The second-to-last college hockey weekend of the season is upon us, but for the Hobey Baker finalists who are still playing, this is it: time to put up or shut up.
Oh, the heck with it: Kevin Porter won the award months ago, and everyone else is playing for second…and third.
And of course, among the people playing for second and third is one T.J. Oshie. I expressed surprise at the North Dakota forward earning a finalist spot in light of his problems with the law (he’s been arrested just once, but I think this is a fair way to account for the other incident), but I acknowledged there are very good reasons for Oshie to be a finalist. Still, the logic of Michigan’s T.J. Hensick talking his way out of a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick last year while Oshie (and, to a lesser extent, BC’s Nathan Gerbe) made the top three this year is a bit tough to figure.
That said, though, I think I’ve got it.
The offenses perpetrated by Oshie and Gerbe this year deprived their respective teams of their services for one game apiece, for games relatively early in the season. Both teams lost, but as we can see heading into this weekend, they’ve survived. Hensick, by contrast, left Michigan without the nation’s top scorer in the crucial moments of an NCAA tournament game, and while Hensick’s presence would probably not have been enough to get the Wolverines past North Dakota in that wild West shootout in Denver (it was wild, and it was in the West region…it works), it weakened what opportunity they did have.
Of course, if that’s the reasoning, then it means that character only becomes a disqualifying factor for the Hobey when it affects the team’s chance of winning. Now, that doesn’t strike me as being all that similar to what’s written in the selection criteria for the award, but it is a formula that allows for l’affaire Hensicklast year and Oshie getting a finalist spot this year (yes, and Gerbe too).
Now, that’s all a rehash of what’s happened before now, and there’s no reason to dwell on the past right now, as the NCAA tournament is just about upon us. So, what, if anything, does all of this mean for the games ahead?
If you think that Porter is going to go the way of his former linemate this weekend, think again. Porter is a much different player and a different person, and the captain who led Michigan so far past expectations this season isn’t about to jeopardize his team’s NCAA title chances like that. However, for the guys playing for second and third, it’s something to keep an eye on.
I have written in the past that Porter will, in all likelihood, be joined by some combination of Gerbe, North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and Miami’s Ryan Jones, although if Michigan State can find its way from Colorado Springs to Denver, I wouldn’t write Jeff Lerg off, either. Now, neither Lamoureux nor Lerg is a likely candidate for an ill-advised penalty (really, how many goaltender penalties do you see in college hockey?), but both Gerbe and Jones have spent quite a bit of time in the sin bin this season (65 and 79 minutes, respectively, according to both schools’ official athletic sites). Both players are extremely competitive – it’s a big part of why they’re the great players they are – but that competitive energy can have negative consequences when it boils over, and if that happens in a crucial situation this weekend, it could make the difference when it comes time to decide who gets to sit next to Porter in Denver two weeks from tomorrow.
Of course, there’s also the fact that Gerbe and Jones could very well meet this Sunday in the final of the Northeast Regional. Could a spot in the Hat Trick be up for grabs if BC and Miami are playing for a Frozen Four berth? I wouldn’t rule it out.
Naturally, though, all this talk is secondary, as the primary concern this weekend is who’s going to Denver. Still, this is something else to think about.