With most college hockey teams dropping the puck on their regular seasons this weekend, it’s time for this year’s first Hobey Watch. As always, this year’s race promises to be wide open as only three of last year’s 10 finalists are back. That means lots of room for guys to step up and throw their names into the discussion.
Here are some guys who just might do that:
10. Stephane Da Costa, Sophomore F, Merrimack — Da Costa was named the NCAA Rookie of the Year last season after leading all freshmen with 45 points (16g, 29a). He tied for seventh nationally with 1.32 points per game for the upstart Warriors. Unfortunately for Da Costa, he’ll likely need the unranked Warriors to make the NCAA Tournament, something they’ve never done before, in order to be considered a legitimate Hat Trick candidate.
9. Blake Kessel, Junior D, New Hampshire — Kessel is the nation’s top returning scorer among defensemen. He had 38 points (10g, 28a) last year, placing him second behind Wisconsin’s now-departed Brendan Smith, a Hobey Baker finalist. Speaking of Hobey finalists, the No. 8/10 Wildcats lose Bobby Butler, so it’ll be up to Kessel to lead UNH in its quest for a 10th straight NCAA bid.
8. Brad Eidsness, Junior G, North Dakota — Eidsness led the country in minutes played (2387:54) and tied for second in wins (24) last year. He also ranked eighth in goals-against average (2.11) and 23rd in save percentage (.914). The biggest question with Eidsness is how much Hobey attention he’ll get playing on a second-ranked Fighting Sioux team filled with stars. Don’t be surprised if you hear the “He’s a product of the team” argument a few times.
7. Garrett Roe, Senior F, St. Cloud State — Roe and teammate Ryan Lasch put up identical 20-29-49 lines last year, tying them for 15th nationally in points. But with Lasch graduated, the spotlight will be focused solely on Roe this season. He’ll be the most important cog in a No. 4/6 Huskies squad that expects to compete for a WCHA title and go further in the NCAA Tournament than they’ve ever gone before.
6. Scott Greenham, Junior G, Alaska — The No. 12 Nanooks come into the season with some of the highest expectations in program history after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever last year. If they’re going to meet them, Greenham is going to be a big reason why. Last year, he ranked third in minutes played (2295:34), 10th in GAA (2.20) and 11th in save percentage (.919). He also tied for ninth in wins (18) and tied for fifth in shutouts (4).
5. Broc Little, Senior F, Yale — Last year, Little tied for fourth in the country in goals with 27, but he ranked first in goals per game with 0.79 (keep in mind that Ivy League teams play fewer games than everyone else). Little also tied for third in game-winning goals with seven and ranked 21st in points per game with 1.21. He’ll likely need more than 14 assists for the No. 5/6 Bulldogs this year, though, to crack the Hat Trick.
4. Chase Polacek, Senior F, Rensselaer — Polacek, a Hobey finalist last season, is coming off a season in which he ranked sixth in the nation in goals (26), points (52) and points per game (1.33). He also tied for third with 13 power-play goals. Just like Da Costa, however, Polacek will have to deal with playing on a team that’s not projected to reach the big dance. Getting to NCAAs was made much more difficult for the Engineers this summer when would-be sophomores Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri both bolted for the pros.
The Hat Trick
3. Chay Genoway, Senior D, North Dakota — Genoway was one of the top Hobey candidates early on last season. He had 10 points (4g, 6a) in his first nine games, but then he missed the rest of the season while battling post-concussion syndrome following a vicious hit from St. Cloud State’s Aaron Marvin. It might take Genoway a few games to get back up to speed, but he’s undoubtedly one of the best players in the country when healthy.
2. Cam Atkinson, Junior F, Boston College — Atkinson led the country with 30 goals last season and tied for third with 53 points. He was particularly hot down the stretch as he recorded three hat tricks in his final 12 games to help lead the Eagles to their second national title in the last three years. No. 1 BC has lots of depth on offense, but Atkinson is the biggest star and the best at finding the back of the net.
1. Gustav Nyquist, Junior F, Maine — After leading the nation with 61 points, 42 assists and 1.56 points per game last year, Nyquist is the only member of last year’s Hobey Hat Trick to return this season, making him the clear-cut preseason favorite. One of the things that hurt Nyquist in the end last year was the fact that the Black Bears just missed the NCAA Tournament. They enter this season as the No. 7 team in the country, though, and anything short of an NCAA bid would be a major disappointment.
On the bubble: Cory Conacher (Senior F, Canisius), Jack Connolly (Junior F, Minnesota-Duluth), Carl Hagelin (Senior F, Michigan), David Warsofsky (Junior D, Boston University), Drew Palmisano (Junior G, Michigan State)