The candidates for NCAA Hockey’s most prestigious award have been announced. The Hobey Baker Award is given out annually to the league’s top player. The ten candidates, which include four current NHL prospects, are chosen in the first phases of balloting by the 60 Division I Men’s Ice Hockey coaches in the NCAA as well as from fan balloting online. The “Hobey Hat Trick” (the three finalists), which is chosen by the selection committee (comprised of college hockey personnel, pro scouts and members of the media covering college hockey) in addition to the online fan balloting, will be announced on March 31st. The winner of the Hobey Baker Award will be announced on April 9th during the Frozen Four Tournament in Boston. The following is a look at each candidate. All stats and notes are for the 2003-04 regular season only unless otherwise noted.
Keith Ballard, D
(Junior, University of Minnesota)
Originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2002, First Round, 11th Overall. Current NHL rights held by the Phoenix Coyotes.
When last season’s standout defenseman Paul Martin left Minnesota early to jump up to the pro ranks, there was little doubt as to who the Golden Gophers’ next go-to defenseman would be. What a job Ballard has done this season, becoming the glue that holds the Minnesota Golden Gophers together this season. As team captain, his leadership has become invaluable to say the least. Ballard went down with a knee injury back on October 24th in the game versus in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth. In the seven games he missed as a result, the Golden Gophers struggled mightily without his services, winning only one game in that stretch. He has played nearly the entire season with sophomore Chris Harrington. The two made up arguably the nation’s best and most feared blueline tandem. The versatile Ballard led all WCHA defensemen in scoring this season with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists). His 31 points along with his 1.00 points per game ranked him second in the nation among defensemen in each category. In addition to his offensive capabilities, Ballard is also excellent and aggressive defender, usually going up against the best opposing forwards. One of his greatest attributes however is his ultra-competitive nature. Ballard’s best offensive performance of the season came back on January 17th in Minnesota’s 10-3 win over Minnesota State-Mankato, where he notched two goals and one assist in the game. One of his most memorable weekend series of the season came back on November 21st and 22nd where he helped the Golden Gophers to a sweeping win over the visiting Michigan Tech Huskies. The series marked his return to action from his knee injury and earned him WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
While his collegiate career was going smoothly, Ballard’s NHL rights changed hands twice in a span of nine months. Back on July 3, 2003 his rights were traded to the Colorado Avalanche that sent former Wisconsin Badger Steve Reinprecht to the Buffalo Sabres. More recently on March 9th his rights were traded again. The Phoenix Coyotes became the newest recipient of Ballard’s NHL rights in the trade that sent center Chris Gratton to the Colorado Avalanche.
Brandon Bochenski, RW
(Junior, University of North Dakota)
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2001, Seventh Round, 223rd Overall.
If Bochenski can do in Ottawa in the future what he is doing now at North Dakota, his late round draft selection will go down as perhaps one of the biggest steals in a recent NHL Entry Draft. Bochenski became arguably the nation’s best sniper on one of the nation’s most exciting lines to watch this season. Bochenski, along with freshman Brady Murray (LA) and sophomore Zach Parise (NJ) makeup North Dakota’s potent “Brady Bunch” line. While his numbers this season were slightly off from last season’s, they are still impressive. He co-led the nation in scoring this season with 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists). Bochenski and Niagara University junior Barret Ehgoetz were the only players in the nation to hit the 50-point plateau this season. He finished second in the nation in points per game (1.43), tied for fifth in goals scored, sixth in goals per game (0.66) and tied for eighth in assists. Bochenski was one of only five Fighting Sioux players to play in every regular season game this season. He had his best performance of the season back on January 9th in North Dakota’s 6-2 win over Alaska-Anchorage. Bochenski scored a season-high four goals of which three came on the power play. The performance garnered him one of his two WCHA Player of the Week honors this season.
