Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko reminesced about the Huskies' season on his final weekly radio show of the season on Monday.
He said everybody was real down after SCSU's 4-1 loss to Quinnipiac last Thursday in the Frozen Four semifinals.
But the mood of the team changed a bit the next day when senior co-captain Drew LeBlanc was named the winner of the Hobey Baker Award the next day.
He said the chair of the Hobey Baker committee called him on Monday and said that picking a Hobey winner is always difficult when it gets down to three players, but there is always a moment afterward which validates the vote.
The validation for LeBlanc, the committee chair said, came at the ceremony. All his teammates came down from the stands and joined LeBlanc up front and that never happens.
"It was a great accomplishment. ... And that validated that the right decision was made," Motzko said, recalling what the committee chair told him. "It was a great group of guys to be around."
Who wanted the share the moment with one of their leaders.
Motzko said the team started coming together after the holidays last season and carried over into last summer's training. "A lot of times when your season has ended, you are glad it is ended," Motzko said. "This year you wish you could get started again ... If we could keep playing, we would."
Then SCSU got swept by New Hampshire the first weekend of the regular season. "We were tied at the end of second period in both games," Motzko said.
But even though he had a new boss, Heather Weems, he was not afraid to predict the Huskies would do will. "I said we are going to make noise before the season is over," Motzko said.
He said the Huskies needed three things to happen and they all did:
* LeBlanc had to come back strong from his injury, a broken leg
* the Huskies' freshmen had to score goal -- they did, especially Jonny Brodzinski with 22
* and goalie Ryan Faragher had to take the next step in getting better
The Huskies, who tied the Gophers for the MacNaughton Cup, were only swept in a series once more the rest of the season.
And SCSU cleaned up on postseason awards:
* LeBlanc, besided the Hobey, was named the Player of the Year in the WCHA and the Scholar-Athlete in the conference, and a first team All-American
* Nick Jensen also was named a first team All-American and the Defensive Player of the Year in the WCHA
* Motzko was one of two runners-up for national coach of the year
* Sophomore forward Brooks Bertsch received the NCAA 89 Award for having the best GPA among players in the Frozen Four
LATE START FLUMMOXED HUSKIES
But the season came to an abrupt end in Pittsburgh. Quinnipiac scored two goals in the first five minutes and in the 12th minute took a 3-0 lead.
"If we could just redo the first five-minute span to start that game," Motzko said. "After the overtime, we were thrown for a loop."
In the first game, Yale needed overtime to beat UMass-Lowell. So the second semifinal started late.A 60-minute wait was required between games.
"I just did not have them prepared or ready," Motzko said, referring to his players.
And now everything is changing.
LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski, his senior co-captains, both have signed contracts and are gone.
Motzko knew that was coming. His concern now is if any players with eligibility will leave early. The chief threats to do that are Jenson, forward Nic Dowd and defenseman Kevin Gravel, all juniors, and Faragher, a sophomore free agent.
"I met with a couple of them right away when the season ended," Motzko said. "I think we will get most of them back, and there is a chance we get all of them back. ... Now they are so emotional. And you don't want to make an emotional decision."
Motzko said entry-level NHL contracts are not that big unless you play in the NHL right away. And if that is the case, Motzko said, "if you are going to the NHL -- and I stole this from [Michigan coach' Red Berenson, we will drive you right to the airport."
But if a player is going to the ECHL or the AHL, "I don't get it," Motzko said.
"Even if Drew had not won the Hobey, he will never second guess his decision to come back," Motzko said. "And that is what I am pleased with ... It worked out pretty well for that young man and the university."
Next season the Huskies and five other WCHA teams will be in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. But Motzko said we got together with coaches from those teams he never talked about the NCHC. "It is like cheating on your wife," he said. "Now that [the WCHA season] is over. It is still hard to talk about it."
He expects the NCHC to be tough and balanced. "I anticipate at Christmas, there will be eight teams that are 8-8, we are going to beat tar out of each. ... We all better get used to .500 records. ... We have to find ways to survive it to get into the NCAA tournament."
The Huskies are playing Bemidji State in a nonconference series next season and, Motzko said, he hopes to get Minnesota State Mankato back on the Huskies' schedule in future seasons.
SCSU will also play the Gophers on the first day of the all-Minnesota teams tournament at the Xcel next season. They will meet in the second game.
