The newer faces in the Hobey race

It won’t take any sting out of a 5-4 loss to Dartmouth on Saturday night, but the fact that New Hampshire’s Paul Thompson is the nation’s new points-per-game leader makes it a perfect opportunity to look at those players who have emerged as contenders in the Hobey Baker race. This should answer all the “What about?” questions that emerged when I looked back at my preseason 25.

A couple of groups are worth talking about before we get into individuals.

The Atlantic guys: This group consists of Robert Morris’ Nathan Longpre (seventh in the nation with 1.45 ppg) and Denny Urban (second in defenseman scoring with 1.17 PPG), Niagara forwards Paul Zanette and Brian Haczyk (tied for eighth at 1.41 ppg) and RIT’s Andrew Favot (22nd at 1.29 PPG). The fact that there’s five (maybe only four) players in this category creates a problem, because it means there’s a healthy debate about who the best player in Atlantic Hockey is. History shows that Atlantic will get no more than one player in the top 10 Hobey finalists, and when it happens, there’s little to no debate about who the top player in the conference. The smallest points-per-game margin between a Hobey finalist from Atlantic Hockey and the next highest scorer was two years ago, when Jacques Lamoureux of Air Force averaged only .04 PPG more than Mercyhurst’s Steve Cameron, and in that year, Lamoureux was the nation’s leading goal-scorer by a wide margin.  Other than that, it was .20 for RIT’s Simon Lambert over Sacred Heart’s Bear Trapp in 2008,  .27 for Air Force’s Eric Ehn over teammate Andrew Ramsey in 2007, and .11 for Quinnipiac’s Reid Cashman over Mercyhurst’s David Wrigley in 2005 (a margin made more impressive by Cashman being a defenseman).  By comparison, Mercyhurst’s Dave Borelli enjoyed a .09 PPG margin in 2006 and Canisius’ Cory Conacher had a .14 PPG margin last season.

What does all this tell us? Well, there probably needs to be a clear-cut Player of the Year in Atlantic Hockey for there to be a chance of a Hobey finalist from the conference. Still, it’s worth watching these guys in the second half to see if one of them breaks out of the pack. If the top player happens to play for the top team – which is certainly possible with the Purps and Colonials chasing RIT for the conference lead – then the chances of a Hobey finalist from Atlantic certainly improve.

Yale players not named Broc Little – Certainly, Little is Yale’s top Hobey candidate, currently tied for fourth in the nation at 1.59 PPG. However, the Bulldogs did, in the not-too-distant past, boast four of the top seven scorers in the country, so it’s worth asking what the chances are for Andrew Miller, Denny Kearney and Brian O’Neill in this race. Going by the “Hobey likes goals” theory, O’Neill seems like the most likely choice as a second Hobey finalist from the Bulldogs, while Miller seems like the least likely with five goals. Yale’s overall situation recalls last season’s Miami team, where four balanced scorers canceled one another out in the Hobey race, leaving a goaltender, Cody Reichard, as the RedHawks’ representative in the Hobey race. Ryan Rondeau has made a quantum leap from his efforts of a year ago, but I don’t think that he’s Hobey material yet. Keep an eye on Yale’s situation, because someone from this team will be a Hobey finalist, possibly more than one “someone.”

With those groups out of the way – and in all honesty, they’re not major players in the Hobey race – let’s take a look at a few of the new faces who have established themselves as Hobey contenders.

Paul Thompson, F, SR, New Hampshire – Thompson is now the nation’s leading scorer after adding two more points to his season total in Saturday’s loss to Dartmouth, but he’s been great all season. Through 20 games this season, Thompson has only three fewer goals and six fewer total points than he did in 39 games a season ago, and given that he was a point-per-game player as a junior, this is someone who started as a major contributor and took his game to another level. Saturday’s setback doesn’t change the fact that UNH is tied with BC atop Hockey East with games in hand, and as their leader, I’d say that Thompson is a very likely Hobey finalist, with the potential for more if both he and the Wildcats keep it up.