Yann Danis, G
(Senior, Brown University)
The Saint Jerome, Quebec native capped an outstanding career with an outstanding season for the Brown University Bears. This season, Danis helped lead the Bears to a second place finish in the ECAC going into the conference playoffs as well as led them to a share of the Ivy League Championship title with Cornell. Danis has posted excellent numbers this season that garnered him Ivy League Player of the Year honors. The workhorse goaltender has started in 28 of Brown’s 29 games this season. He finished the season with a 15-9-5 overall record that included five shutouts. Furthermore, he led the ECAC in virtually every goaltending category. Danis finished the season with a .946 save percentage (second in the nation) and 1.70 goals against average (fourth in the nation). In Brown’s season finale win over Vermont, he tied a school record for most career wins with 43. This season he also set a new Brown school record for single-season shutouts (5), single season saves (1,043) and consecutive wins at home (10). His .930 career save percentage is third best in league history to only Ken Dryden’s .939 and David LeNeveu’s .938. Danis’ best outing of the season came in the month of January into the first half February where he went 5-0-1 that culminated in a 42 save effort to preserve a tie with conference rival Union College on February 13th.
Derek Edwardson, F
(Senior, University of Miami-Ohio)
The recently named CCHA Player of the Year has had an outstanding season helping to lead the Miami-Ohio RedHawks to a second place finish in the CCHA going into the conference playoffs. Edwardson led Miami and finished second overall in the CCHA in scoring with 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists). His 17 goals tied him (with Michigan State’s Jim Slater) for first in the conference as well. Edwardson anchored one of the nation’s best lines this season. The RedHawks “Aces and Eights” line that includes freshmen Matt Christie and Marty Guerin (LA) combined for 103 points this season. Edwardson is a small player (5’9”/180 lbs.) that is quick and shifty, making him a difficult player to contain. He possesses great playmaking abilities and is an excellent passer. Edwardson’s best performance of the season came back on October 10th in Miami’s 8-3 win over Michigan. In that game, he notched a career high five points that included a hat trick. The performance also garnered him his first of two CCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors. Edwardson was also named to CCHA All-Conference First Team.
Junior Lessard, RW
(Senior, University of Minnesota-Duluth)
While much of the WCHA attention focused on the likes of Minnesota and North Dakota, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs quietly put together an impressive season led by outstanding senior and assistant team captain Junior Lessard. Lessard came into his senior season with a very different perspective after nearly drowning in Lake Superior this past summer. Lessard led the Bulldogs to an impressive second place finish in the hotly contested WCHA going into the conference playoffs. He led the Bulldogs in scoring with 48 points (23 goals, 25 assists). His 48 points was also third in the nation in that category. Lessard is a strong and aggressive player who possesses some great hands. Where his play really stands out is around the net and along the boards. Lessard had his best outing of the season back on October 31st and November 1st in the weekend series versus Alaska-Anchorage. He amassed seven points that included a hat trick in the Bulldogs’ sweep of the Seawolves. His performance earned him the second of his three WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors during the regular season.
Zach Parise, C
(Sophomore, University of North Dakota)
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2003, First Round, 17th Overall.
Arguably NCAA Hockey’s current best all-around player, Parise has once again made quite a statement for the Hobey Baker this season at North Dakota. Parise managed to put up some excellent numbers this season despite battling a knee injury back in October as well as missing games due to his participation in the World Junior Championships in Finland for Team USA. He finished second in team scoring with 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists). His 41 points also tied him for ninth in the nation in that category. Parise had an outstanding performance for North Dakota back on October 31st versus Yale, where he netted a hat trick and an assist. He earned WCHA Player of the Week honors twice this season. The first came back on January 19th and the second two weeks later. Parise saved his best performance of the season thus far for the World Junior Championships, where he led Team USA to its first ever Gold-Medal. Parise amassed 11 points (five goals, six assists) and earned MVP honors. While much has been written and said about Parise’s exceptional skill and talent level, one area that isn’t mentioned as much is the mental aspect of his game. His exceptional hockey smarts and the way he thinks the game is like no other and perhaps is one of the greatest reasons why he is so dangerous to play against.
