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  • HPT honors NCAA's best Print
    Futures Watch
    Written by Steve Wozniak   
    Monday, 02 April 2012 17:53

    The NCAA has the Hobey Baker Award, but not much else in the way of hardware, so we've decided to add some of our own to the mix. Here are our NCAA Honors, minus the red carpet or trophies, of course.

    Steve WozniakCome late June, NHL players will get the chance to walk the red carpet and sit anxiously while the league bestows its annual awards on its star players. College football has a similar setup, but college hockey players will get no such luxury. Outside of hockey’s Heisman, the Hobey Baker Award – which will be awarded the night before the national championship game in Tampa next week – and the All-American team, there is little recognition for the best of Division I hockey.

    No worries. Hockey Primetime takes up that charge and honors this season’s best with awards that we dutifully name after the game’s past greats. Forgive us if we couldn’t muster the paparazzi or trophies.

    Tony Hrkac Award: Top Scorer

    Hrkac set the NCAA record for most points in a season when he amassed 116 in 1986-87 for North Dakota. That total included 46 goals and 70 assists in 48 games played. In 14 NHL seasons with nine different teams, Hrkac never topped 48 points in a season.

    Spencer Abbott, Maine: With no one in the Frozen Four with a realistic chance to catch him, we can safely bestow this season’s scoring title on the undrafted senior left wing. Abbott tallied 21 goals and 41 assists for 62 points in 39 games. Abbott signed a free-agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this week, following in the path of last season’s top goal scorer, Matt Frattin.

    Honorable Mention: Minnesota-Duluth’s Jack Connolly came up just short, putting up 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points. Colgate’s Austin Smith led Division I with 36 goals, but had just 21 assists to finish his senior year with 57 points. Connolly remains a free agent, while Smith has signed with Dallas, which held his draft rights.

    Hobey Baker Award: Most Valuable Player

    Hobey Baker was an All-American at Princeton and is the only member of both the Hockey Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. He despised professional hockey, seeing it as counter to playing for the love of the game. After graduating in 1914, Baker played for amateur clubs in New York and Philadelphia before fatally crashing on a test flight of a military plane in Europe shortly after the Armistice of World War I. While the criteria for the award encompasses character and leadership, it is traditionally awarded to the player seen as most valuable to his team.

    Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth: Last season’s championship team was depleted by graduations and players leaving early for AHL and NHL careers. Yet Connolly stepped up to provide senior leadership for a team that could easily have suffered a post-title hangover, but didn’t. His Bulldogs fell in the regional final to red-hot Boston College after a season in which UMD stayed at or near the top of the national rankings.

    Honorable Mention: When Boston University leading scorer Corey Trivino was kicked off the team over the holiday break and Charlie Coyle left for juniors, Alex Chiasson became the go-to guy. He led the Terriers and scoring and guided them to a berth in the NCAA Tournament after a season of high drama in Beantown. Chiasson has since signed with Dallas, the team that drafted him. Denver suffered a series of injuries to key players this season, but managed to roll into the postseason with a strong finish behind Drew Shore. Shore tallied 22 goals and 53 points in 42 games before signing with Florida, who held his draft rights. The official three finalists for the real Hobey Baker are Connolly, Abbott and Austin Smith.

    Chris Chelios Award: Best Defenseman

    Chelios played just two seasons at Wisconsin, tallying 97 points in 88 games before jetting to the 1984 U.S. Olympic team and Montreal Canadiens. After three Norris Trophies and a Hall of Fame career that seemed to last forever, we can proclaim the tough-as-nails blueliner the best defenseman with a NCAA pedigree.

    Nate Schmidt, Minnesota: Too often, the NHL awards the Norris Trophy to the highest-scoring blueliner. This is like awarding baseball’s Cy Young to the National League pitcher with the best batting average. Scoring isn’t the job of defensemen; keeping pucks out of their own net is. And in Division I, perhaps nobody did that better than Schmidt. The undrafted sophomore had a team-best plus-26 rating for the Golden Gophers, and posted a negative plus/minus in just five of his 42 games. He worked the penalty kill and the power play, where he rolled up 29 of his 41 points.