Jack Maclellan, F, JR, Brown – I’ve been pointing out Maclellan’s  strong play for a while, and with a goal and an assist in the Bears’ upset of No. 1 Yale today, more people are likely to start taking notice. The problem for Maclellan is that Brown is still sitting in ninth in ECAC Hockey play, but more than half the conference schedule remains to be played, and Brown has gone 1-0-3 against Hockey East teams, with Maclellan averaging 2.25 PPG in those contests. I think Brown is going to climb in the ECAC standings down the stretch, putting Maclellan in solid position to snag a Hobey finalist slot. I think moving further is a stretch at this point, but Maclellan does have one more year in Providence, so he’s a player worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Matt Frattin, F, SR, North Dakota – Until this weekend, Frattin may well have been the hottest player in the country, until an eight-game goal-scoring streak and a nine-game point streak were snapped in Friday’s game against Minnesota. Frattin is still the nation’s leader in total goals, and while North Dakota hit a hiccup against the Gophers, the Sioux appear to have hit their stride much earlier this season than they have in past seasons, and Frattin is a big part of that, making him a strong Hobey candidate.

Justin Schultz, D, SO, Wisconsin – The nation’s leading scorer among defensemen, Schultz has emerged as a successor to Brendan Smith on the Badger blueline. His 1.23 PPG average is just a hair off of Smith’s pace of a year ago, and his 14 goals are more than many of the forwards we’ve discussed this season, including Maclellan, Little, Carter Camper and Andy Miele. I’d be very surprised if Schultz didn’t end up as a Hobey finalist, especially since he doesn’t have the same competition on his own team that Smith did a season ago.

James Mello, G, JR, Dartmouth – Of all the goaltenders who weren’t on the radar at the start of the season, Mello has done the most to put his name into the Hobey mix. He’s got the top save percentage in the country among everyday starters (Princeton’s Sean Bonar splits time with Mike Condon in the Tiger net), he held Yale to one of its worst offensive performances of the season last weekend, and perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t have to compete with a skater for Hobey attention. John Muse’s save percentage is just .006 off of Mello’s, and he’s got two NCAA titles on his résumé, but in the Hobey race, he takes a backseat to BC teammate Cam Atkinson, and maybe even Brian Gibbons. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Muse wind up as the first team All-American goalie in the East, but I think Mello’s building a very nice case for himself to earn a possible Hobey finalist spot, especially if Dartmouth can build off of Saturday’s win over UNH and make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.

Jerry Kuhn, G, SR, Western Michigan – Kuhn is No. 8 in the country in save percentage and No. 12 in goals-against average for a Western Michigan team that is just on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament berth. With WMU 39th in the country in scoring offense, the burden of getting the Broncos to the NCAAs is going to fall squarely on Kuhn, and if he has them in position to pull it off when March rolls around, look for him to snare a Hobey finalist spot. He’s not going to be the first goalie to win it since Ryan Miller, but he could get a finalist berth.

Scott Greenham, G, JR, Alaska – See above. Greenham is eighth in goals-against average and ninth in save percentage for a Nanooks team that’s in the mix. If the Nanooks are still in the mix in March, Greenham is a candidate for a Hobey finalist spot. If they’re not, he isn’t.

So, that’s where we are. Between these players and the 11 or 12 who are left over from my pre-season list, we’ve still got a group of more than 20 players for 10 Hobey finalist spots, with a handful of players worth watching to win it all.

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).

  • kdiff77

    Finally Maclellan gets some recognition! He’s tied for 4th in the country in terms of PPG, and until this weekend, was 2nd nationally in that category. Watching him play every weekend is an absolute privilege, and I think if he had a better supporting cast, he’d be one of the top contenders.

  • :)

    what about shane madalora of rit?

  • Cdevarney1

    Nice to see James Mello being recognized. He is a really solid goalie and did a nice job against UNH and Yale this year. Personality wise Mello is such a nice guy. He comes out to say hi to the kids before the game and will wave to them during the games. You can tell he really enjoys playing.

  • Jon

    How do you not even mention Andy Miele and Carter Camper (#1 and #2 scorers in the country). Only thing I can think of is that they aren’t in the NCAA picture right now, but a couple wins against Michigan and Notre Dame would put them in the the thick of things.

    • Elliot Olshansky

      Miele and Camper were in my preseason Top 25, and are still strong contenders for finalists spots, with Camper being the more likely Hobey candidate among the two.

  • jawbones

    I think it is incumbent on the WCHA to make sure that teams like LSSU, BGSU and FSU have a place to play. 

  • Stephen

    I think these changes will be a fine thing for college hockey.  The last time something like this happened was when the five original Hockey East schools left the ECAC.  This new conference created division one opportunities at two UMass campuses and Merrimack in short time.  It also improved the level of play at most of the HE schools.  ECAC has only themselves to blame (mostly due to the Ivy’s insistence on playing a reduced schedule) for their inability to keep up, though they still routinely place multiple teams in the tournament. 

