If you saw the 2007 Hobey Hat Trick coming - that Notre Dame's David Brown, Air Force's Eric Ehn and eventual winner Ryan Duncan of North Dakota would be finalists for college hockey's highest individual honor - then why are you reading this column? You should be cleaning out a casino in Las Vegas!
In all seriousness, the 2006-07 season was one of surprises on both the team and individual levels. Who could have foreseen that Brown's Irish would be one win from the Frozen Four, that Michigan State would be the last team standing and that defending champion and preseason No. 1 Wisconsin would miss the NCAA tournament? For that matter, Brown, Duncan and Ehn were hardly the only surprise Hobey finalists.It's unlikely that Dartmouth's David Jones and St. Lawrence's Drew Bagnall were on the Hobey radar either when the puck dropped last October.
They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but the summer is a good time to speculate.So, suppose that the finalists for the 2008 Hobey Baker Award will resemble the field for the 2007 edition.Who will be there?
Three finalists from 2007 - Duncan, Ehn, and Miami's Nathan Davis - are back for 2007-08, so they get a pass for now. It's not that being a Hobey finalist as an underclassman is a guarantee of being back in the top ten the next year; just ask Michigan's T.J. Hensick or Quinnipiac's Reid Cashman, who were finalists in 2005 but not 2006. However, this exercise is not unlike casting a movie, and who better to play Duncan, Ehn and Davis than Duncan, Ehn and Davis? That leaves seven spots.
David Brown, G, Notre Dame: Brown had been a good goaltender his entire career, but the Irish had never had a season like 2006-07...ever. Last season brought Notre Dame its first ever regular-season CCHA title, its first ever Mason Cup and its first ever NCAA tournament win, and Brown was clearly the man on that team. The Irish had plenty of contributors up and down the lineup, but still: no Brown, no titles, no tournament wins. So, who is the David Brown of 2007-08?
Joe Fallon, G, Vermont:Vermont is hardly a long-suffering program the way the Irish were.After all, Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas guided the Catamounts to the Frozen Four in 1996. However, the odds are very long on a team with as little winning tradition as the Irish enjoying the kind of season Notre Dame did in 2006-07.
Enter Vermont and Fallon. For all of UVM's proud tradition, the Catamounts were in a sorry state when Kevin Sneddon came to town in 2003, still reeling from the hazing scandal that wiped out the 1999-2000 season and mired Vermont in the bottom third of the ECAC Hockey standings. Fallon has been key to the Catamounts' turnaround and growth into a contender in Hockey East, from their win and tie at then-No. 1 MinnesotaDuluth in October 2004 to their recent ventures into the Top 10.Will this be a breakout year for Vermont in its new home? If it is, Fallon will have a lot to do with it, probably enough to get Hobey consideration.
John Curry, G, Boston University: From a walk-on third-stringer with just over five minutes of playing time in his freshman year to Hockey East Player of the Year as a senior, Curry's story was an inspirational one as he backstopped the Terriers to three Beanpots, a Lamoriello Trophy, and a renewed vigor following the subpar season he saw as a freshman.The question now is whose meteoric rise can match Curry's.
Jeff Lerg, G, MichiganState: Forget about matching Curry, Lerg can skate circles around most of the nation when it comes to inspirational stories. The 5-foot-6 netminder is everything you could want from a college athlete. Told by many that he was too small, Lerg overcame those limitations - not to mention his severe asthma - to win the Spartans' starting job and the CCHA title as a freshman and a national championship as a sophomore. His numbers weren't Hobey-worthy in 2006-07, but after what we saw in the NCAA tournament, don't sleep on him as a candidate in 2007-08.
Bobby Goepfert, G, St. CloudState: Goepfert followed his breakout junior year with an excellent senior campaign, putting the Huskies back in the NCAA tournament and bailing out his offense-first team. He faded a bit down the stretch, but clearly made the difference for the Huskies.Who could make that difference this year?
