The Questions Remaining

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone at USCHO for inviting me to be part of the site again following my departure from CSTV.com. This is a very special community we have the privilege to be involved in, and I’m glad for any opportunity I have to speak to that community and offer my opinions.

Of course, the great irony of my being invited to blog about the race for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award is that it doesn’t seem to be much of a race this season. Not only does Michigan’s Kevin Porter lead the nation in points and points per game, but he’s also the captain and one of only two seniors on a team that was supposed to finish fourth in the CCHA, and wound up spending a healthy portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the land. I tend to think that it’ll take a lot more than a misconduct penalty to keep him from winning the award, let alone making the Hat Trick.

So, operating on the assumption that Kevin Porter will win the Hobey until proven otherwise, what else do we have to ask about?

Who Will Join Porter in the Hobey Hat Trick? Two players will shake Porter’s hand in Denver immediately after he’s named as the winner. Who will they be? When I was still running the weekly Hobey Baker Watch over at CSTV.com, Boston College’s Nathan Gerbe and Miami’s Ryan Jones were running second and third behind Porter. That, of course, was before North Dakota had come all the way back, and Jean-Philippe Lamoureux had reasserted himself as one of the top players in the nation.

One month later, there isn’t much of a change to the picture, with the exception of Lamoureux, so whether you call it four for three or three for two, someone is going to be the odd man out of this picture.

Obviously, it won’t be Porter, and I have a feeling it won’t be Gerbe either. That feeling is based on Gerbe’s freshman year, when Chris Collins was the Hobey candidate out of Boston College. The projected Hat Trick from the CSTV.com panel that year included David Carle, Brian Elliott, and Ryan Potulny. Of course, we know how that one worked out: Collins was in, and the projected winner, Potulny, was out.

The lesson is to never forget that the panel is geographically spread out, and that some representation from the east is very likely.

The potential mitigating factor, of course, is Gerbe’s much-talked-about suspension by Hockey East in the fall, and the comments by commissioner Joe Bertagna that accompanied said suspension. That said, Bertagna himself has said that the suspension shouldn’t disqualify Gerbe, and in the end, I’d expect voters in the east to get behind Gerbe like conservative Republicans sucking it up and supporting John McCain.

That leaves one spot and two players: Ryan Jones and Jean-Philippe Lamoureux.

Lamoureux has the advantage of playing for the hottest team in the nation, and coming from a different conference than Porter (unlike Jones). More importantly, he’s put up outstanding numbers in a season when he was initially viewed as the weak link for a Sioux team that was returning several top skaters who had the opportunity to turn pro. The supposed question mark turned into an exclamation point, and that will speak well of him to the voters.

Jones, meanwhile, is something of a poor man’s Porter in terms of his Hobey candidacy, although they’re very different players. Both have combined production and leadership to key their teams’ runs to the top. Jones also leads the nation in game-winning goals, which factors into his role as a leader on and off the ice for Miami. It also speaks well of Jones that he’s donating his long hair to Locks For Love at the end of the season.

Of course, this is a question that won’t be answered until after the regionals, so the events of the next three weeks may yet influence that third spot in the Hat Trick. However, while recent history favors a goaltender making the Hat Trick, keep an eye on Lamoureux’s save percentage. Among the last five netminders to make the Hat Trick, only David Brown’s .931 save percentage is lower than the .934 Lamoureux currently sports. Of course, that .934 also happens to be the best in the country, but with another very worthy contender for the third finalist spot in Jones, don’t be too surprised if this Hat Trick is the first since 2002 not to include a goaltender.

That leads to the next question…

How Many Finalists Will Be Goalies? The 2005 finalists included four goaltenders among the Top 10: Jordan Sigalet of Bowling Green, Dov Grumet-Morris of Harvard, Tuomas Tarkki of Northern Michigan, and the Hat Trick representative, Cornell’s David McKee. The Class of 2008 is well equipped to match or even beat that number.

In addition to Lamoureux, there’s another surprise out of the WCHA in Colorado College freshman Richard Bachman, Lamoureux’s equal in save percentage. The CCHA has Jeff Zatkoff of Miami, just a shade behind Lamoureux in goals-against and behind the WCHA boys in save percentage, and Billy Sauer, who’s gone from Michigan’s greatest liability to one of the Wolverines’ strongest assets. Meanwhile, in the east, there’s New Hampshire’s Kevin Regan, the long-underappreciated backstop behind one of the most balanced and successful teams in the country; Cornell’s Ben Scrivens, who’s proving himself a worthy heir to Cornell’s rich goaltending tradition; and even Army’s Josh Kassel, who keyed the Black Knights’ dramatic second-half run to the top of Atlantic Hockey.

Now, let’s be serious: there won’t be seven goaltenders in the Top 10. But could there be five, or even six?

Well, we already know three forwards who will be finalists: Porter, Gerbe and Jones. How many more skaters will there be? Bryan Marshall is having a season worthy of consideration at Nebraska-Omaha. Chad Kolarik has been a key to Michigan’s success skating alongside Porter. Ryan Lasch has produced beyond his years at St. Cloud. There’s also the reigining Hobey Baker winner, Ryan Duncan, who’s having a fine (albeit not Hobey-worthy) year. There may even be someone we haven’t really considered up until this point (see below).

It’s a good field of goalies, but I expect them to match 2005 at best when it comes to quantity.

Who’s This Season’s Surprise Finalist? OK, who saw Drew Bagnall coming as a Hobey finalist last year? Yeah, right. Someone may well be part of this field who hasn’t really been part of the conversation to this point. Reid Cashman in 2005 would be another example.

Of course, both Bagnall and Cashman are defensemen, but I must say that the crop of Hobey finalist candidates on the blueline is thin this year. My pick would be either Princeton’s Lee Jubinville or Boston University’s Pete MacArthur.

Jubinville is the highest scorer on the top line that led Princeton to the Ivy League title this year, and may yet lead the Tigers to Albany and possibly even in to the NCAA tournament. MacArthur, meanwhile, was made BU’s captain in December, and proceeded to lead the Terriers back into an NCAA tournament picture that no one expeted them to be part of following an ugly start. MacArthur’s numbers are solid, but it’s the leadership that he’s provided and the drive that oozes from every facet of his game that make him my darkhorse pick to land among the finalists.

Of course, there’s more hockey yet to be played, and who know where that will take us?

Author: Elliot Olshansky

Elliot Olshansky covers the Hobey Baker Award beat for USCHO.com and also covers men’s and women's hockey and lacrosse at NCAA.com for Turner Sports. His experience includes four years covering college hockey for CSTV, stints at other media outlets including the New York Daily News and Spike TV, and freelance writing. His debut novel, "Robert's Rules of Karaoke," is currently available from The Write Deal (www.thewritedeal.org).