The Hobey Baker Memorial Award is presented to a deserving recipient on the day before the last college hockey game of the season. But that doesn’t mean that college hockey fans, players and media members don’t think about it all season. Inside College Hockey’s Hobey Tracker looks at the top three candidates for the award, those whose stock is rising or falling, and other players worthy of consideration.
1. Mike Vecchione
Union | Senior | Forward
To Date: 24 GP, 18-23—41, 4 PPG, 3 SHG, 4 GWG, +24 rating
The dilemma here is separating Vecchione’s achievements from those of high-scoring linemates Spencer Foo and Sebastian Vidmar. A few factors help Vecchione in this regard. First, he’s no stranger to voters, who’ve known about him since he helped Union win the 2014 NCAA title. Second, he produces not only in quantity—he’s tied for the NCAA lead in points and second in goals—but also quality. No one in the country has more non-power play goals (14, including an NCAA-best three short-handed goals) or points (28). Finally, he’s got a well-rounded resume—Union’s captain ranks fourth nationally with a 62.2% winning percentage at the faceoff dot and only one player in the country has won more draws.
2. Neal Pionk
Minnesota Duluth | Sophomore | Defenseman
To Date: 24 GP, 5-13—18, 3 PPG, +16 rating
Including Pionk is like putting a deep cut on a greatest hits album, but he’s earned the right to be on this list. The Bulldogs boast exceptional balance and have been the nation’s most consistent team since the season started. In our view, Pionk is their best player and catalyst. Does he have gaudy numbers? No, but they’re solid. He helped propel UMD to a terrific start against a tough opening schedule with 4-6—10 in his first eight games. And while the merits of plus-minus rating have been debated, it’s worth noting Pionk has been a minus player in only three games—the Bulldogs lost by one goal in each of them.
3. Justin Kloos
Minnesota | Senior | Forward
To Date: 22 GP, 11-16—27, 3 PPG, 3 SHG, 4 GWG, +2 rating
We’ll do a deeper dive into the Gophers as part of the INCH Podcast later this week (preview: we like where this team is headed) and Kloos has led Minnesota’s recent charge to the top of the Big Ten standings and a climb in the national polls. The Gophers are 9-3-0 in their last 12 games and Kloos has 8-12—20 during that span, but he’s more than just a scorer. A terrific penalty-killer (like Vecchione, Kloos has three short-handed goals to date) and an adequate faceoff man, he’s always going to be on the ice in key situations for the Gophers. Kloos is a player you may not appreciate enough when you have him, but you miss him like crazy when you don’t.
We won’t identify a specific player here, but rather a trend that’s worth mentioning. Over the history of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, recipients were most often seniors. And specifically four-year players that built their names and notoriety over improving college careers. Then along came a young wave of star players. Johnny Gaudreau won as a junior. Jack Eichel won as a freshman. Michigan freshman Kyle Connor had a strong case last year but the award went to senior Jimmy Vesey. This year’s class of finalists might be senior-laden as well. While they didn’t make this Hobey Tracker’s Big Board, the likes of Zach Aston-Reese (Northeastern), Alex Kerfoot (Harvard), Joe Gambardella (UMass Lowell), and Austin Ortega (Omaha) will get strong consideration from Hobey voters.
Tyler Kelleher | New Hampshire | Senior | Forward
Another senior worth mentioning, Kelleher is among the nation’s leading scorers with 14 goals, 27 assists, and 41 points in 24 games for the Wildcats. The US NTDP product is having his best season as a senior at UNH under head coach Dick Umile. This year’s monster campaign is his third-straight 40-plus point season and backs up a 42-point sophomore season and 46-point junior campaign. All of that points to his deserved-place among Hobey Baker candidates, and if this Week of INCH took place a few weeks earlier, Kelleher likely would have been on our Big Board. But he’s got just one assist over New Hampshire’s last four games, and the Wildcats have a win, loss, and two ties in that stretch.
Jake Oettinger | Boston University | Freshman | Goalie
On a roster loaded with high-profile names and 11 NHL draft picks, Jake Oettinger stepped onto campus and claimed the starting goaltending job at BU. His numbers are staggering. A .938 save percentage and 1.70 goals-against average have allowed Oettinger to build a 13-5-2 record with four shutouts. Notoriety has come with four Hockey East weekly awards. The draft-eligible goalie was one of six Terriers on the gold-medal winning United States team at the World Juniors. While he didn’t start the medal-round games for that team, he’ll certainly be the backbone of Boston University’s Hockey East and NCAA playoff hopes later this spring.