2020 has been an odd year, to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly stopped the world, including all intercollegiate athletics. The virus stopped the college hockey season right as conference tournaments were getting underway. Now, for the first time since 1947, no team will be named National Champion.
However, just because the biggest prize in college hockey has been nixed, the biggest individual award will still be handed out. The Hobey Baker Award has been given to the best college hockey player since 1981. This year there are three talented juniors who have staked their claim on why they should be named the most outstanding player in college hockey.
Last month, the Hobey Baker Award Memorial Award Committee named ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. The seven that were omitted include Marc Michaelis and Dryden McKay (Minnesota State University), Morgan Barron (Cornell University), Jason Cotton (Sacred Heart University), Jack Dugan (Providence College), John Leonard (University of Massachusetts), and David Farrance (Boston University).
McKay is also nominated for the Mike Richter Award for the nation’s top goaltender.
Jeremy Swayman (University of Maine)
Another Mike Richter Award nominee, Jeremy Swayman saw more pucks than anyone else in 2019-20. The Boston Bruins prospect stopped 1,099 of the 1,170 shots he faced this season. That ended up being over 100 more stops than the man who finished second in the country in saves, University of Vermont’s Stefanos Lekkas, who made 973 saves this season.
Granted, Swayman only finished with an 18-11-5 record, but his play is what helped Maine finish fourth in Hockey East and No. 15 in the postseason national polls. The junior goaltender is one of a handful of netminders to have played in every game in the regular season, logging the second-most minutes behind Lake Superior State’s Mareks Mitens, playing over 2,060 minutes.
Swayman posted five 40-plus save performances, including a 48-save shutout against Providence to end the season on March 6. The Anchorage, Alaska-native also put together a five-game win streak that started in late-January that included a road sweep against Boston College and a win over Beanpot-champion Northeastern.
The Black Bear goaltender is the first player at his position to be named one of the final three finalists since Thatcher Demko was nominated back in 2016. Swayman also has the chance of being only the third goaltender to win the Hobey Baker Award, with the other two being Ryan Miller (2001, Michigan State University) and Robb Stauber (1988, University of Minnesota).
Scott Perunovich (University of Minnesota-Duluth)
One of the two nominees representing the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), Scott Perunovich was one of the most dominant defencemen in the NCAA this season. The St. Louis Blues’ 2017 draft pick finished tied for eighth in the country in points with Arizona State’s James Sanchez. Perunovich’s 40 points also put him second in the country in defencemen scoring behind David Farrance.
Perunovich was second in the NCHC in points this season, but led the conference in assists with 34 (also good for second in the entire NCAA). The Hibbing, Minnesota-native had two separate five-game point streaks this season, including a six-game point streak back in November that saw the junior put up 14 points, all of which being assists.
The Bulldogs’ blueliner registered 12 multi-point games this season, including 10 game-winning assists. Perunovich was just as lethal with the man advantage. Of his 40 points, 22 of which came on the power play, which was tied for the most in the NCAA.
He looks to become the ninth defencemen to ever win Hobey Baker, as well as the sixth Bulldog to win the award. If he does win, it will mark only the second time defencemen have won the award back-to-back, after Cale Makar won last year. The last time it happened was when Mark Fusco and former Bulldog Tom Kurvers won it back in 1983 and 1984, respectively.
Jordan Kawaguchi (University of North Dakota)
The other representative of the NCHC, the Fighting Hawks’ Jordan Kawaguchi stands out from his two counterparts as the only undrafted member of this year’s Hat Trick Finalists. Coming out of the British Columbia Hockey League, Kawaguchi came to North Dakota with a distinguished offensive prowess. However, only a few could have guessed how dominant of a collegiate player he would turn into.
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Kawaguchi scored a career-best 45 points in 33 games this season, finishing second in the country in points and third in points-per-game, averaging 1.36 points a night. Only Jack Dugan (Providence) scored more points this season in the NCAA. While he led the NCHC in points, the Abbotsford, B.C.-native finished sixth in the conference in goals with 15, and second in assists behind Perunovich with 30.
The North Dakota star also finished third in the NCHC in game-winning goals (6) and tied for third in plus-minus (plus-21). On four occasions this season, Kawaguchi registered a point in four-or-more consecutive games. This included a six-game point streak from Oct. 25 to Nov. 15 that saw him score three goals and eight assists. Kawaguchi followed that up with an eight-game point streak that went deep into February when he posted six goals and nine assists.
If Kawaguchi wins the Hobey Baker Award, he would become only the third North Dakota player to win the award. The other two were Ryan Duncan (2007) and Tony Hrkac (1987). Kawaguchi also looks to become the first winner from British Columbia since Jason Krog won it back in 1999.