As a conference, the WCHA has been pretty dominant when it comes to Hobey Baker voting in recent years. Conference members have won nine of the last 12 Hobey Bakers. Of course, that was the old WCHA, and all nine of those past winners played for schools that are no longer in the conference. The current schools in the WCHA only have two past Hobey winners to their credit: Brian Holzinger in 1995 and George McPhee in 1981, both from Bowling Green.
With a new conference comprised mostly of schools that draw very little media attention, it could be difficult for a player in the new WCHA to garner the type of recognition necessary to win the award. But the league does boast some very solid candidates that, under the right circumstances, have a good shot at being finalists, and being strongly considered for the award. Here they are:
1. Matt Leitner, Minnesota State
After scoring 47 points last year as a sophomore, Minnesota State's Matt Leitner heads into his junior campaign as one of college hockey's leading returning scorers. Only Nebraska-Omaha's Ryan Walters, Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau, and St. Lawrence's Greg Carey scored more points than Leitner last season and will be playing college hockey this year.
Leitner was the most dangerous player in the country last year on the power play. Manning the right point for the Mavericks with the man advantage, Leitner tallied 28 points, including 22 assists, both of which led the nation. He also made tremendous strides on the defensive side of the ice, earning some time on the Mavericks' penalty kill. If Leitner continues scoring at the pace he did last season, while leading the Mavericks to the type of season they had last year, earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, he may be the WCHA's best hope as a Hobey Baker candidate.
2. Ryan Carpenter, Bowling Green
Ryan Carpenter scored 18 goals and 15 assists last season as a sophomore; numbers that are very good, but relatively modest for a potential Hobey Baker candidate. But on a team that scored exactly 100 goals, Carpenter made up exactly one-third of his team's offense, which, percentage-wise, puts him in the same category as many other Hobey contenders(Last year's winner, Drew Leblanc, factored in 35% of his team's goals). The Falcons have slowly been rebuilding their program under head coach Chris Bergeron, and will be looking to take a big step forward this season. If they can do so, it will likely be in part because of a big contribution from Carpenter
3. Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
Stephon Williams had a superb freshman season. He finished third in the WCHA in overall goals against average (2.00) and save percentage(.924), won the WCHA's Rookie of the Year award, and was selected by the New York Islanders in this summer's NHL Draft.
There's no reason to believe that Williams can't maintain, or even improve on his stellar numbers this year, especially as he moves from a conference where teams averaged 2.92 goals per game last year, to a conference where teams averaged just 2.37 goals per game last year.
The Hobey has traditionally been a tough award for goalies to win, but if Williams puts together an impressive statistical season, and leads his team to an impressive performance in the WCHA, he'll likely be looked at as a candidate.
4. Alex Petan, Michigan Tech
Nobody seemed to notice last year, but Michigan Tech's Alex Petan was quietly one of the most dangerous rookie forwards in the WCHA, tallying 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points, tying him with Minnesota-Duluth's Tony Cameranesi and Austin Farley for second overall in rookie scoring, behind only red-shirt freshman Rocco Grimaldi.
Petan is a smaller, quicker forward that fits in well with the more up-tempo, offensive style of hockey that Michigan Tech is trying to move towards. Petan has excellent vision and passing ability, but also a deceptively heavy shot which makes him a threat to score.
5. CJ Motte, Ferris State
Ferris State has produced a number of very good collegiate goaltenders over Bob Daniels' tenure in Big Rapids, but none put up a better save percentage than Motte did last year, when he had a school best .927 save percentage.
The slower, more grinding style of play in the new WCHA seems like it could be a perfect fit for the Bulldogs, and could set Motte up to become a star in the new league.