Hello from Bridgeport, where I’ll be covering my seventh NCAA regional this weekend, and I certainly feel like seven is a lucky number for me in my capacity as your Hobey Watch blogger. Of the four regionals, the one with the most Hobey Baker finalists happens to be the one I’m at, as Air Force’s Jacques Lamoureux, Michigan’s Louie Caporusso and Vermont’s Viktor Stålberg will be in action this weekend at the sold-out Arena at Harbor Yard. While I certainly wouldn’t have minded watching BU’s Matt Gilroy and Colin Wilson this weekend in Manchester, Princeton’s Zane Kalemba in Minneapolis or Northeastern’s Brad Thiessen in Grand Rapids, Harbor Yard is certainly the place to be for Hobey Intrigue.
By the way, it took me about three minutes to get the right ASCII code for the “å” in “Stålberg,” so if I type his name more than I otherwise might, that’s the reason.
Anyway, of the three Hobey finalists here, Stålberg is the only one with promotional material in the media area today, as the media guide table has a stack of flyers and DVDs, the latter containing the video from PickVik.com. That could change tomorrow, of course – I know Air Force has made up flyers for Lamoureux – but the real place an impression is made is on the ice, and Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon is confident that Stålberg will do just that.
“I think Viktor’s ready,” Sneddon said. “He’s very excited about this opportunity on the national scene. His consistency’s been very impressive, and I think that’s why he’s a finalist. He hasn’t had scoring tears and then quiet games; he’s been a factor every game. Even if he’s not on the scoresheet, I think everyone in attendance sees a future NHLer skating out there, who’s 6’3″ and can fly.”
For his part, though, Stålberg is avoiding the Hobey conversation. “I don’t think you focus on that,” Stålberg said. “You focus on the team right now, and if the team does well and you perform the way you should, I think you put yourself in the best position to be in the top three. For us right now, it’s just about getting to the Frozen Four.”
Caporusso, meanwhile, acknowledged that having a shot at the award is in the back of his mind while still downplaying the significance of the Hobey race. “You’re always trying to make an impression as an individual player,” Caporusso said, “but at the same time, I’m just concerned about beating Air Force right now. It’s pretty cool to have two more Hobey Baker [finalists] here at the regional, and definitely, you want to outperform your opponents, and if that means outperforming the other Hobey Baker finalists, then so be it.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson knows what that entails for his sophomore forward.
“Louie has to have a good two-way game,” Berenson said. “He’s a two-way player. He’s a lot like a lot of thes guy who score. He is opportunistic, but you don’t always get your scoring chances in these games. They are hard-fought, close battles and each team is going all-out every shift, so there’s not much time and space to handle the puck. So, he might have scored goals during the year that he might not be able to score now, but if Louie does, that is good because our team is more successful when he scores.”
At the other end of the ice for that game is Lamoureux, who also makes Air Force more successful when he scores: he has nine game-winning goals this season. He’s also clearly gotten the Wolverines’ attention.
“He’s definitely one of the top players in the nation this year,” Michigan defenseman Mark Mitera said. “I think we’ve faced players like him in the past this season, and our team’s done a good job. We just need to focus on defense. If we’re shutting down their front line it will trickle down through the rest of the team, I think, so definitely, when he is on the ice, we need to be aware of that.”
That means interfering as much as possible with Air Force head coach Frank Serratore’s plan for the game
“The strength of Jacques’ game is his goal-scoring ability,” Serratore said, “so hopefully we get Jacques the puck in that area from the top of the cirle in, and let Jacques do what Jacques does best, and that’s score goals.”
For his part, Lamoureux is taking a cue from his brother, 2007 Hobey finalist Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, in putting the Hobey out of his mind when game time rolls around.
“It helps that my brother was a finalist last year,” Lamoureux said. “You can’t worry about that stuff, and I really don’t. To be named a top 10 finalist is an honor, and it’s pretty humbling, but we came here to win some hockey games, and the biggest thing is ‘What can I do to help the team win?’ If that’s blocking shots and finishing checks and not scoring goals, that’s what it takes. It’s about winning games at this time of year, and those individual things – if you take care of business on the ice with wins – those things kind of take care of themselves, so that’s how I see it right now.”
The players here in Bridgeport – like the ones in Manchester, Grand Rapids and Minneapolis – may be doing their best to put the Hobey race out of their minds, but the fact is that it is far from over, and that’s going to lend an extra intrigue to this weekend’s games, especially here in Bridgeport, where I’ll be following all the action here on USCHO.
Talk about lucky number seven.