Note: Written before Friday’s games took place, but posted after.
It’s Friday January 27, 2017, 70 days until the 2016-17 Hobey Baker Award winner is announced. As it stands four players are currently tied for the most points in the country @ 41, Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, UNH’s Tyler Kelleher, & Union teammates Mike Vecchione & Spencer Foo. A few exceptional players are lurking just behind too, the likes of Dylan Sikura, Anders Bjork, Austin Ortega, & Tyler Sheehy to name a few. At this moment there’s no clear favorite to win the award for the nation’s best collegiate player. The award doesn’t always go to the player with the most points, or leads the country in goals, or is the most valuable player. The Hobey goes to the NCAA player who best “exhibits strength of character both on and off the ice” and “contributes to the integrity of the team and displays outstanding skills in all phases of the game.”
Going off of what these players have done so far, and what they should continue to do over the remaining 8-10 regular season games, here is a list of potential finalists, with the eventual winner. This year it will come down to a list consisting of the top points leaders. A Freshman or Sophomore that’s not lighting up any and all comers will not get any consideration. Only 2 Freshmen have won the award, Maine’s Paul Kariya (100pts in 39 games) in 1993 and Boston University’s Jack Eichel (71 points in 40 games) in 2015. It’s just how it goes, which is a shame because players like Northeastern’s Adam Gaudette, North Dakota’s Shane Gersich, Minnesota’s Sheehy, Ohio St’s Mason Jobst, & Penn St’s Denis Smirnov are having spectacular years! Generally it’s an award for the Seniors, 25 winners since its inception in 1981. While 5 Sophomores have beaten out the competition in the past, this year won’t be one of those years. It should come down to Aston-Reese, Vecchione, Kelleher, & Ortega, all Seniors; or Foo, Sikura, & Bjork representing the Junior class. Most years have a few goalies in the running but this year no net minder is playing like his life depends on it. Plenty of solid play, but not other-worldly to merit serious consideration. A tip of the cap to BU’s Jake Oettinger, Army’s Parker Gahagen, or Michael Bitzer at Bemidji St. Same goes for defensemen. No one is standing out from the pack, as good as BU’s Charlie McAvoy, BC’s Casey Fitzgerald, UNH’s Matias Cleland, or Omaha’s Luc Snuggerud have all been.
Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese has been firing on all cylinders since the season started. He’s shouldered a heavy load in all phases of the game, full strength, power play duty & on the penalty kill. He’s leading the country in goals, with 22, averaging .917 a game also leading the country. 11 coming on the PP (most in NCAAs) & with 3 SHG’s (also tops in NCAAs). Of his 41 points this season, 10 have put Northeastern up, while 7 points have tied the game for the Huskies. He has 2 GWG under his belt, is @ +5 for the season. Unfortunately for him, NU has been struggling up to this point of the season, sitting @ 9-10-5 (3-8-3 HEA). That can’t bode well for his chances of winning the Hobey if the Huskies play continues to lag behind his own. NU is 8-8-3 when ZA-R has a point, 1-2-2 when he doesn’t. Currently NU is 10th in SOS he’s doing it against good competition. 2 pts shy of his career high of 43, he has 10 games remaining with his 1.708ppg average (also tied for 1st with 4) so he should top 50 pts.
Union’s Mike Vecchione is a beast. 18 goals & 23 assists for one of the nation’s top offenses. 2nd in goals with 18 trailing only ZA-R. And 5th in the country in goals per game averaging .750. Tied for 1st in PPG @ 1.708. And tied for 1st in SHGs w 3. Union is 15-2-2 when Vecchione has a point and 2-3 when he is scoreless. 12 of his 41 pts have come on the PP while he has 4pts on the PK. Another solid all around player. He is a +24 so far this year. Winning 62.2% of his face-offs. 4 GWGs, 4 PPGs and only 86 shots on goal! 11 of his points have put Union ahead and 6 have tied the game for the Dutchmen. 18 of his points have come when Union is already ahead, sort of piling on. And another knock is 5 of his goals are empty netters. Unfortunately Union’s SOS is 37th overall, but the winning % is 2nd overall. You can’t knock a team for winning games its supposed to. Union still has 10 games left, with 6 against teams that currently have winning records, so his competition should remain consistent to what it has been all season, He should finish the season with nearly 60 pts. It would be a tremendous bounce back from last year when he finished with a subpar 29 pts. Union is 17-5-2 this season (10-1-1 ECAC)
New Hampshire’s Tyler Kelleher is a solid playmaker, and having a great senior year. He is a bit of a long shot however. He is in the 4 way tie with 41pts, but 20 of those points are coming on the power play. His 27 assists lead the NCAA’s and he is in a tie for PPG with 1.708. He does have 12 pts that put the Wildcats in the lead during games, and 8 to knot it up for UNH. Unfortunately 18 of his points come when UNH is already up. That’s a lot coupled with the 20 pp pts. New Hampshire is 40th in SOS also, 30th in winning % rank, & just barely above .500 for the season @ 11-9-4 (6-3-3 HEA, their saving grace if any). Kelleher has 75 shots, 3 GWGs, 6 PPGs, & has a +5 for the season. He’s the ultimate set-up man. 46 pts last year was his career high, he should outdo that by at least 15. UNH still has a hard schedule remaining, so if they can turn it around as a team it would certainly bolster Kelleher’s case for the Hobey. 6 games left against the top teams in Hockey East. UNH is 10-4-3 when Kelleher figures on the score sheet, 1-5-1 when he doesn’t.
As good as Omaha’s Austin Ortega is, 16G 18A 34pts, in a tough NCHC, he’s not Hobey worthy at this point. 13 of his points come when Omaha is already up, 5 were while they trailed. Only 7 points put the Mavericks ahead while 7 more tied the game for them. Not to mention 13 of his points come on the PP. In his favor, Omaha has the 11th ranked SOS & is 20th in winning %, a good squad @ 14-8-4 (7-6-1 NCHC). The Mavericks still have 4 games against Denver, 2 vs UMD who Ortega only has 1 assist against, 2 against Western Michigan, & 2 more against North Dakota who did give up 4 points to Ortega. Some serious muscle to have to cap off your career against. Not sure if Ortega has what it takes to raise his game against this type of competition, going solely on the numbers.
Last but certainly not least is Junior Spencer Foo of Union College. Foo has been consistent all season, he just had a 21 game point streak snapped last week. He is tied with teammate Vecchione for the national lead in points w/ 41, tied for 1st in PPG w/ 1.708, 4th in goals with 16, 2nd in assists w/ 25, & 12th in GPG. He is regularly on the ice on the PP & PK. He has 5 PPGs, 2 SHGs & 3GWGs. He has a point in 22 of 24 Union games this season. The Dutchmen are 16-4-2 when Foo has a point, 1-1 when he doesn’t. 13 of his 41 pts are PP related. 13 points also gave Union the lead & 6 points tied the game. 16 points came while Union had the lead already. Foo is winning 63.2% of his face-offs. He is a whopping +27 this season.
All of these players are fantastic, having phenomenal years, and can blow a game wide open at any time. It’s the balance of Foo, that puts him ahead of Kelleher. Its the the team record, all around play that puts him ahead of Aston-Reese. Its his overall point production that puts him above Ortega. And its his ability to keep pace and best his teammate Vecchione making his points count slightly more, and besting him in +-, FO%, & to be a Jr to Vecchione’s Sr having such a great year.
Still roughly 10 games to go, anything can happen, but as of this Friday, its Spencer Foo.