Take a look at every Hobey Baker winner in the award’s 39-year history. What do you notice? Better yet, what don’t you see?
At first glance, it’s not too hard to spot the 16 centers. Finding the four combined goalies and right-wingers is more like a page out of “Where’s Waldo?”
But by the end of 2020, the search could be as simple as looking at the bottom of the list. Players at both positions really can win the Hobey Baker. That surprise is one of the five hottest storylines to follow in college hockey in the 2020 season:
Note: All statistics through Jan. 13.
1. Who’s the next team to get a first-time NCAA tournament bid?
Arizona State and AIC broke through in 2019 to reach the NCAA tournament. The Sun Devils became the first independent team in the postseason since 1992 and the Yellow Jackets received automatic qualification after winning their conference tournament.
There’s no guarantee that another first-time participant takes the ice in late March, but history — and the Atlantic Hockey Association standings — indicates a possibility. Five of the past nine NCAA tournaments featured at least one new team.
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Atlantic Hockey was last presented an at-large bid in 2013. The conference’s trend of receiving one tournament invitation likely extends into the new decade, however, defending champion AIC is nine points back in the league standings. Albeit, they’ve played three fewer conference games but the for the time being a path has been cleared for Sacred Heart (14-7-1) and Army (14-7-2), which are separated by two points at the top of the table.
Only twice in eight years has the top seed won the Atlantic Hockey tournament. If lower seeds can maintain their upset-driven tendencies, seventh-place Bentley would be another first-timer should the Falcons go on a run.
2. Is the scoring defenseman college hockey’s latest trend?
A season ago, all three Hobey Baker finalists played on the blue line for their respective teams. While the finalists moved on to the NHL, the spotlight has since been turned toward the next wave of defenders.
Here are three that stand out so far:
David Farrance, Boston University — Farrance’s junior year has seen a transformation into one of the top offensive defensemen in college hockey. He’s got 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 19 games and lit the lamp eight times on the power play, tied for the most in Division I. His plus-10 is also a career high. If he can will BU (7-7-5) into the NCAA tournament and raise the plus/minus, he just might enter the Hobey Baker conversation.
Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth — Perunovich has remained a steady contributor for the reigning national champions in his junior season. His 22 assists are the second-highest total in Division I and he leads the Bulldogs with 25 points in 20 games. He’s got seven multi-point games and three showings with at least three assists. A plus-seven would be the lowest mark of his career, but could possibly be overlooked if he breaks his single-season point record. He had 36 as a freshman, playing 42 games that year.
Alec Rauhauser, Bowling Green — Rauhauser has already matched his total production from last year — in 17 fewer games. The senior leads all defensemen in scoring with 26 points and is one goal away from matching his single-season career high. Rauhauser’s only setback is his plus-9 plus/minus, which is currently on track to be the lowest since his freshman year.
Two of the past three Hobey Baker winners were defenders. Before that, the last winner to come from the blue line was in 2009. Recency might favor defensemen, especially after the last year. It’s important to remember how extraordinary Makar’s season was for Massachusetts. His final line was 49 points and a plus-33.
MORE: Five potential first-time champions for 2020
3. Who will win the Hobey Baker?
Speaking of the Hobey Baker Award, 2020 could be historic for the top individual honor in college hockey. Centers have dominated with 16 wins while only two goaltenders and two right wings have won in the award’s 39-year history. So it’s only fitting that a player from the the least represented positions are having breakout seasons.
Get to know both here.
Dryden McKay, Minnesota State — Thatcher Demko was the last Hobey Baker finalist between the pipes and Ryan Miller was the last netminder to win it, dating all the way back to 2001. But it might be time to look north and explore the possibility of the third goaltender winning the award.
Since the introduction of the Mike Richter Award, given to the top goaltender in college hockey, two goalies have finished as top-3 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. McKay has a chance to not only be a finalist, but to also take home the hardware.
His .950 save percentage would go down as the third-best single-season mark in DI history while his 1.14 goals-allowed average would top the record books. He has seven shutouts through 23 appearances and could become the fifth goalie to reach double-digits.
