Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ECAC Awards: A Not So Early Look at Contenders

With just three weekends left in the regular season, it's no longer too early to start pontificating about the yearly ECAC awards. While there's still plenty of time for the likely candidates to gain separation from each other, these are the candidates that we see as most likely to be among the favorites.

Player of the Year
Last RPI winner: Marc Cavosie, 2002
Last year: Zane Kalemba, Princeton

F David McIntyre, sr, Colgate
F Blake Gallagher, sr, Cornell
F Chase Polacek, jr, RPI
G Kain Tisi, sr, St. Lawrence
F Mario Valery-Trabucco, sr, Union
F Broc Little, jr, Yale

Always the most anticipated of the year's awards, the Player of the Year can be interpreted as the league MVP, and among the best six teams in the ECAC, there are fairly clear cut arguments for each of these guys as, at the very least, the MVP of their respective teams.

McIntyre is tied for fifth in the league in scoring with 8 goals and 11 assists. He plays on one of the most potent lines in the ECAC (alongside sophomore Austin Smith and junior Brian Day), and is the only listed candidate who was a consensus preseason All-ECAC selection.

Gallagher has 11 goals and 12 assists as the top scorer for league leading Cornell. He is part of a formidable one-two punch alongside fellow senior Colin Greening and has proven to be nothing short of deadly on the power play - 8 of his 11 league goals have come on the man advantage, by far the league leader in that statistic.

Polacek has scored in bunches all season long, leading the ECAC with 16 assists, 26 points, 13 power play points, and 5 shorthanded points. His 41 total points have him one point off the national lead in scoring.

Tisi has been the most important player for the Saints this season, establishing himself as the clear top goaltender on the team for the first time in his four years as the anchor of the 3rd rated defense in the ECAC. His 1.86 GAA and .934 save percentage are the best numbers put up in Canton since Eric Heffler and Derek Gustafson.

Valery-Trabucco leads the ECAC with 14 goals and is 2nd in scoring with 25 points. Along with linemate Jason Walters, he is on pace to finish his career in Schenectady among the top 10 point scorers in Union history.

Little, a Third Team All-ECAC selection last year, leads Yale's top rated offense in scoring with 13 goals and 6 assists despite the return of three other All-ECAC teammates from last season.

There have only been two forwards in the last six seasons to win Player of the Year - St. Lawrence's T.J. Trevelyan in 2006 and Princeton's Lee Jubinville in 2008. In both cases, the forwards in question topped the league in scoring. That would seem to put Polacek and Valery-Trabucco in the driver's seat. The recent goaltenders who have won - Yann Danis, David McKee, and Kalemba - led the league in GAA and save percentage. That would point toward Tisi. I'll go with the homer pick right now; with Polacek right at the top of the national scoring figures, he'd be a solid choice.

Rookie of the Year
Last RPI winner: George Servinis, 1983
Last year: Jody O'Neill, Dartmouth

D Nick D'Agostino, Cornell
F Louis Leblanc, Harvard
F Jerry D'Amigo, RPI
F Brandon Pirri, RPI
G Keith Kinkaid, Union

D'Agostino is pretty clearly the top freshman defenseman in the league - in fact, he's one of the top defensemen period on the team that sits atop the league standings (by winning percentage). Kinkaid has only one real competitor for best freshman goaltender in the league (Yale's Nick Maricic), and his numbers, across the board, have been better. Kincaid has also been a major part of Union's success this season, earning the lion's share of the time in net for the Dutchmen.

Then there are the three forwards who are, by far, the best freshmen in the league, both by numbers and by reputation. Leblanc is the league's only 1st round draft pick this season, and he's practically taken the Crimson on his back. With 10 league goals, he has 4 more than any other freshman in the ECAC (interestingly enough, 2nd place is RPI's Marty O'Grady), and is 2nd in freshman scoring. D'Amigo is the rock star of the group, having starred in the USA's gold medal victory in the World Junior Championship, and has the numbers to back up his star power in the ECAC: 5 goals and 10 assists, good for third in the league. Pirri, meanwhile, has 18 assists, which would be enough to put him in the league lead in freshman scoring on its own, but his 3 ECAC goals gives him 21 total points, which is good for 4th in overall league scoring. Nationally, his 35 points have him tops among freshman (by 3), a full 16 points ahead of Leblanc and 12 points ahead of his sometimes linemate D'Amigo.

This is an open race, but I believe it'll come down to D'Amigo, Leblanc, and Pirri. Based on the numbers, Pirri should be the favorite (and a potential National Rookie of the Year nominee), but he's not the "household name" that D'Amigo and Leblanc are. D'Amigo's WJC exploits and Leblanc's draft experience shouldn't play a role, but their numbers are significant enough to be legitimate candidates and the voters will probably consider those aspects. It's honestly a complete tossup.

