Providence, RI — Now that we have crossed the halfway point of the college hockey season, talk has begun to stir about which players deserve to be in the running for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award. Naturally, names that get thrown around are found either at the top of the scoring (Mike Vecchione/Spencer Foo, Union) or goaltending (Parker Gahagen, Army) leaderboards. However, amidst an overall disappointing season to date, Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese is having one of the best seasons in program history, and deserves to be firmly in the center of the Hobey Baker discussion.
The senior forward from Staten Island has been the central fixture in the Huskies’ offense this season, totaling 39 points in 22 games; his 1.77 points per game rate is third best in the country. He has scored 21 goals (most in the country by a margin of 3), tallied 18 assists, and 10 of his goals have come on the powerplay (also tops in the country). Aston-Reese also has 3 shorthanded goals and is tied for first in the nation in hat tricks, with 2.
At the present time, he is tied for 25th in Northeastern’s all-time scoring book, and conceivably could crack the Top 20 by season’s end. His 1.77 points per game pace, when extrapolated across a full season, would put his year in the top 10 seasons of all time at Northeastern. He is also within range of the single-season powerplay goals record, which is 14.
But beyond his success within Northeastern’s record books, Aston-Reese has been doing this against competition far stiffer than what his competitors have faced. Let’s compare the combined records of his opponents to those closest to him in scoring- Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo lead the nation with 41 points in 23 games, and we’ll also look at UNH’s Tyler Kelleher, who is second nationally with 40 points.
Opponents' Combined Record (Winning Percentage)
As the table shows, Vecchione, Foo, and Kelleher are putting up their numbers against far inferior competition compared to Aston-Reese. Eleven of Aston-Reese’s twenty-two games have come against teams that currently sit 20th or higher in the Pairwise. Meanwhile, Union has faced six Top 20 teams in their twenty-three games and UNH has faced four in their twenty-two games.
It’s also important to factor in each player’s combined opposing save percentage to this point in the season, which should give an indication as to the quality of goaltending each player has faced:
Opponents' Combined Save Percentage (saves/total shots allowed)
13556/15065 = 89.98%
13638/15166 = 89.92%
13286/14731 = 90.19
While the above table does not show as stark a contrast as the first, it does indicate that Aston-Reese has been facing better quality goaltending over the course of this season than the Union boys or Kelleher. Couple both of these charts, and I believe it is fair to say that Zach Aston-Reese is having the most impressive season out of any skater at the NCAA Division I level. Now, as Joe Gravellese of BC Interruption pointed out to me on Twitter, NU will likely need to go on a long winning spurt to aid Aston-Reese’s bid for the Hobey Baker, as it is very rarely given to players on teams with losing records. However, similar to seasons prior, the table is set for Northeastern to do just that:
Opponents' ROS Winning Percentage
Aston-Reese and Northeastern will face weaker competition in the second half of the season than they did in the first half, which should help Northeastern’s chances at winning more games and enable Aston-Reese to continue putting up points at his prolific pace. Union will face similarly mediocre competition the rest of the way, so we can expect to see Vecchione and Foo atop leaderboards, but again, the quality of their competition has to be taken into consideration when discussing their statistics. Kelleher has the most uphill climb, running into a buzzsaw of a second half schedule. If he can maintain his pace through that schedule, he deserves to be in the Hobey Baker discussion.
However, at the end of the day, it is clear that Zach Aston-Reese has faced not only the hardest schedule so far of these four players, but also faced the better goaltending to this point. The fact that he is posting these numbers, against the competition he is facing, with the supporting cast he is leading, I think it is fair to say that Aston-Reese is having the most impressive season out of any skater in the NCAA. Aston-Reese looks to be headed directly into the Northeastern record books this season and, at this point, deserves to be among those mentioned as serious contenders for the Hobey Baker Award at season’s end.