February 13, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Handicapping the Hobey

BC's Gaudreau a Clear Favorite in Otherwise Talented Field

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

The great thing about the conference and NCAA tournaments is that they are, for the most part, decided objectively. The Pairwise changes every so often, and its criteria are chosen by people. So there's a bit of subjectivity in that. All in all, though, everyone gets the same chance. Teams know what they have to do, who they have to beat, and it's up to them to do it.

The lone piece of major hardware handed out during the final few weeks of the college hockey season decided subjectively is, inevitably, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

Every year, the favorites for these awards come with caveats. Ultimately, the player who wins is always a great college hockey player that represents the sport well. The issue comes with the motivation behind docking one player a vote over another. Austin Smith's schedule wasn't good enough. Matt Frattin did some dumb things in his first couple seasons at North Dakota, ditto for Danny Kristo. None of these players won the award.

The arguments against were, for the most part, valid. However, the sources of the outrage against Smith or Frattin or Kristo always just seemed so self-serving. People only made those arguments because the player they wanted to win didn't come with the same issues. It's frustrating to make these statements because Andy Miele, Jack Connolly and Drew LeBlanc were all excellent college hockey players and, as their fans are quick to point out, "even better people."

This year, something refreshing is happening. The clear-cut favorite for the award, Boston College junior winger Johnny Gaudreau, really doesn't come with a single argument against. He's been the best player in the nation since the season began and one of the best since he arrived in Chestnut Hill three seasons ago. I'm anticipating Gaudreau's detractors trying to bring up the strength of his line, and it's certainly worth mentioning. BC seniors Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes are all-American-caliber players enjoying special seasons of their own. However great they are, don't think for a second Gaudreau isn't the motor behind BC's offensive machine.

Gaudreau scores goals, piles up the assists, kills penalties and never threw any lawnmowers or kitchen tables into a road — as far as we know.

Gaudreau is going to win the award running away. However, there are several other candidates at least worthy of mentioning. For the rest of this season, we'll give you a regular update of the players most deserving of a spot as a finalist and in the eventual Hobey Hat Trick. At this point, it's pretty difficult to see anyone passing BC's No. 13, but that is, I'm told, why they play the games.

The favorites

1. Johnny Gaudreau
Junior, Left Wing, Boston College

Gaudreau's development since he took a rather circuitous route from the Dubuque Fighting Saints to Boston College has been one of their more interesting cases I've seen.

Blessed with uncommon skills and vision, the only question about the 5-foot-7 winger was his strength. It was clear at times during his freshman and sophomore years that his size was the only thing preventing him from putting together truly dominant seasons. Well, that's not an issue anymore.

The Carneys Point, N.J., native will never win any weight-lifting competitions, but he's become strong enough on the puck to offset a lot of the tight checking he receives. Moreover, the passing and creativity that make him a remarkable talent have only improved.

With 25 goals and 33 assists, Gaudreau leads the nation in every major scoring category. Arnold's presence as the dominant three-zone center gives Gaudreau a bit more freedom to find new ways to torment opponents, but he's never needed much support to do that.

Since BC coach Jerry York put Hayes next to Gaudreau and Arnold, the trio has been a dominant force like few others college hockey has seen. In 15 games together, the group has combined for 30 goals and 54 assists. Gaudreau certainly benefits from some gifted linemates, but he wasn't exactly hurting to score before York made this decision. He's a great college hockey player in every sense of the phrase. The other players on this list are talented, but this award will be Gaudreau's.

2. Kevin Hayes
Senior, Right Wing, Boston College

Always an effective player for York's BC teams, the senior has blossomed this season, finally becoming the dominant force the Chicago Blackhawks envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2010. Hayes is the rare power forward who can use his size to go along with top-end stick and puck skills.

Prior to this season, Hayes' career high in goals was seven. He currently has 21. His career in assists was 21. He currently has 28. Life with Gaudreau has certainly opened more space for Hayes. He's thrived in the role, and the Eagles have recovered from bad losses to Holy Cross and Maine in late November on the backs of their talented first-lines.

Aside from his scoring prowess, Hayes is an important piece of the puzzle in other aspects of the game. He's seen time on defense killing penalties as well as featuring on the Eagles' first penalty-kill group when they have a full complement of defensemen.

Hayes is a truly special player that put it all together after a few underwhelming seasons. The Eagles were likely a contender for trophies even without Hayes' emergence, but they're a favorite for them because of it.

3. Clay Witt
Junior, Goaltender, Northeastern

In his third year leading Northeastern, Jim Madigan has put together a very talented roster. The Huskies' forwards and defensemen are a talented group with a bright future. However, the reason NU is a probable home ice team in the Hockey East Tournament and likely participant in the national field is Clay Witt.

After three years without regular playing time, Witt's taken over the No. 1 job for the Huskies and been superb all season. His .945 save percentage is clearly the best in the nation. It's especially remarkable that he's done this since he's faced the third most shots (875) in the country.

He's posted four shutouts and made more than 35 saves 11 times. On top of all of this, his 1.99 goals-against average is eighth in the nation. He has faced at least 128 more shots than all seven of the goaltenders ahead of him in this category. If it weren't for the absurd numbers amassed by his rival Eagles, Witt would be the clear favorite for this award. That is, of course, if he could overcome the absurd anti-goaltender bias voters seem to have. Not since Michigan State's Ryan Miller in 2001 has a goalie won the award.

4. Ryan Dzingel
Junior, Center, Ohio State

Ryan Dzingel is the type of player college hockey coaches build around. First-year Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik relies heavily on his gifted forward, and he's been rewarded for his belief. With 1.42 points per game, Dzingel is fifth in the nation. He's the driving force behind a surprisingly dangerous Ohio State offense.

It takes a lot of trust for a coach to give a player the freedom Rohlik allows Dzingel, letting him err from the Buckeyes' system when he believes he can make a difference. Dzingel frequently does exactly that. The Buckeyes are a longshot to win any trophies this season, but Dzingel's success has made them more of a threat.

It seems odd that Ohio State can be considered a low profile team given the athletic department's fame. OSU's hockey program is hardly on the level of its Big Ten rivals, though, and few have mentioned Dzingel has a legitimate candidate. He's not on the level of the players above him, but he belongs in the discussion.

5. Shayne Gostisbehere
Junior, Defenseman, Union

Defensemen don't always receive the credit they deserve for their excellence. Only six defensemen have ever won the Hobey, and it seems almost impossible for a blue liner to get the nod unless they score like forwards. Gostisbehere, however, is a dominant force on a Union team with its eyes on Philadelphia.

Earlier this season, Rensselaer coach Seth Appert referred to Gostisbehere as the nation's best player in a postgame press conference, and no one was really surprised. Since he arrived in Schenectady three seasons ago, his ascent to the highest echelon of collegiate defensemen has been sharp and rapid.

With seven goals and 14 assists, Gostisbehere is 10th in the nation in defenseman scoring. Moreover, he regularly draws major minutes against his opponents' top players. This, of course, is true of every top pairing defenseman in the country. Gostisbehere, however, shuts players down like few others.

The rest

6. Greg Carey, Senior, Left Wing, St. Lawrence
7. Josh Archibald, Junior, Right Wing, Nebraska-Omaha
8. Sam Brittain, Senior, Goaltender, Denver
9. Bill Arnold, Senior, Center, Boston College
10. Adam Wilcox, Sophomore, Goaltender, Minnesota


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