The tournament will be on the weekend before the Super Bowl
"Fans can pre-book trips to St. Paul," Motzko said, which they can't for the Final Five until the weekend right before. "This could turn out to be a big-time event . ... We can plan alumni events."
The Huskies have at least five recruits coming in for next season. They are:
* Goalie Charlie Lundgren. He was 35-14-2 (last column is OT losses) for Sioux Falls in the UHSL with a 2.80 GAA. He said he will compete with Faragher for the starting job, which is good.
"Competition is the greatest motivator there is in sports," Motzko said.
* Defensman Ben Storm, 6-6, 213, plays for Muskegon. One of his assistants told Motzko that Storm recently had a Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal, an assist and a fight. "He's a big kid who is developing," Motzko said. "He has got a mean streak, but he has some game."
* Forward Judd Peterson (11-15--26) played for Cedar Rapids of the USHL this season. "He had a terrific career at Duluth Marshall," Motzko said. "He can skate, and it's been a very good year for him."
* Forward Ryan Papa has played for Waterloo of the USHL, a team with the top three scorers in the league. "Waterloo is stacked with some high-end forwards," Motzko said, so Papa didn't get as much chance on power plays as he could have elsewhere. His numbers: 21-20--41.
* Center Daniel Tedesco led the Toronto Lakeshore players in scoring (29-32--61) in 49 regular-season games in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
SCSU fans have been invited to come to the National Hockey Center at 5 p.m. Wednesday to celebrate the Huskies' impressive season.
The Chicago Black Hawks agreed to terms with LeBlanc on a one-year contract, it was announced Saturday.
LeBlanc, 23, had 13 goals and 37 assists for 50 points in 42 games this season.
He led the nation in assists and tied for seventh in overall scoring. LeBlanc set career highs in points, goals and assists, and tied his career-best in game-winning goals with three.
He is a 6-pound, 195-pound center who played high school hockey for Hermantown.
LeBlanc will report to Chicago and wear number 14.
CCM HOCKEY ALL-AMERICAN HOCKEY TEAM
Chosen by the American Hockey Coaches Association
West - First
G - Brady Hjelle, SR, The Ohio State University (International Falls, MN)
D - Nick Jensen, JR, St. Cloud State University (Rogers)
D - Jacob Trouba, FR, University of Michigan (Rochester, MI)
F - Austin Czarnik, SO, Miami University (Washington, MI)
F - Danny Kristo, SR, University of North Dakota (Eden Prairie)
F - Drew LeBlanc, SR, St. Cloud State University (Hermantown, MN)
East - First
G - Eric Hartzell, SR, Quinnipiac University (White Bear Lake)
?D - Nick Bailen, SR, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Fredonia, NY)
D - Chad Ruhwedel, JR, UMass Lowell (San Diego, CA)
D - Trevor van Riemsdyk, SO, University of New Hampshire (Middletown, NJ)
F - Kyle Flanagan, SR, St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY)
F - Johnny Gaudreau, SO, Boston College (Carneys Point, NJ)
F - Steven Whitney, SR, Boston College (Reading, MA)
East - Second
G - Jon Gillies, FR, Providence College (South Portland, ME)
D - Shayne Gostisbehere, SO, Union College (Margate, FL)
D - George Hughes, SR, St. Lawrence University (Westwood, MA)
F - Greg Carey, JR, St. Lawrence University (Hamilton, ON)
F - Mike Collins, JR, Merrimack College (Boston, MA)
F - Andrew Miller, SR, Yale University (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
West - Second
G- Juho Olkinuora, SO, University of Denver (Helsinki, Finland)
D- Dan DeKeyser, JR, Western Michigan (Clay Township, MI)
D- Nate Schmidt, JR, University of Minnesota (St. Cloud, MN)
F- Corban Knight, SR, University of North Dakota (High River, AB)
F- Anders Lee, JR, University of Notre Dame (Edina)
F- Ryan Walters, JR, University of Nebraska Omaha (Rosemount)
Yale was the No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs/Elis only got in because Notre Dame beat Michigan in the CCHA title game. Otherwise, the Wolverines would have made it.
But once given new life, the lads from New Haven, Conn., have played like the best team in the country. They dominated UMass Lowell (no hypher, sir), the pride of Hockey East. They have made mish-mash out of the WCHA, going 4-0 against a league which had six teams in the NCAA tournament.
And tonight they will win their first NCAA title. Why not? Makes for a better story.
Don't always agree with what Don Lucia says, but before the tournament he said something like, if this tournament were played four or five times, there would be four or five different winners.
