NCAA Hockey 101: Who has the inside track on Hobey Baker?

NCAA Hockey 101 is a weekly feature on U.S. Division I college hockey. Stick around and you just might learn a thing or two.

Winter break is upon us, and that means we are pretty much halfway through the season. So what does one do with these two bleak, empty, meaningless weeks before the holiday tournaments start?

Well, in the time-honored tradition of journalism using arbitrary dates as baselines to evaluate individual performances, I figure now is as good a time as any to have a look at the current favorites for the Hobey Baker award.

For those of you that don't know, the Hobey is awarded to the nation's most outstanding college hockey player. And it helps a lot if you're a senior and, like most major sporting awards, your team doesn't stink. Former winners of the award include guys you've heard of, like Ryan Miller(notes), Neal Broten, Jordan Leopold(notes), Matt Carle(notes), Chris Drury(notes), Paul Kariya(notes), Brendan Morrison(notes) and Matt Gilroy(notes). Other former winners include guys you probably haven't heard of (or at least thought about in the past 10 years) like Tony Hrkac, Chris Marinucci, Jason Krog(notes), Junior Lessard(notes) and Scott Fusco.

THE Scott Fusco.

So who's going to win it this year? Let's have a look at what an impartial panel of judges (me) thinks.

5. Corey Tropp (Michigan State), junior forward

The argument for: Tropp, a Buffalo draft pick, seems a smart place to start since he's the national leader in points (27) and goals (16). He has also helped the Spartans to an incredible turnaround. They went 10-23-5 last year, but they already have 12 wins this year and are second in the CCHA behind only No. 1 Miami.

The argument against: Yeah, he's the national leader in points and goals, but he's played 20 games, where most other players in the Top 10 max out at 19, and the average is about 17. His points per game is just 15th nationally.

4. Marc Cheverie (Denver), junior goalie

The argument for: When Cheverie is in net, he gives Denver an excellent chance to win. He started the season having allowed six goals in his first six games, FOUR of which were shutouts. He has a 9-2-1 record and both he and Denver would be in better shape stats- and record-wise if he hadn't gotten hurt and missed three weeks of the season.

The argument against: His goals-against average is sixth in the country, and his save percentage is 11th. And that's after allowing six goals on the first 179 shots he faced this year. Since coming back from injury he's been considerably worse, allowing just about 21 goals in his last seven.

3. James Marcou (UMass), junior forward

The argument for: For starters, he is the national leader in points per game at 1.73. His 26 points in 15 games has him tied for second in the country in scoring despite playing at least two fewer games than everyone else in the top 12. He is the consummate setup man, dealing 21 assists to go with his five goals, and turning linemate Casey Wellman into a player you actually have to worry about, which is no small feat.

The argument against: There's only one argument you can make. The old saying is that "Hobey likes goals." Having just 20 percent of his points come from goals isn't going to cut it come voting time. No forward in the history of Hobey Baker winners has ever won it with such a low ratio of goals to assists. In fact, no forward has ever won it with less than 20 goals since Tom Kurvers did it in 1984 (he had 18).

2. Cody Reichard (Miami), sophomore goalie

The argument for: He leads the nation in goals-against (1.34!), he's third in save percentage (.938, just .002 back of the national co-leaders, Notre Dame's Mike Johnson(notes) and Ferris State's Pat Nagle), he's got tied for second in shutouts (three), he's the No. 1 goalie on the best team in the country and as such he's got only one loss in 13 decisions. It's a pretty convincing resume, especially when considering his stats are right around what Ryan Miller's were (1.32/.950) when he won it in 2001.

The argument against: Miami is the best team in the country by far. He's got gaudy numbers, but how much of that is the team in front of him? Hell, backup Connor Knapp two shutouts are almost as many as Reichard's despite playing five last games. Also, goalies almost never win the Hobey Baker. Miller and Robb Stauber are the only ones who have ever done it.

1. Brendan Smith (Wisconsin), junior defenseman

The argument for: He's tied with Marcou and three other players for second in the country in scoring with 26 points, but he's the only defenseman. He obviously leads all defensemen in points per game and points by a country mile. Lowell's Nick Schaus and UNH's Blake Kessel are second with 18 apiece. Smith also leads all defensemen in goals and is the bedrock of Wisconsin's team D, which is sixth-best in the country at 2.11 goals per game.

The argument against: Matt Gilroy, also a defenseman, won it last year. As of right now that's pretty much the only reason he wouldn't get votes, so even if that's not a good reason (and it of course is not) that will actually matter to the people that decide these things.

