I’ve tried to write a Hobey Baker Award article since the final 3 candidates were announced. I’ve been kicking around ideas for weeks. Earlier this year I advocated for Union College Jr. Spencer Foo to win the award. I was well prepared to write again how he was wrongly left off the ballot for this coming Friday’s ceremony. I was going to write how Denver Pioneers Sr. Defenseman Will Butcher didn’t belong in the Final 3 candidates. Or how it was possible to leave Sr. Zach Aston-Reese, Northeastern F off in place of Foo. After spending too much time & research on this, I can see why the 3 candidates are who they are. I still struggle with the idea of Foo being left off, but it is what it is. Its also hard to advocate on his behalf & not do the same for UNH’s Tyler Kelleher, Sr. F who was tied with Aston-Reese & Sr. F Mike Vecchione Union College for the overall point total lead with 63 points a piece. It seemed every time I tried to make a case for Foo, I was making it for Vecchione too. Or every time I tried to downplay Vecchione I was also hurting my case for Foo. So that being written here’s my take on the Hobey Hat-trick.
In discussing this with some current players 2 think Vecchione should/will win, 2 think Aston-Reese is the guy, & 1 thinks it’ll go to Butcher. Yale’s Michael Doherty played against Union & NU this season, NU’s Brendan Collier played w/ZAR for 3 years & was a high school teammate of Vecchione’s. BU’s Nick Roberto, Chad Krys, & Tommy Kelley played against all 3 Hobey finalists this year. Roberto also played on Vecchione’s high school team. All players agreed that any one of the 3 could win.
GP G A Pts PpG PIM Shots GWG PPG SH +/- FO% Zach Aston-Reese 38 31 32 63 1.66 72 161 3 13 4 13 45.7
Mike Vecchione 38 29 34 63 1.66 45 132 7 8 4 19 61.8 Will Butcher 41 7 29 36 0.88 18 106 1 3 0 25
Zach Aston-Reese, Sr, F, Northeastern University Zach Aston-Reese had a phenomenal season. A season that propelled the undrafted Senior from Staten Island, NY into NCAA prominence. ZAR had 8 multiple goal games including 3 hat tricks, 2 in back to back games! “He’s just the complete player. He had 3 hatricks which is crazy!” Said teammate Brendan Collier. 10 of his nation leading 31 goals gave the Huskies the lead @ the time he scored. NU had the 15th toughest schedule in the NCAA, and ZAR went pointless in only 9 of 38 games. He had a total of 63 points, tied for 1st with Vecchione & Kelleher. His 1.66 PPG are tied w/ Vecchione for the NCAA lead. He’s 6th in assists. His 13 PPG’s are 2nd, his 4 SHG’s are tied for 2nd with Vecchione as well. “NU was missing the Stevens brothers for a while and he stepped up big.” Said BU’s Tommy Kelley. Aston-Reese is a solid 200ft player. He’s good in the face-off circle. He’s strong, and has a good head on his shoulders. “He was very hard to play against. He’s a strong kid and heavy on pucks. He plays great in all zones. He got better each year at NU. His speech at the Hockey East Award banquet really showed me how big of an impact his teammates had and he credited them to it.” said BU’s Nick Roberto. Yale’s Mike Doherty echoed that sentiment, “He gets it done on both ends of the ice and can put the puck in the net. He plays with an edge that makes him hard to play against.” ZAR was the Hockey East Player of the Year. His penalty minutes are high but that’ll happen when you play as much as he does. He is a Graphic Design major. He reads to school kids. He recently signed a free agent deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mike Vecchione, Sr, F, Union College Mike Vecchione had a dynamic year, one that seen him become the ALL-TIME point leader in Union College history with 176pts. Vecchione had 6 multiple goal games, and 1 hat trick (actually 4 goals), 14 of his 29 goals were to put Union in the lead or tie the game, He had 8 PPG’s which tied him for 7th, & 4 SHG’s tied 2nd w/ ZAR. Vecchione finished with 63pts. He only had 45 penalty minutes all season & his face-off percentage was 62%! Wow. In a lot of ways Vecchione & ZAR mirror each other. “He’s a class act, stayed all four years when he could have left. Obviously his point totals stand out but he really did it all for Union. He’s a great two way player, great on the dot, a two year captain etc. He’s very strong and always seems to be in the right spot. He’s tough to match up against.” said Doherty. Vecchione’s also a solid 200 ft player. Probably one of the best center men in the game, if not the best. “Vecchione is the hardest working kid I’ve ever met. He had a long road to get here but man did it pay off for him. Obviously Union had the weaker schedule of the other candiadtes, but how do you not give it to a player who turned down an NHL contract his junior year? He came back for his senior year and it paid off! He’s a two way player. Being the captian for two years shows what type of player and person he is.” Adds BU’s Roberto. Smart, strong player, always in a good position. He was the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year. Union had the 38th ranked strength of schedule, that might hurt. And Vecchione is a ’93 birthday where Butcher is a ’95, almost 2 whole years younger. But that is the nature of the college game these days so… He is a history major, with a 3.38 GPA. Vecchione is involved with Thanksgiving meal services. He recently signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent.
