To say the least, it has been a banner season for college hockey in the Northeast. Boston College has stamped itself as the team to beat in the Hockey East race, while Quinnipiac and Union have returned among the elite of the ECAC, and Bentley has found a spot near the top of Atlantic Hockey. With all the region’s success thus far, its crop of Hobey Baker Award candidates is very deep. Here are six to watch as the season gets ready to wind down:
6. Brett Gensler
Gensler has been one of the most underrated Hobey candidates over the past two seasons, but the Falcons’ success in Atlantic Hockey this year has helped the Missouri native gain notice. With 15 goals and 33 points already this season, he has become Bentley’s Division 1 career record holder in both categories.
Before Gensler racked up exactly 40 points in 35 games last year, no Falcon had posted consecutive seasons at, or above, that mark in D-1, so he is well on pace to make it a three-peat.
5. Kellen Jones
A member of another one of the nation’s terrific trios, Jones has been a force on the Bobcats’ top unit along with twin brother Connor and freshman sensation Sam Anas. Kellen has played in each of QU’s 27 games and is third to SLU’s Carey and Anas in the ECAC scoring race with a solid 31 points.
Much of Jones’ successive point production came in the beginning stages of the season as he chalked up points in nine of the first 11 games, including a game-winner over UMass Lowell. The speedy winger (or, very possibly, one of his dynamic mates) will look to make it two consecutive Hobey finalists after goaltender Eric Hartzell advanced to the final three last year.
4. Connor Hellebuyck
The River Hawks rode Hellebuyck to the Hockey East title and a Frozen Four berth last season, but local boy Doug Carr (Hanover, Mass.) has established himself again in his senior season to create quite a tandem for a team poised to return deep into postseason play. Over seven games from Dec. 28 to Jan. 18, UML lost just once, with Hellebuyck making three starts, going 2-0-1 and allowing just four goals in that stretch.
Hellebuyck has the slight edge in a body of work as his save percentage and goals-against are in the nation’s top three through 13 starts. Carr, who was incredible as a sophomore before taking a dip last year, was 2-1-1 in between with both wins coming over a solid ECAC club in Clarkson.
3. Ryan Haggerty
His numbers might not be as staggering as those of Gaudreau or Carey, but Nutmeg State native Haggerty (Stamford, Conn.) has made up for it with balance in a breakout third year with the Engineers. Most impressive is a fantastic start to the season, which included multi-goal outings in three of RPI’s first four games, including a pair of strikes in a road win over BU.
The former member of the U.S. National Team Development Program scored just seven goals in 35 games as a rookie and has surpassed his ECAC-best 18-goal and 26-point total from a season ago through just 20 games.
2. Greg Carey
Gaudreau’s closest competitor for the national scoring lead for the majority of the campaign has been the Saints veteran out of Hamilton, Ont. Carey was a top-10 finalist for last year’s Hobey along with graduated teammate Kyle Flanagan, whose exit from the top line made way for Greg’s younger brother, Matt.
The elder Carey has been stellar for head coach Greg Carvel, having scored a national-best 21 of his 40 points with a man advantage, including 18 helpers. He has stepped up his game on the big stage, posting five points each in weekend sets against powers Maine and North Dakota.
1. Johnny Gaudreau
A Hobey Hat Trick finalist last season, Gaudreau, from Carneys Point, N.J., has been nearly unstoppable for the Eagles this year and likely will be among the final candidates for the prize again. Since being paired with seniors Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) and Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) on Dec. 6, his play has ratcheted up a notch, with nine goals and 23 points in a span of 10 games.
He has padded his national scoring lead over that stretch and has posted points in 24 of BC’s 25 games this year, including a stretch of 19 straight (18-22-40) through the close of January. If that was not impressive enough, he leads the nation with a plus-29 mark and is tied for the high mark with five game-winners.
Photos/Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal (Gaudreau, Jones, Hellebuyck); Mick Neal (Haggerty); Tara Freeman (Carey); Bentley (Gensler)