Thomas Pöck, D
(Senior, University of Massachusetts)
If finesse could ever describe an NCAA defenseman, then Thomas Pöck (pronounced “poke”) is most likely to fit the description. The centerman turned offensive defenseman led UMass in every offensive category this season. Pöck also led the nation with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists), points per game (1.03) and goals (14) among defensemen. In addition to points, Pöck also led the Minutemen in power play goals with nine. An exceptionally smooth skater with great speed and acceleration, he has no trouble keeping up with opposing forwards. While much has been written and said about Pöck’s offensive abilities, his defensive abilities are quite good as well. Pöck had his best performance of the season back on December 28th in the game versus host Vermont in the Sheraton/Bank North Holiday Classic Tournament. His performance earned him the first of two Hockey East Player of the Week honors. He also earned Defensive Player of the Week honors back on November 10th after a stellar performance in the weekend series versus Merrimack.
Steve Saviano, F
(Senior, University of New Hampshire)
The diminutive Wildcats forward looks to finally be getting the credit that has long been overdue to him. Team captain and arguably the heart and soul of the Wildcats team this season plays a lot bigger than his 5’8”/170 lbs. frame. He led the Wildcats and Hockey East in scoring this season with 45 points (26 goals, 19 assists). Saviano also finished eighth in the nation in points per game (1.25) and finished tied for first in the nation with Boston College’s Tony Voce in goals and goals per game (0.72). Saviano, along with juniors Justin Aikins (CBJ) and Sean Collins (COL) made up one of the most consistently offensive threats in the nation. All three players finished as the New Hampshire’s top points getters. Saviano is a player who possesses quickness, along with excellent passing and playmaking abilities. Perhaps his best attributes are his hockey smarts and his great work ethic. He is one player that could be depended upon to give 110 percent every game. Saviano’s best performance of the season came back on January 23rd in New Hampshire’s 9-1 win over of Merrimack, where he notched four goals and one assist. The performance also earned him Hockey East Co-Player of the Week.
Jim Slater, C
(Junior, Michigan State University)
Drafted in 2002 by the Atlanta Thrashers, First Round, 30th Overall
The Atlanta Thrashers’ 2002 first round selection has become Michigan State’s ‘Mr. Everything’ this season. Slater played in every game for MSU this season and led the CCHA in points with 45 (17 goals, 28 assists). His 45 points also rank him tied for fifth in the nation as well. He recently garnered MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors at the recent Spartans Hockey Awards. In addition, he was named to the CCHA All-Conference first team for the second year in a row. Slater has played much of the season with fellow junior Mike Lalonde and freshman Tom Goebel. The trio made for one of the nation’s most effective line combinations this season. Slater is an excellent example of a complete player. He is solid in many facets of the game both offensively and defensively. An area where the Spartans team captain made vast improvements in this season was his leadership skills. Slater’s lead by example and take charge stance has paid huge dividends for the Spartans this season. He has also stepped up the physical side of his game as well. Slater has his best performance of the season in MSU’s 8-5 win over conference rival Western Michigan on October 25th, where he notched five points (two goals, three assists) that ties his career best single-game points production. The performance also earned Slater the first of his three CCHA Offensive of the Week honors this season. Most recently, he was named the CCHA’s Player of the Month for the month of February.
Tony Voce, LW
(Senior, Boston College)
Voce is the little guy who has become Boston College’s big time player this season. The feisty left wing led all Eagles players in points this season with 40 (26 goals, 14 assists). His 26 goals also co-led the nation this season as well. The first half of the season saw Voce on a torrid scoring pace that included three hat tricks before the Holiday Break. While he didn’t amass any hat tricks in the second half of the regular season, he continued to be the Eagles’ top sniper. He played throughout the season on a line with the Eaves brothers. The trio, when together wreaked havoc on opposing defenders and goaltenders. Despite seeing playing time with a variety of different linemates, Voce was the model of offensive consistency all season long. Voce is excellent on faceoffs as well as in front of the net. What he lacks in size (5’8”/185 lbs.) he more than makes up for with his outstanding offensive skills and explosive speed. Voce had perhaps his best outing of the season back on December 5th against archrival Boston University, where he netted his third hat trick of the season as well as notching an assist. The performance earned him the second of his two Hockey East Player of the Week honors this season.