No. 1 seed Quinnipiac was the favorite going in -- at least on paper and in the PairWise computer rankings -- and the Bobcats have not disappointed those nuts and bolts, or should I say bytes and chips.
The Qs are also 3-0 vs. down-the-block Yale. Both institutions of higher learning are on Whitney Av., under eight miles apart. Q is in Hamden, Conn., Yale in New Haven.
They met for the first time at the Ingalls Rink in New Haven to a standing room only crowd. Yale got up 2-0 but lost 6-2.
Their second meetig was at High Point Solutions Arena in Hamden. Q got up 3-0 in first period -- just like they did against St. Clouod State in national semis -- and won 4-1. What was the score vs. the Huskies?
Their third meeting was in the ECAC consolation game. Imagine that. The Qs won 3-0 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
So now they will meet for a fourth time, in a fourth new place. In Pittsburgh in Consul Energy Center. The Elis/Bulldogs just want to get the game into OT. They are 6-0-3 in overtimes this season.
Q is 4-0-1 vs. Yale in their past five meetings and has outscored its neighbor 13-3 this season. None of that matters, of course. This is not a total-goal series. So this is a tossup game.
Maybe nobody west of Pittsburgth wil watch this neighborhood feud game, but it's interesting two teams with little Froze Four experience and no NCAA titles are meeting for the big prize.
Probably good for the sport of hockey in the long run. Shows other middle-of-the-pack, non-marquee teams that it can be done. Anybody can make the Frozen Four with so much parity in the sport.
* The University of Connecticut, a third Division I hockey program in that state is moving from the ECAC -- Q's and Yale's conference -- to more prestigious Hockey East in 2014-15.
On Wednesay, St. Cloud State's coach and several key players faced the media. Wish you were there? Me, too. But here is a transcript of the Huskies' news conference:
THE MODERATOR: Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome, and we'll start as we have with some opening thoughts from those with us on the podium, and we'll start with Coach [Bob] Motzko.
COACH MOTZKO: It's an understatement how excited we are to be here. It's a proud moment for our program. In a short history, we're not in our infancy as a Division I program, but we're teenagers going back to 1989-90 when we made the move to Division I. We've been in nine NCAA Tournaments and it's well-documented by all of our friends that we haven't done much in those eight previous by losing. But we've been darn close. [St. Cloud State was 1-9 in previous NCAA trips.]
We always talk about Craig Dahl's team in 2001, one of the best teams in the country that year. And a lot of people thought that was the best team in the country, and they get placed in Yost Arena and had to play Michigan. It's very [difficult] going to Yost and winning a hockey game.
In my time, this is our fourth time there, and we've got the right bunch of guys for St. Cloud State to punch the ticket and get through to this stage. We've got so many great followers in St. Cloud, with our alumni, our supporters and our fans, to see the excitement.
So it's been two-fold for me. The excitement with that group has been just tremendous, and with that week off, you really get to feel it. It's not a quick turnaround. It seems like that week takes a month to get here, but then I'm also so proud of these guys. We have a great group of guys that deserve to be here, and I'm awfully proud of them.
BEN HANOWSKI [senior co-captain, forward from Little Falls]: Like Coach said, we're just excited to be here. I think our guys are pumped up to play, obviously, in the Frozen Four, Thursday night and trying to get into the title game. I think we have the group that can do it if everything falls into place and we play a really good game on Thursday.
NICK JENSEN [defenseman of year in WCHA]: Yeah, obviously, Ben said it. We're really excited to be here. We're in kind of a unique situation, kind of got a second chance at this whole thing after the loss in the WCHA tournament. And probably not many people thought we were going to make it past the Regionals. [Huskies beat Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio).]
But I've never seen our team play better hockey in those two games all year. We're just going to continue to play the way we got here, and we're really happy we're here.
DREW LeBLANC [WCHA player of year, fifth-year senior center from Hermantown]: Well, the previous three kind of ate up all my material. But we're extremely proud to be here representing the city of St. Cloud, the university, our fans and students and everyone that's supported us along the way. They've been great to us all year long, and we kind of want to go out here and prove why we should be here and why we fit in out here.
Q. You guys are in a very similar position as Yale in that you kind of had to back your way into the tournament. Do you guys consider yourselves to be underdogs in this tournament? Do you enjoy that role, if you feel that way?
