The Frozen Four hits Boston next week with the semifinal on Thursday and the final on Saturday. In between those games, the Hobey Baker Award – the most prestigious individual accolade in college hockey – will be handed out.
As a member of the Boston University Terriers, NHL draft phenom Jack Eichel has a shot at winning the Frozen Four in his home state and taking home the Hobey Baker, but it's also possible the Terriers lose and he gets robbed for the award.
It seems inconceivable that a player so gifted and dominant could not be handed the Hobey, but it is possible. After all, when the Walter Brown Award for New England's best American-born college hockey player was handed out recently, it was Harvard's Jimmy Vesey getting the nod, not Eichel.
And I'm not knocking Vesey, an excellent player in his own right who will likely be in a Nashville Predators jersey sooner than later, but Eichel had more points and helped B.U. win the Beanpot tournament, while Harvard finished last in the all-Boston showdown. Vesey is also up for the Hobey, as is Bruins prospect goalie Zane McIntyre of North Dakota.
For some better insight on the Hobey, I canvassed a group of NCAA coaches from across the U.S. with a simple question: Will Jack Eichel win?
The answers ranged from unsure to adamantly yes. Here's the logic on both ends:
In the "unsure" camp, there are the folks who think Eichel will get ripped off because of his age and lack of tenure.
"I just think there's a group of voters out there who don't want to see a freshman win it," said one coach.
This is a big factor, as the award is almost always given to an upperclassman. In fact, the last time a freshman won the accolade was more than two decades ago, when another phenom from Hockey East stormed the stage in 1993. And that player's success has the other side of this debate thinking that Eichel will earn the crown.
"It's the Paul Kariya story all over again," said another coach.
While Eichel didn't put up the insane 100 points in 39 games that Kariya did, the Terriers star did lead the nation in scoring with 67 points in 38 games, while also helping linemate Evan Rodrigues improve from five goals and 14 points the year before Eichel came to town to 21 goals and 61 points this season.
Yes, the Terriers went through a harsh transition last season and there were injuries to deal with, but Eichel has been an incredible driver for them. They may go from a 10-21-4 record and a first-round conference playoff exit to Beanpot, Hockey East and national champs in the span of a season.
Plus, Eichel has managed to devote time to worthy causes outside of the arena – another factor in Hobey voting. Despite the fact his media demands are astronomically greater than any other college player this season, he has found time to mentor a brain cancer patient and get involved with Autism Speaks.
So who has the final say on the Hobey? There's a committee of 27 people who make the ultimate decision and they all serve three-year terms. Right now there are 12 media members (six print, six online), six coaches, three scouts and six officials – which can mean on-ice, like referees, or off-ice officials.
Now the decision is up to them. Will the "I Like Eich" campaign succeed, or will one of the older candidates take the stage instead?