Pop quiz

In which I ask a blogger five questions about the team they follow. This week I got at the, let's face it, geniuses behind Runnin' With the Dogs, a blog about the No. 12 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, and certainly one of the best college hockey blogs around. They know their team, they're funny, and most of all they are unapologetically offensive (this counts big in my book).

1. How are you feeling about the first half?

It has been incredibly fun to be a Bulldog fan this year, and that's how I measure a season. From Peanut Butter Hjelle Time! T-shirts and a banana suit to verbal altercations in the stands with Gopher students and St. Cloud state parents to beaking Brad Eidsness into losing his shutout and giving up an OT goal to Sieve-mas carols to running laps around the arena carrying a blowup doll... it's been a bit of a good time. Oh, and the play on the ice has been stellar.

2. To whom would you compare Jack Connolly as a player?

First of all, I applaud your usage of "to whom," both for the correct usage of who/whom and also because you did not end your sentence with a preposition. Attention must be paid. I cannot overemphasize the importance of proper grammar. Or complete sentences...

Oh, I don't know, Sidney Crosby(notes), Brett Hull, Gordie Howe... This is really not my strength here. I don't really watch the NHL other than occasionally the Wild. My focus is almost exclusively on Bulldog hockey. I'm like a laser. So I can't really list anyone who people have actually heard of or watched. Jack is the ultimate set-up guy, but with a small paradigm shift he could be a lot more of a goal scorer. Remember, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. That's good advice, Marty.

I've heard him compared to former UMD Bulldog and Conehead Mark Pavelich, but I can't verify that.

I asked Bruce Ciskie, voice of the Bulldogs, and he said "St. Louis" which I assume to be Martin St. Louis(notes) and not former Michigan Tech Husky Justin St. Louis. I don't know if I trust him because he is being a bitter bear that you chose me over him, and he might pick someone to make me look dumb. Which I can do on my own, thankyouverymuch.

3. Would you like to see Scott Sandelin use Kenny Reiter more or are you cool with Brady Hjelle leading the way in the second half?

Well, whether I like it or not, Sandy will be doing the goalie rotation. I am... well, always supportive. I would just like it if Kenny got more comfortable playing the puck in the crease before he started playing it outside the crease. I am a fan of goalie rotations because opponents have more tape to study, more information to absorb, and fewer looks at their playing styles.

4. Who is UMD's most underrated player?

Kyle Schmidt. Pretty much every goal this kid scores is some kind of game-changer. Last Saturday I was in the Duluth News Tribune's chat room following the game and I mentioned I had not heard Kyle's name much that game and it was time for him to score. Guess who scored the go-ahead goal just a few minutes later? (Here are your choices A. Kyle Schmidt B. RWD, or C. Tyler Ruegsegger?) It's a gift I have. He's fast, he works incredibly hard, he's great at killing penalties, he's cute, and he is also a genius.

5. How do you think your Bulldogs have to improve to make the NCAA tournament?

Goaltending. This is not an original opinion of mine, but it's not exactly groundbreaking. It's like in baseball: pitching wins championships. Goaltending wins championships. UMD has two goalies who give them a chance to win every game if the team plays well. What they don't have is a goaltender who will give them a chance to win those when they don't play well. This is what's known as A Serious Answer. Until I said that.

I charge by the word. That will be $2,760.

Extra credit

• The College Hockey Blog runs down the top 10 college games of the decade. Sadly missing from the list is the UMass/Maine Hockey East final in 2004 that went three OTs and was awesome. [tCHB]

• Northern Michigan's Ray Kaunisto was suspended one game for his reportedly brutal headshot against Lake Superior State last weekend. [Michigan College Hockey]

• Great commentary from Brian Sullivan on how the college game has changed, but not necessarily for the better. [USCHO]

• Boston College has shot up the rankings in the past few weeks and are now No. 5 in the country thanks to an 8-1-1 record in its last 10 games. Next up is a huge test in the Denver Cup, where the Eagles will most likely play No. 2 Denver. [BC Interruption]

• Here's why Patrick Wiercioch was held out of the World Junior tryouts for Canada: he was playing through an MCL sprain. [Montreal Gazette]

• Dean Blais will not be behind the bench for Nebraska-Omaha this weekend against Mankato because he's coaching the US World Junior team, which is scrimmaging against North Dakota. [PucKato]

• (Hey guys, I'm always looking for links here. If you have a college hockey post on your blog, please send it along to the address below.)

Ryan Lambert writes about college hockey weekly here at Puck Daddy. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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