HANOWSKI: I don't think we're underdogs. Everyone at the Frozen Four, every team is a good team and high quality team. So I don't think we're an underdog here. Maybe in the Regional people thought we were, but we believed in our team. We were the regular season co-champs in the WCHA. So we're confident in our ability and we believed and we knew we could make it to Pittsburgh.
THE MODERATOR: Drew, are you an underdog?
LeBLANC: Well, I think everyone here is kind of in uncharted waters. Some of these four teams it will be their first time winning a National Championship. So no one has any previous experience really here; and like Ben said, we're here. We have a good team to be here, and we are excited to have a shot at winning this thing, that's for sure. Starts on Thursday though.
JENSEN: Yeah, I don't think our team thinks we're the underdogs, but we've been put in the underdog situation by everyone else. The guys have really embraced it though. I know we were considered underdogs going into the Regionals. Not saying the locker rooms are bad, but we got stuck in a split locker room. And after we won our first game, we were asked if we want to go to the big locker room, and we were like no, way. We're staying here. This is where we started and this is where we're going to finish it. The guys have embraced it and it shows the character of our team now.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, you're an underdog, I'm sure? Every coach would say they're an underdog, right?
COACH MOTZKO: Yeah, we have no business being here [laughing]. I got to make sure I word it correctly, because I don't know if I find it funny. But I'm always amused. We'll put it this way, College Hockey News and USCHO and our local newspaper and Twitter is how we follow it. So when they said these are the 16 teams in our tournament, everybody said it's a wide-open tournament this year and anybody can win. Then when we came through the regions, all the talk was well, the big names aren't there.
So it switches so quickly. It's anybody's tournament, then a week later, oh, shocking that these teams get through. So I don't know if it's underdog or not. I did learn a new lesson this week because I kept thinking as a coach, because you do get interviewed a lot, you have to come up with something new.
Well, people that know me know I can't come up with anything new. I'm not that quick. I just say the same thing over and over again. But the right teams are here. It's not the “named” teams aren't here. The “right” teams are here. Three of the teams won their conference championship, which is the best indication of what kind of season you put through. And Yale kicked the crap out of the WCHA going 4-0 this year. They went into CC and Denver, knocked them off, and knocked off North Dakota in Minnesota.
So, underdog, favorite, I think the right teams are here; and this thing is just like it was two weeks ago, a wide-open tournament. I believe that to stick with the theme from that week, it's still anybody's tournament.
Q. Bob, and maybe one of the players can talk about it too, making the run for the MacNaughton Cup. Obviously, it's a tough road as it is in any league. Did it take something out of your team? And how have you been able to build it up the last few weeks, especially in the Regionals and to get here?
COACH MOTZKO: No, it made us better. We coaches are spin doctors on all the stuff you throw at us. The question to me just the other day was: You were struggling at the end of the year, Coach. And did you feel like you got new life?
Well, at the end of the WCHA coming down the stretch, and I believe this to be true, there were six teams going for the league championship -- four points separated six teams. I mean, think of that. So, we were all playing each other. If you take a Stanley Cup playoff series, very few of them go 4-0, and you go, oh, boy, that team's hot.
You have to win the best 4 out of 7. So if you win 4 and lose 3, they're not saying, boy, you didn't play really good in that series, you survived it. That's what we did coming down the stretch in the WCHA. We were kicking the crap out of each other in a tough league. If you win a 5-3 stretch down the end, people, our good friends from USCHO, you're struggling.
We weren't struggling. We were surviving, and we were a nervous team. That's one thing we were coming down the stretch. We'd never been in that position before. I did think that we were nervous. We ended up winning and were able to battle through and win that series to win the MacNaughton Cup, and I think it made us a better hockey team.
Then I thought when we got into the NCAA Tournament, I kind of sensed they relaxed and the nervousness had left them. I think that was the biggest key going through the region. We had been through our nervousness, because every week that last three or four weeks to win the MacNaughton was stressful on our team because we had never been there before.
I think once you're programmed and you're there year after year, you learn to deal with it. But that was the first time for us. Then I found our team and sensed our team just settled in. And I'm hoping that two weeks later we can continue to be settled in and play good hockey.
JENSEN: Yeah, the MacNaughton, any league, the regular season championship, I think it's really underrated feat to accomplish. Most people say it's not how you do in the regular season, it's how you do in playoffs. But to go through the whole season weekend by weekend and continue to win and be at the top, I mean, in my mind and in my sight, that is one of the hardest things to do. A team can go all year losing and then turn it on in the playoffs. But to keep it going all regular season is one of the toughest things to do.