Will Butcher, Sr, D, Denver University Will Butcher was solid all year for the Pioneers. He’s a heady, puck moving defenseman that can play both ends of the ice. “Butcher is so calm and poised with the puck. He is the most dangerous player I went up against on the PK. He controls the game, I’m not surprised he lead Denver to the Frozen Four. His team is obviously very good and deep but I think without Butcher, Denver would have struggled a little this year. Denver has some young talent and Butcher being a senior unsung hero is huge. He just gets the job done. I think Butcher being a true senior should help him too.” said Nick Roberto. He’s 2nd for defensemen in points with 36. His +25 +/- is 5th best in the nation. Butcher has a measly 18 penalty minutes all year, incredible seeing that he gets a ton of ice time. He had 76 blocked shots for the year too. He helped led Denver to the top ranked defense @ 1.83 GA, finishing the regular season ranked #1 overall, NCHC Regular Season Champion, #1 overall seed in the NCAA playoffs, & 1 win away from a National Championship. “Butcher I think does deserve to be there because he’s the best player on arguably the best team in the country and plays a two way game.” added Yale’s Doherty. Granted Denver is stacked, but they did have the 7th toughest schedule for the season. The NCHC had the top 8 teams in SOS%. He was named NCHC Player of the Year & Offensive Defenseman of the Year this year. Butcher is a true senior too.
THE WINNER IS…
Mike Doherty thinks “I hope Vecchione wins. I’m not sure who will actually win though. Seems like more of a toss up than in years past. I personally think he should win it.” Says Nick Roberto “I have to go with my boy Vecc! Off the ice, Vecc is one of the best people I ever met in the hockey world.”
Brendan Collier said “I feel that Zach should win because he did it against way better competition all year.” And Tommy Kelley chooses “Zach Aston-Reese.”
Adds Chad Krys “Butcher is my vote, true senior leader and He’s on the best team in college. I think By winning Thursday he locked it up for sure.”
Although I personally struggle with giving the award to a defensemen, I have to say that Will Butcher should be the winner of the 2016-17 Hobey Baker Award. He truly does it all for the Pioneers, as did Vecchione & Aston-Reese for Union & Northeastern respectively. But Butcher is still doing it, he definitely has one more game this season, if not two. His team has been in contention for everything this year, and from start to finish too. While the other 2 player’s teams opened the season vs teams of lesser stature, i.e. Atlantic Hockey teams, Denver has been playing top notch programs from the opening puck drop. NU had 4 of their 1st 6 vs Bentley & Arizona St, Union had 5 out of 1st 9 against AIC, Sacred Heart, RIT, Niagara, & Holy Cross. All while Denver started off with Ohio St, BC, BU, & Michigan St. Butcher’s age is something to be commended too, he’s a natural senior. He’s been playing against the top talent since he was 18 and holding his own. Its not so much a vote against Vecchione or Aston-Reese but a vote in favor of Butcher. I can totally see this being the closest vote in Award history.
Special Thanks to Yale’s Mike Doherty, Northeastern’s Brendan Collier, & Boston University’s Nick Roberto, Chad Krys, & Tommy Kelley for their input.