    These new conference alignments will create opportunities for the sport in general.  The one caveat is obviously the Big Ten conference is limited by its nature to who it can include.  Within five years, though, I would not be the slightest bit surprised to see Illinois or Iowa or Nebraska add hockey programs, which would be a boon to college hockey in general. 

    One thing that made Hockey East viable in the early days before they expanded to eight and eventually ten teams was their interlocking schedule with the WCHA.  Any chance we might see that with the CCHA and ECAC or NCHC and HE or WCHA and Big Ten?  That could also be an unexpected benefit to all of this.

    • The University of Nebraska system already has a hockey team.

      Is it safe to say that you are talking about the little brother of UNO southwest of  Omaha adding a hockey team or UNK adding a hockey team?

  • Joe C

    Hockey East alum here. Having gone through this as a fan, I hope that it will work out for all the institutions the way it work with Hockey East/ECAC and very recently AHA. This means:
    1) Schools and leagues work together to make sure that everyone has a chair when the music stops.
    2) The newer and smaller programs get a role in their future, the way Merrimack, Union, RIT, UConn and Umass did.
    3) Programs that find in a few years they really belong somewhere else are allowed to make secondary moves/delayed moves, the way Vermont did, paving the way for new and natural rivalries like the one with UNH
    4) There is a clear path for new programs and “left out” programs like LSSU, BGSU, UAH to have leagues to join, the way that RIT and Bemidji joined. The presence of RIT and Bemidji in Frozen Fours is testament to the positives of growth in NCAA.
    5) If there are independent programs in two years, that B10 and NCHC are especially accomodating to home-and-home out of conference play
    6) I think the AHA will play a huge role in the future of smaller programs. I wonder if CCHA can survive on its own, now that WCHA has its sixth team.

    While I agree with the main points of Todd’s article and thank him for his insight, I think we should go further than just 25 years and national championships. UVM has two frozen fours and high profile NHL alumni, just like Providence. Schools like St Lawrence and Clarkson have plenty of history and importance. I do not like any of the schools currently on the outside looking in being in there situation. I hope that they can make it through.

    In the end, I hope that 20 years from now, we are celebrating NCAA Division I hockey with many more programs, some in places that would shock us today. There are a lot of empty spaces in the Northern half of the country with otherwise huge universities and local high school hockey programs supplying players to many current college programs in other states.

    • blackswampblues

      unfortunately, there is no clear path for BGSU. 
      BGSU is a public school with almost 20,000 students and Division I programs across the board. The AHA schools that would be most likely to move to a new CCHA are tiny, private, and Catholic (NU, Mercyhurst, Canisius). BGSU has no natural rivalries with any of those schools. Neither is there any natural rivalry with UAH or RMU, nor is there ever likely to be one.This is not a situation comparable to the ECAC/Hockey East breakup, where Clarkson and St. Lawrence stayed together, or Vermont and UNH developed new rivalry based on similarities.It’s one thing to look at the map and group schools geographically–another to find a lasting institutional match.
      If BGSU ends up in the new CCHA–it’s strictly a shotgun marriage, and we’ll be doing this dance again in a few short years.

  • Jondsni

    As a UVM grad, who was there during ECAC years, I see a lot of valid arguments. But as I live in the heart of the Big 10, to anybody who believes that more of their 12 schools will jump to D1, there is little chance. These schools, particularly Northwestern and Illinois have a bunch of D1 prospects in their backyards, places to play AND zero desire to fight either budget, Title IX fights or both. And you could use UVM as an example; the Cats cut both baseball and softball last year. 

  • Anonymous

    It will take a good 3-5 years to see what happens to the College Hockey world,but there will be winners and losers no matter what…you will see the so called super conferences get the TV deals and will have the best of the best in recruiting…money talks these days. Sadly I see College Hockey shooting themseleves in the foot instead of keeping the game and teams together,instead we are going to the route of B-ball and FB…2bad indeed.

  • Brian P

    It will never happen, but wouldn’t it be great if Notre Dame, who currently holds all the cards, makes it a condition that they only way they join the NCHC is if LSSU is admitted as well?  Why?  Because ND coach Jeff Jackson, who won two Championships at Lake State, decided to throw them a lifeline.  Now–this won’t happen, but that would be a good story.

    • guest

      ND Alum here.  It will be very interesting to see what we do; I’m sad to see the CCHA go, I know Western and BGSU certainly aren’t the biggest games but it was fun to take roadtrips to see them play; those trips will certainly be tougher being in either the NCHC or hockey east.