    Honorable Mention: Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz looked like a runaway winner of this award at the midpoint of the season. The Anaheim Ducks prospect led all Division I defensemen with 16 goals and 44 points, but slumped severely in the second half of the season, posting just six points and a minus-4 rating over his last 18 games. Boston University’s Garrett Noonan, a Nashville draftee, actually tied Schultz with 16 goals and was a team-best plus-19.

    Ryan Miller Award: Best Goaltender

    Miller is one of just two goalies to win the Hobey Baker Award – Minnesota’s Robb Stauber in 1988 being the other – and he did it in grand fashion in 2001 as a sophomore at Michigan State. That year, Miller led all goalies with 31 wins, 10 shutouts, a 1.32 goals-against average and an NCAA-record .950 save percentage.

    Troy Grosenick, Union: The undrafted sophomore faced high expectations entering this season. The Dutchmen were coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance, previous starting goalie Keith Kincaid left to join the New Jersey Devils, and coach Nate Leaman decided that a job with Providence in Hockey East was better than to stick with the ECAC’s up-and-coming team. All Grosenick did was ignore the noise, and take Union to even loftier accomplishments, including the school’s first spot in the Frozen Four this coming week. Grosenick is second in the nation with a 1.64 GAA and .936 save percentage, and is tied for fourth with five shutouts.

    Honorable Mention: Niagara’s Chris Noonan may have played against a lot of subpar competition in Atlantic Hockey, but it’s impossible to overlook his NCAA-best 1.61 GAA and .944 save percentage. The graduating senior remains unsigned by any professional team. Miami senior Connor Knapp started the season in a platoon with classmate Cody Reichard, but the Buffalo Sabres draftee eventually earned the starting duties by posting a 1.69 GAA, .933 save percentage and five shutouts. Knapp has not yet signed with Buffalo.

    Thomas Vanek Award: Top Rookie

    Vanek put together one of the most impressive seasons by a freshman in college hockey when he tallied 31 goals and 62 points in 45 games for Minnesota back in 2002-03. Vanek has since averaged more than 32 goals per year in his seven NHL seasons.

    Kyle Rau, Minnesota: The Florida Panthers draft pick led all freshmen in scoring this season with 43 points on 18 goals and 25 assists. We’ll overlook the fact that he compiled those stats while skating with a de facto AHL team; the Golden Gophers have 15 other NHL draft picks on their roster to play with. With so many of the older players likely leaving after this season to cash in some NHL paychecks, Rau may become the go-to guy next year in the Twin Cities.

    Honorable Mention: Boston College frosh and Calgary Flames draft pick Johnny Gaudreau led all first-year players in Division I with 20 goals. UMass-Lowell staged a record turnaround this year, and benefited greatly from the play of Penguins prospect Scott Wilson, who put up 38 points in 37 games for the River Hawks.

    Ned Harkness Award: Best Coach

    The actual award for the Division I men’s hockey coach of the year is called the Spencer Penrose Award. Penrose was a Colorado hotel magnate who offered to host the first NCAA hockey championships at his resort in Colorado Springs. We’ll instead give some love to Harkness, a Hall of Famer who was the last coach to accomplish a perfect season when his 1969-70 Cornell squad went 29-0-0. Harkness would later serve as coach and GM for the Detroit Red Wings, but the college game is where he found his fame.

    Norm Bazin, UMass-Lowell: The River Hawks' hockey program began the season in a state of upheaval. Former coach Blaise McDonald resigned after his team struggled to a 5-25-4 record in 2010-11. McDonald had failed to do in 10 years what previous coach Tim Whitehead couldn’t do in five – get UML to the NCAA Tournament. Enter Bazin, a proud alum, who switched the focus to a fast, aggressive puck-possession style of play and got a sizeable freshman class to buy into it. The River Hawks, at one time the hottest team in the country, got their tournament bid and a tournament win over Miami. They ultimately fell to Union in the regional final, but not before turning that 5-25-4 record into a 24-13-1 scorecard.

    Honorable mention: Nate Leaman won this award last year for getting Union to its first tournament appearance before leaving for a job at Providence. But new Union boss Rick Bennett did his predecessor one better, getting the Dutchmen to their first Frozen Four. It’s hard to believe that Boston College coach Jerry York hasn’t won a coach-of-the-year ward since he was at Clarkson in 1977. That’s 35 years. York crashed through the 900-win benchmark for his career earlier this season, and shows no signs of slowing down.  

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    Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 01:50