Kevin Regan, G, New Hampshire: Regan plays in the same conference where Goepfert started out, and he also played his junior hockey in the USHL. Regan took over full-time starting duties for the Wildcats as a junior, and helped the fast-paced Wildcats to their conference title game, just as Goepfert did in his junior year.It also helps that Regan's numbers in 2006-07 were better than Goepfert's. Can he keep it going as a senior?
Drew Bagnall, D, St. Lawrence: Bagnall flew under the radar for many in 2006-07, but the Saints taking on the likes of Michigan State, Boston University, North Dakota, Bowling Green, Vermont, New Hampshire and Miami as part of their non-conference schedule, he was seen by all the right people, who appreciated his game and showed it when it came time to vote. Whom will they show similar appreciation in 2007-08?
Matt Gilroy, D, BostonUniversity: It's hard to be very far under the radar when you play on Commonwealth Avenue, but as an unheralded walk-on, Gilroy came close. So much of the talk about BU in 2006-07 centered on either the brilliant play of John Curry or the inconsistency of the top offensive performers, that the steady forward-turned-blueliner was mostly recognized by the BU fans who grew to love him and the coaches who had to deal with him. At the end of the season, Gilroy had earned All-American status. Can he go further in 2007-08? Quite possibly.
David Jones, F, Dartmouth:Jones was one of the top scorers in the nation, and his performances against non-conference opponents like Vermont, New Hampshire and North Dakota showed that he had the wherewithal to compete against the top teams in the country, and wasn't just running up his numbers in ECAC Hockey. Whose numbers will earn similar Hobey consideration in 2007-08?
Brandon Wong, F, Quinnipiac: Another British Columbia native who plays in ECAC Hockey, Wong was fifth in the nation in goals as a freshman with 27, and added 17 assists. The Bobcats' 2007-08 schedule won't get Wong as much exposure - Quinnipiac has only one guaranteed game against a "Big Four" team outside ECAC Hockey - but if he can build on his superb freshman campaign, Wong's numbers could speak for themselves.
Scott Parse, F, Nebraska-Omaha: Coming off a Hobey finalist year in 2005-06 which saw him spend significant time atop the national scoring charts, Parse entered 2006-07 with questions surrounding him about whether he could do it without running buddy Bill Thomas, who had signed with the Phoenix Coyotes that spring. Parse answered the bell by staying in the Top 10, and getting the Mavericks to a fifth-place finish in the CCHA. He missed the first games of his collegiate career in the CCHA quarterfinals at MichiganState. Who knows how the course of college hockey history might have been altered had he played? And more important, who can fill this role in 2007-08?
Kevin Porter, F, Michigan: Like Parse, Porter will have to prove he can thrive without a high-scoring linemate, as T.J. Hensick has graduated after leading the nation in scoring as a senior. In truth, Porter was more the Thomas to Hensick's Parse, but only Hensick and Ehn scored more than Porter in 2007-08. Porter could seize the national scoring title in 2007-08, and if he does, count on seeing him in the Hobey mix.
T.J. Hensick, F, Michigan: After making the top 10 in 2004-05 but missing the next year, Hensick led the nation in scoring in 2006-07, and was impossible to miss whenever he had the puck. Moreover, he rounded out his game, including an improved defensive presence, to make himself invaluable to the Wolverines.Whose valuable contributions will be similarly recognized this year?
T.J. Oshie, F, North Dakota: Who better to replace T.J. than...well, T.J.? There's more going on here, though. In his non-finalist season in 2005-06, Hensick was 17th in the nation in scoring. Oshie was 20th in 2006-07, and he even has a high-scoring linemate in the defending Hobey winner Duncan. More importantly, though, Oshie is the kind of player who does whatever is asked of him in the name of helping his team win, and like Hensick, he's impossible to take your eyes off of when he has the puck. The Hobey voters could certainly like what they see from Oshie in 2007-08.
So, your 2008 Hobey Baker finalists will be Ryan Duncan, Eric Ehn, Nathan Davis, Joe Fallon, Jeff Lerg, Kevin Regan, Matt Gilroy, Brandon Wong, Kevin Porter and T.J. Oshie.
Or maybe not.But then again, in August, who knows?