      As for Jackson, that would be nice, but you can forget it, Jack Swarbrink and Fr. Jenkins hold the cards as to where we go and I wouldn’t be suprised if its east at this point since:
      1) We’re trying to enhance our eastern fanbase in football (the be all and end all) by playing several neutral site games out east.  By playeing in an eastern league that would only enhance this effort
      2) Hockey east is not only the hockey equilivant of the Big East, but also already has 3 Catholic members; Notre Dame-BC is the NCAA’s biggest Catholic rivalry and ND- Providence is already a frequent matchup in Big East play

      Also I want to point out that while ND football hasn’t exactally been the greatest (class of 2011 saw the worst football record of any class in school history), we still have arguably more exposure than any other program in the country

      • Tb111960

        If ND moves to Hockey East, don’t be totally shocked if BG is asked to come along. ND and BG have been partnered for many years in the CCHA, meaning they always have played 4 games each year. Coach Jackson I think will lobby for them as he might want at least one closer league member and also knows of BG’s storied hockey history and their re-commitment to hockey. Also, BC might also support that as Jerry York coached at BG in his early years and won his first National Championship with them. However, even if they are asked, I’m not sure BG would accept. Travel costs would increase and they are one of the founding members of the CCHA and have played more consecutive years than any other team in that conference.

  • Aofste

    I think one other thing to consider is losing some of the best rivalries in college hockey.  With the WCHA splitting in three are we going to see Minnesota versus North Dakota?  Ask any fan of those two schools and they will most likely say that is one of the best rivalries in all of college hockey.  Great losses in great matchups all around.

    • BeaverHockey

      With the smaller conferences, there will be a lot more room for non-conference games.  Being a Minnesotan, trust me, Minnesota and North Dakota will play each other every year.  Most likely in a home and home series.  Play in Grand Forks one night and then Minneapolis the next, or vice versa.  

      • Laker_one

        When teams are in a conference together, they have an obligation to play and to play in each others’ barns. Although Big10 schools might, on occasion, schedule the small schools, now they will insist that those games be played in their rinks where they get to keep the revenue. This argument that non-conference schedules will save the small schools ignores how much the power structure is shifting.

      • Ballgamer2

        It’s a 5 hr bus ride from GF to MSP and visa versa. Now add winter weather possibilities. Only thing that works is 2 games in GFone year and MSP the next. Please don’t consider flying. Same weather possibilities, and, we are speaking of Delta.

    • This rivalry will likely go away because of the North Dakota nickname.  Minnesota has already stated that they will not play North Dakota in any sport except for conference post-season obligations until the current nickname is retired.  The North Dakota legislature passed a law requiring the university to keep the nickname.

  • Thericefamily

    I
    don’t quite understand all the anger and resentment being directed at the
    schools that have left for the Big Ten or National College Hockey Conference
    (NCHC). Being a member of a conference, when you boil it down, is just being in
    a scheduling agreement. We’ll play you, you play us, maybe we’ll have a
    conference tournament at the end of the regular season, and that’s it. It’s not
    like a marriage where you promise to stick together through good and bad, till
    death, nor is it like being a parent, where you have a responsibility to your children.
    Schools should be free to schedule who they want, when they want, without being
    accused of abandoning other schools, or even worse, causing the death of other programs.
    If a school needs Minnesota or Michigan to come into your rink and play you in
    order to survive, what does that say about your program? I was perplexed by the
    criticism leveled at the CCHA for not accepting Alabama-Huntsville into the
    conference, like it was somehow an obligation of the CCHA to schedule
    Alabama-Huntsville, and it would be the CCHA’s fault if Alabama-Huntsville
    dropped its program. Why is it the responsibility of the CCHA (or the WCHA or
    Hockey East for that matter) to ensure the survival of any program?  Further, the five schools leaving the CCHA and
    WCHA to start the Big ten hockey conference shouldn’t be criticized for doing
    that. They have no obligation to any school other than themselves, and the
    schools are already in a scheduling agreement (aka conference) in all other
    sports. As far as the teams leaving the WCHA and CCHA to form the NCHC, what is
    wrong with that? They want to play schools who have made a similar commitment
    to the sport. Where is it written that they can never leave the WCHA or CCHA? Personally,
    I think everything that has happened is for the good. The three major
    conferences (WCHA, CCHA, and Hockey East) play too many conference games
    (usually 28 of their 34 allowed games), with only six or so out of conference
    games. In basketball and football, a much higher percentage of games are out of
    conference. With the Big Ten and the NCHC playing a 20 game conference
    schedule, there will be more out of conference games. As far as the Mankato
    States, Michigan Techs, Ferris States, and Bowling Greens of the world, they
    will do just fine as long as the schools are committed to the sport. The “leftovers”
    (not what I would call them but what others have been calling them) can form
    very competitive conferences among themselves, and schedule each other, which,
    after all, is all a conference is.      

