Friday, March 22, 2013

Five Hobey Hopefuls

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

While the Hobey Baker Memorial Award committee takes 10 initial finalists and then whittles that list down to three with the intention of naming the top collegiate player on the eve of the NCAA championship, The Phanatic will do things a bit differently.

With apologies to the WCHA, we've got your Final Five picks for the prestigious trophy, awarded every year since 1981 to honor a Princeton University grad and World War I casualty who is the namesake of the Tigers' home rink.

Eric Hartzell, goaltender, Quinnipiac University

The senior netminder has been the backbone of a program which has risen from the ashes of the MAAC, through the gauntlet of the ECAC and into the #1 spot in the country. Hartzell carries a 26-5-5 record, 1.50 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and four shutouts. The Bobcats are tops in total defense, yielding a stingy 1.59 per outing.

Named both the best player and goaltender in the ECAC this season, it's no surprise that the native of suburban Minneapolis also made it on the list of 10 Hobey finalists. The Bobcats take on Brown later Friday at Boardwalk Hall in the conference semifinals. No matter what happens, we'll be seeing Hartzell on the national stage through either an automatic bid for winning it all or through an at-large selection.

Ryan Walters, forward, University of Nebraska-Omaha

A junior winger, Walters has put together one of the quietest campaigns for a top player in all of Division I. Entering the weekend, he leads all players with 52 points (22G, 30A) in 39 games. He's not in the top three in any of the major offensive categories, but so what? By leading his school in goals, assists and points, he kept a veteran Mavericks squad in the thick of the conference title race until their loss last weekend to Minnesota State.

Johnny Gaudreau, forward, Boston College

The smallish sophomore has racked up 20 goals and 49 points in only 33 games for the defending champion Eagles, good enough for fifth in the nation. He enters the Hockey East championship weekend with the most points-per-game in America at 1.48, thanks to his stint with Team USA's Gold Medal winning junior squad which took him away from The Heights over the holidays.

Gaudreau kicked off the thick of the postseason by being named Player of the Year for all of Hockey East, along with an obvious First Team All-Star selection. BC's path to defending its crown doesn't get easier, as it plays BU in the semifinals on Friday, and if there's a win in the offing, must face either Providence or surprising regular-season champion UMass-Lowell in the finals at TD Garden on Saturday.

Erik Haula, forward, Minnesota

A native of Finland and a junior, Haula has already reached his career high in points with 49 (16G, 33A) in eight fewer games than he needed to reach the mark in his sophomore campaign. His 33 assists rank second in the country, and the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder who plays bigger than his size is second to Gaudreau in PPG at 1.40. Minnesota ranks best in all the land, clicking at 3.61 goals per contest, and Haula was a key part of a program which stayed in the top three for most of the season.

Still the top team in the country, the Gophers are sitting pretty in the Final Five, coming off a sweep of Bemidji State to gain the semifinals, where they face Colorado College tonight.

Greg Carey, forward, St. Lawrence

The Saints didn't the world on fire this season, but the tiny school out of Canton, New York boasted a forward line with plenty of punch. The junior winger was the top scorer for the program, striking for a national-high 28 goals and placing second to Walters with 51 points.

St. Lawrence finished sixth in the ECAC and had their season end last weekend in a two-game sweep by Yale in the quarterfinals, but boasted the fourth best offense in the conference thanks to Carey and new Philadelphia Flyers signee Kyle Flanagan.

Make sure to check out the official Hobey site for its initial 10 finalists. Let the debate begin.

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