Sensing his team’s disappointment at its loss to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko knew he needed to put the Huskies back into a positive frame of mind. The Monday after the defeat, he showed them a video of the entire game, while pointing out all the things they did well.
That stuck with them Saturday, as the Huskies faced No. 4-rated Notre Dame in their opening game of the NCAA tournament. After barely getting into the 16-team field, the Huskies pulled off the upset, overpowering the Irish 5-1 in the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio. St. Cloud State (24-15-1) won for only the second time in 11 NCAA tournament games and will play Miami (Ohio), a 4-0 winner over Minnesota State, Mankato, in Sunday’s regional final at the Huntington Center.
The Huskies, who shared the WCHA’s regular-season championship with the Gophers, are the only one of six WCHA teams left in the tournament. Yale defeated North Dakota 4-1 in the West Region final Saturday, a day after it beat the Gophers in the semifinals, and Denver and Wisconsin lost semifinal games Friday in the Northeast Regional.
“This is huge for our program,’’ said forward Ben Hanowski of Little Falls, who scored the Huskies’ first goal and assisted on Joey Benik’s game-winner at 9 minutes, 28 seconds of the second period. “[Sunday] is the biggest game in our program’s history.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted to in the Final Five. When we got into the tournament, it was a clean slate for us, a new life. It didn’t matter what seed we were.’’
St. Cloud State was seeded fourth in the Midwest Regional and 13th overall. The Huskies got scoring from three lines Saturday, including two goals and an assist from Benik—a freshman who played for St. Francis High School — and outshot the top-seeded Irish 23-18.
After claiming their first WCHA regular-season title in their last season in the league, the Huskies lost 4-1 to Wisconsin in the Final Five semifinals. Motzko said his team played well despite the outcome, a message he reiterated in recent days.
“We’ve been very consistent,’’ said Motzko, who has led the Huskies to four of their nine NCAA berths and both of their tournament victories. “The Final Five was an emotional loss for our guys, and we had to take the emotion out of it. We let them know they played great, and they just had to put it behind them.’’
On Saturday, Motzko also stressed the importance of a good start. Hanowski provided it with a goal at 11:32 of the first period, and Motzko said that gave the Huskies a dose of confidence. They took hold of a game that had been an evenly matched, up-and-down affair, outshooting Notre Dame 7-3 in the second period and scoring three goals in a span of 5:25.