case for:

Knight presents one of the more interesting situations in the Hobey race. His 13 goals and 27 assists are good enough for third nationally in points. Additionally, he is the most important player on a North Dakota team that will likely make a challenge for its fourth consecutive Broadmoor Trophy and the program's first national championship since 2000. Aside from points, Knight is a classic three-zone center that impacts games as much with his defensive play and leadership as his scoring. He wins more than 57 percent of his faceoffs and excels in all situations. With 40 points and 1.37 points per game, Knight has certainly enjoyed a successful season offensively. Still, he may need to do a bit more to sway voters focused on the lofty numbers of others.

What lies ahead:

Currently riding a five-game unbeaten streak, North Dakota heads to Denver next weekend for a pair with the Pioneers.

5. Eric Hartzell, Senior, Goaltender, Quinnipiac

The case for:

Much has been said about Quinnipiac's legitimacy as a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Few scenarios exist that would leave the Bobcats lower than No. 1 should they win the ECAC tournament. Eric Hartzell is among the reasons QU is in the position in the first place. In 29 games played, Hartzell boasts a 1.46 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. He's allowed more than two goals just twice. Quinnipiac dominates possession, so Hartzell isn't facing 30-plus shots on a nightly basis. Even still, saving nearly 94 percent of the shots he sees has turned a strong Quinnipiac team into a club that believes it can compete for a national championship.

What lies ahead:

The Bobcats clinched the ECAC's regular-season championship despite seeing their 21-game unbeaten streak end on Friday. They host Yale and Brown at the TD Bank Sports Center next weekend.

The next five

6. Brady Hjelle, Senior, Goaltender, Ohio State
7. Steven Whitney, Senior, Right Wing, Boston College
8. Danny Kristo, Senior, Right Wing, North Dakota
9. Nick Bjugstad, Junior, Center, Minnesota
10. Erik Haula, Junior, Center, Minnesota

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