I really think that was a big thing for our team to accomplish, and I really think it led into the playoffs. I really think it helped.
Q. Drew, you want to talk about a potential match-up going against Eric Hartzell? And for Coach, this is a team that won 21 straight games at one time this year. Just talk about that challenge?
LeBLANC: Well, I think they've been ranked toward the top of the country all year for a reason. He's a big reason why. They obviously have a good team there. They play well defensively. Goaltending has been good, and they have a pretty solid group of forwards.
I know we've played them a couple times in the past couple of years, and they have a solid group there. So I don't know if it's as much of a match-up, so to say. I just think it's two good hockey teams on a big stage, playing a good hockey game. Hopefully that's what the fans get to see.
COACH MOTZKO: Breaking them down in the last handful of days or last week, they're as good on film. They deserve to be the No. 1 team in the country or No. 1-2 as they've been all year. Really impressed with the depth of their team. They've got us beat in older [players] -- they've got 17 upperclassmen, so maybe there is one of the key reasons they are on a 21-game streak that they just didn't buckle and withstood the tough challenges that our sport presents to them.
Eric Hartzell has to be given tons of credit. His numbers are just gaudy. He is a big, strong, athletic looking kid. I think their coach last week said he's the best player in the country, and they just have tremendous confidence as a hockey team - No. 1 or 2 in the country in defense led by a goaltender like that. So, you know, they're a program or a team this year that's had confidence, it sounds like all year long. They came back with all those veterans and expected to be there and wanted to be there.
We started the year wanting to be here, but we had to battle through the entire season and find out how good we could be and deal with a couple injuries, when Ben and [Joey] Benik went down, and we were a work in progress all year long. They've got that experience, and it's so well-deserving of that No. 1 rating they've had all year.
Q. This is for both Drew and Bob. What point of the season, guys, did you actually feel that this was a solid team, good team, and one that could qualify for the Frozen Four?
LeBLANC: Well, we knew coming into the year that we had a couple good seasons in place. We knew our defensive corps was good from the year before, and we knew Ryan Faragher, our goaltender, was very good as well.
So the only question mark we had was could we score goals. Our freshmen came in, and we had other scorers up front. But our freshmen came in and put a lot of pucks in the net for us. I think as the year went on, we started believing. We got in a hole down there for a couple weeks and had to play the waiting game.
Once we got in, like Coach was saying, it was just a sense of calmness and relaxed and we were ready for the moment. We were ready to take on the challenge. We knew we had to go out to Toledo and play two good hockey games, and we did that. We're a confident group coming in here to Pittsburgh, and hopefully get a chance to prove that.
COACH MOTZKO: I don't know if there was a moment that hit me. But I go back to one story. I started the year with a new athletic director, Heather Weems, and a new coach who wanted to make sure you get along with your new boss. We got swept in New Hampshire the first weekend of the year. New Hampshire is a great program. And I think it was the Monday we got back that we were talking, and I remember just saying, I really like this hockey team.
We were tied after two periods in both games. We lose on the road with only seven upperclassmen, and I said I'm not going to look into this. I really like this hockey team, and I knew that coming in. We just had a lot of areas that we liked. We liked our goaltending. We loved our defensive corps with Nick Jensen coming back. How could you not like the defensive four, and then Drew making the decision to come back? We had these freshmen.
But after a couple weeks of practice, we thought these freshmen are pretty darn good; and that's exactly what we talked about. More and more, it was like you just fell more and more in like with your team every day and we stayed very consistent. We took points every weekend the rest of the year except for one little hiccup right after Christmas.
We just seemed like a team that kept getting better and better through the entire season, outside of one little hiccup after Christmas, and we just kept hanging in there. We got better every time. If we had an area we had to improve on, either defense or back-checking, whatever the issue, these guys were just so easy to coach. It is one of the best group of guys that I've coached.
I said it last week in the regions. It was never a pushback. If you said something, they just grasped on to it and they went to work. That is the great leadership that brought those young guys around. That's probably what I like most. It was an easy job to coach because we had such high quality kids in our program this year.
THE MODERATOR: If you'd like to know more about that conversation after that UNH series, Heather is in the back. She'll be happy to talk to you after.
Q. I was wondering if you could talk about what you thought was the key to turning it around against Notre Dame and Miami compared to the WCHA tournament?