Coach of the Year
Last RPI winner: None (first awarded 1987)
Last year: Keith Allain, Yale

Seth Appert, RPI
Joe Marsh, St. Lawrence
Nate Leaman, Union

Coach of the Year usually goes either to the coach of the most clearly dominant team or the coach of the most surprising or most improved team. With no clearly established dominant team this season, the likely candidates are those who have their teams on the rise. Appert, in his fourth year at RPI, has the Engineers contending for a first-round bye despite being selected 8th by the coaches and 10th by the media. Marsh, a four-time ECAC Coach of the Year, is in a similar position after the Saints were picked 7th by the media and 10th by his peers. Leaman has had the Dutchmen at or very near the top of the ECAC standings all season long for the first time in the history of the program after a predicted 6th place finish by both the coaches and the media.

Leaman's team combines the domination aspect with the surprising aspect. Barring a slow ending, I'd be hard pressed to say he wasn't the favorite at this point.

Best Defensive Defenseman
Last RPI winner: None (awarded from 1962-67 and since 1993)
Last year: Matt Generous, St. Lawrence

Corbin McPherson, so, Colgate
Nick D'Agostino, fr, Cornell
Alex Biega, sr, Harvard
Peter Child, so, St. Lawrence
Mike Schreiber, sr, Union
Jimmy Martin, jr, Yale

The name is partially misleading - quite often the winner of this award is among the best scoring - that is, offensive - defensemen in the league. But quite often, the two go hand in hand. In this case, one of the best defensive defensemen in the league also leads the league in scoring from a defenseman: Union senior Mike Schreiber. He's got 4 goals and 10 assists, but also boasts a +9 plus/minus (teammate Brock Matheson is +13, but he was +7 in an 11-2 pasting of Clarkson last week. Bit of an outlier). Alex Biega (+4, 7 points) is another solid defenseman with the ability to score, and the reputation to be a solid contender.

McPherson may be the best example of an outstanding purely defensive defenseman - he leads the Colgate blueline by far at +11 with only 4 points. Child is similar; +9 with 6 points. Sometimes, guys like this don't get noticed as much D'Agostino (+10, 9 points).

The situation at Yale is interesting here. Yale's most notable defenseman, according to conventional wisdom, is senior Thomas Dignard, who's 4th in the league in scoring among D-men with 12 points. That's pretty solid, but even with all those points, he's sporting a -4 rating, dead last among Bulldog defensemen. Jimmy Martin and senior Ryan Donald are paired with matching +8 ratings, among the best in the league. If we're going by the "defensive defensemen" name, they're better candidates.

By name, McPherson should be a very solid contender, but Schreiber's combination of offense and defense is likely to make him the favorite.

Best Defensive Forward
Last RPI winner: None (first awarded 1993)
Last year: Tyler Mugford, Cornell

Matt Firman, so, Colgate
Sean Collins, so, Cornell
Corey Tamblyn, so, Clarkson
Jacob Drewiske, so, St. Lawrence
Jonathan Lareau, sr, Union

I'm going to be brutally honest - this is a tough category to evaluate unless you've gotten a good, solid look at each team in the conference, which I haven't. So I did the next best thing. I took a quick peek at the plus/minus numbers for forwards and accounted for forwards whose high numbers came from their own high scoring or playing on a top scoring line, and these are the names I came up with. They could be off base, I'm not sure. Tamblyn is an interesting case - his plus/minus for the season so far as a forward is -2, but that is in stark contrast to most of the regularly playing forwards on his team, including a number of common linemates whose minus number is well into the double digits. Clarkson is dead last in team defense in the ECAC, but the numbers would indicate that it possibly could be worse if not for Tamblyn. The other nominees have put up solid plus numbers playing on second, third, or fourth lines for top teams.

Ken Dryden Award
Last RPI winner: Joel Laing, 2000
Last year: Zane Kalemba, Princeton

Ben Scrivens, sr, Cornell
Kain Tisi, sr, St. Lawrence

There really aren't any other good candidates for the top goaltender in the league. Kalemba and Harvard's Kyle Richter, the last two Dryden winners, are having miserable seasons. The only other two that I could consider adding to the list are RPI's Allen York and Union's Keith Kincaid, but neither are close to the standard that Scrivens and Tisi are setting. Quinnipiac's Dan Clarke was an early favorite, but his numbers have fallen along with the Bobcats. This is absolutely a two-horse race, and right now I have to give the slight advantage to Tisi given his superior save percentage. The knock on Scrivens is the same knock that several consecutive goaltenders at Cornell have had to endure - that his numbers are a function of the Big Red's system. If Scrivens' numbers pull past Tisi's significantly, he can take this, but if they stay as close as they are now, it should probably go to Tisi.

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