    • blackswampblues

      This is so far off the mark that I hardly know where to begin. 
      Sounds almost like some sort of weird athletic-conference darwinism: “survival of the fittest conference, the biggest conference, and the conference with the most $$$”. That’s just fine for the biggest and the richest–but not so good for keeping smaller programs from shutting down.

      Hockey programs are expensive to run, and financing is a challenge for smaller schools. For that reason, conferences are about much more than simple scheduling. they are about rivalries, $$$, branding, $$$, marketing, $$$, scheduling, $$$, and TV contracts. To deny that is naive.
       
      BGSU’s imminent loss of all long-time regional and MAC rivalries (Michigan, Ohio St., Miami, Western, Notre Dame) will directly affect attendance, earnings, and the overall health of the program. 
      Obviously, a season of conference games vs. historical rivals will draw much better than a slate of games vs. distant schools with no shared history.
      And as for the pie-in-the-sky nonsense, “they will do just fine as long as the schools are committed to the sport”…tell that to Kent, Ohio, Wayne St., Findlay, St. Louis, and all the other schools that have pulled the plug on hockey for financial reasons.

      • NC_Buckeye

        Not sure that Kent State and Ohio are good examples of programs that were committed to D-I hockey. Since both schools sponsored hockey for two years each (Ohio 71-73, Kent 92-94) it appears that the administration was just toying with the idea but backed off when the cost became apparent. However, I should point out that both schools now have very popular M-1 ACHL club teams.

        Can’t speak about Wayne St., Findlay, and St. Louis though.

        • blackswampblues

          pretty sure Kent’s DI team was independent for a number of years before joining the CCHA for 92-94.
          We can add Fairfield (1974-2003), Iona (1967-2003), and Illinois-Chicago (1966-1996) to the list of DI teams that had to pull the plug. 
          Point is, being “committed” is pretty much entirely a matter of having the $$$.

          • Gfkbob

            The theory that schools will only “make it” doesn’t seem to hold true.  St Louis, UI-Chicago and others were in the same league as the big boys of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.  I do believe that committment is the key.

  • RamboWildcat

    Great piece of writing.  LSSU was almost a four-time champ during this time period.  They were an awesome winning machine unlike any other program you see today.  For them, it comes down to very poor leadership at the University.  They should have joined forces with NMU and walked over to the WCHA.  Now they are in limbo, ready to die at the vine.  So long Lake State, it was a real pleasure. Take care. 

  • Dick

    UNH alum and splitter of season tickets here – what makes college hockey so different is that small schools that can’t compete in basketball for example (the Ncaa could expand to a 200 team hoop tournament and UNH wouldn’t get in) or football, can become a national power in hockey. Just look at the top 20 from last year. In schools like ours, hockey is king. Talked about all year long. Players become legends.. we still talk about the Clark-Hislop-Cox line from 1975! The point being – to deny schools like Lake Superior State or St Cloud or Alaska-Fairbanks to enjoy this opportunity to be part of the college hockey frenzy is a crime. The NCAA (Never Cares About Athletes) should do something, but they are useless. The heads of the hockey conferences need to meet and act on this injustice for the betterment of the sport. 

  • BIG10_LOL

    I knew the WCHA was in trouble when Minnesota State – Moorhead was being considered for entry — without having a team.  Names aside, I like the new NCHC and look forward to the non-conference schedule against quality teams from other conferences.  The lack of non-conference games is a problem for all of college hockey.  I’d also like to see a mid-season tournament featuring 8 teams from the top conferences.  Next up — Big 12 and Pac 10 hockey!

  • Simon

     
    “The ironic thing is, and I am not the first to say this — for years
    college hockey fans have wanted their sport to get more attention within
    the overall collegiate landscape and be more “like” NCAA football and
    basketball. Well, we got it.
    Be careful what you wish for.”
    I think that the majority of fans are going to be happy with the change because they are fans of the big schools and not of the small schools like yourself. As a BSU alum, I was looking forward to BSU joining the WCHA and maybe becoming competitive at some point. I still think that is possible, but only because the seven best teams just quit. This whole thing is tough to swallow if you are a fan of a small school or tradition. But like you said, those things don’t matter for basketball and football because it is all about money and being corporate sellouts. Now college hockey will be effectively ruined and I can honestly say that I probably won’t pay as close attention to the college hockey world outside of BSU anymore.