Jack Dugan, Providence
A right-winger hasn’t been Division I hockey’s undisputed scoring champion since 2009 (Gustav Nyquist, Maine). Nyquist had 61 points in 39 games and was named a Hobey Baker finalist. Dugan’s 41 points — in 23 games— lead the nation and his 39-game pace (69 points) would make him college hockey’s top single-season scorer over the past four years.
A common perception about wingers revolves around a reliance to score goals. Dugan does most of his damage as a distributor. His 34 assists top Division I with the next closest player trailing him by 12. He’s had a dozen multi-assist games, including four with at least three.
The Friars’ high-powered offense is key to another Frozen Four run. They’ve scored 80 goals (fifth in DI) this season and Dugan has contributed to more than half of them.
4. Is there a national-title favorite?
The length of the college hockey season and the game’s fickle nature make it difficult to pinpoint one contender that stands above the rest. Even if one reveals itself later on, St. Cloud State’s opening-round NCAA tournament loss in 2019 shows that a No. 1 overall seed can be beaten.
For the time being, here are three standout teams.
Minnesota State, 20-3-1 — There might not be a better goaltender in college hockey than Dryden McKay. While the sophomore could potentially carry the Mavericks, it’s unlikely he’ll have to.
Eleven Mavericks have double-digit points and coach Mike Hastings’ team owns impressive sweeps over Arizona State and Minnesota Duluth as well as a split with North Dakota, outscoring opponents 22-8 in six contests. Minnesota State’s 87 goals are the third-most of any Division I team. Of those, 28 are on the power play with MSU converting its situations on the advantage at a near 30 percent clip.
North Dakota, 17-2-2 — The Fighting Hawks are in the midst of a huge turnaround after missing the postseason last year. Coach Brad Berry knows what it takes to win a championship, he helped bring one to Grand Forks in 2016.
North Dakota has one loss since Oct. 19 and is one of two teams with more goals than Minnesota State (88) while also ranking top-5 in scoring defense. UND still has four games left against Denver and Minnesota Duluth which could help potentially solidify a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. They’ve yet to play the Bulldogs and split with the Pioneers earlier this season, outscoring them 5-2 in the series.
Cornell, 12-1-2 — Eleven skaters have at least nine points for Cornell. But the hockey culture in Ithaca sure seems defensive minded. The Big Red rank second in scoring defense, allowing 1.47 goals per game. They only trail Minnesota State in that category but hold a firm grip on the lead for fewest goals allowed (22). Cornell went 14 games before giving up more than two goals, including wins over Ohio State, Clarkson and Michigan State.
5. Who can challenge the top contenders?
Yes, the three teams mentioned above are ranked Nos. 1-3 in the USCHO poll. But they’re not unbeatable. No team is and that’s part of the fun that comes with college hockey. Earlier this season, we examined five teams that could win their first championship in 2020.
To stand alone at the end of the Frozen Four, there’s a chance these two teams could have to knock off one of the previously listed contenders or even possibly each other.
Providence, 13-5-5 — The Friars defeated No. 1 seed Minnesota State in the opening round of the 2019 NCAA tournament and reached the Frozen Four. Providence hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down, scoring 80 goals, converting over 26 percent of its power-play chances and leading a loaded Hockey East.
Jack Dugan is making a strong case to be the first right-winger to win the Hobey Baker since 2004 while leading the NCAA in assists (34) and points (41). Dugan draws a lot of attention, but the Friars also have Division I’s leading goal-scorer in Tyce Thompson (17). Not many teams have a 1-2 punch like this on two separate lines.
Penn State, 16-6-0 — Penn State’s top contributors remained the same from 2018-19 to this season. The biggest adjustments are the Nittany Lions’ ability to win on the road and balance on the offensive end. Penn State had six road wins a year ago (6-7-1) and has already matched that total, including a sweep of Minnesota.
When it comes to scoring, there was little doubt that Nate Sucese, Alex Limoges and Evan Barratt would produce. The trio has a combined 73 points despite four missed games by Limoges. What makes the Nittany Lions dangerous is that another seven players also have double-digit points.