HANOWSKI: Well, in the WCHA tournament, just like the NCAA Regional with one game, I don't think we necessarily played bad against Wisconsin. They were just an extremely hot team and played extremely well against us. So I think our keys to success in the Regional were we played great defense.
We only gave up 39 shots in two games. So when you're doing that, you limit your opponents to opportunities. That is going to be big.
We got off to an early lead. We scored early against Notre Dame and scored early against Miami. We got those leads and we were pretty confident and comfortable and we just kept playing our game and did an extremely good job keeping pucks out of our end.
Q. Ben, two weeks ago you had two pretty big reasons why you hoped to play on this ice at some point. You've had quite a couple weeks with the trade and getting this far and everything. Can you talk about the irony of ending up in Pittsburgh? Also, Kenny Agostino, I talked to him, and I guess you guys don't know each other too well. But going through, you can tell people you were traded for Jarome Iginla, and maybe you can talk about the year he's had.
HANOWSKI: Yeah, it's definitely been a unique two weeks. It started out with that on a Thursday when we were leaving for Regional. It was definitely -- I don't know how to describe it, being part of a trade with a future Hall of Famer. It was kind of weird to see yourself and be a part of that deal. Just kind of a coincidence that the Frozen Four is in Pittsburgh, and we were fortunate enough to make it.
So I don't think it's really sunk in yet. Just kind of trying to focus on being a Husky and trying to contribute to this team as many ways as I can right now. So maybe after the Frozen Four is over, I'll be able to give you something better. But I haven't been able to think about it too much.
JENSEN: Well, I don't have much to say about the Pittsburgh thing. I think it is a little ironic because I know there are a few pictures floating out there that had some funny sayings on them about Hanowski getting traded from Pittsburgh, but he's going back anyways.
But just overall with Hanowski's season, it's an unbelievable thing to watch as it progresses. You see a leader get knocked out, and get a concussion and have a concussion problem and a few shoulder injuries. You look at a guy after that and see what his character's like. Is he down off the ice, on the ice? There is not a nick in his armor, and he just kept dialing through it. It's what a leader does. He's one of the best leaders I've ever had on the team.
LeBLANC: I'm jealous. I kind of want to be traded for a Hall of Famer. I think that would be kind of cool. But to Ben's credit, he's handled it in stride. It hasn't fazed him at all. Like Nick was saying, he's continued to work hard on and off the ice and lead this team. That says a lot about his character, and I'm sure like everything else, it's really not time to be focusing on that kind of stuff right now.
We're concentrating on Thursday, 8:00 o'clock. [7 p.m. Central Time]. That is kind of our goal, our focus. Once this season ends, we'll have a lot to look back, reflect on and be proud of. But for now it's game on.
THE MODERATOR: Bob, what did you think of the trade?
COACH MOTZKO: You know, the biggest thing you wanted to make sure was -- I sure know Ben now after being around him for four years, and he's a fun-loving guy. So the trade went down. He was sleeping. I did get a text. I was still up. It was probably midnight, something like that. And we had a morning practice the next morning, and I blew the whistle and everybody came around. I just wanted to break the tension.
I said, anybody else get traded overnight? And the first guy laughing was Ben, and he took it in great stride. Then all the guys were tapping him on the shoulder. I said, well, there are a lot of people that want you. We're sure glad you're with us, and here's the drill. We went on to practice, and that was it.
The things you do as a team. I don't know what his teammates did behind the scenes, but I can tell you I was not worried about Ben. I just wanted to get him to smile, and he did quickly and we moved on.
Q. I'm wondering, maybe a quick comment from the coach and Ben, Drew touched on the focus piece as being key, but maybe that's it? That's the dynamic between the Regional, and now that does become the focus?
COACH MOTZKO: Completely different going through this. You get the week off and the excitement, and it's all the stuff that happens with the interviews and the demanding schedules that these guys had to follow. Very quickly on, I did reach out to a handful of coaches over the last few years that have gone through this. You can't hide from it. That's the first thing we told our team. We kind of tried to walk them through how it's going to be, and let's enjoy it.
But let's keep it in its own little department. Every team's going through it, too. So all four teams, it's exactly the same, from the demand on answering the questions and media, because that is completely different from something that I think the college athlete is used to. But let's face it, to be here and have to put up with it, absolutely, we love it.
All four teams are probably saying the same thing. You have to find a way to park it, and keep your eye on the ball of what we have to do. For us, it starts at 8:05 tomorrow night [7 p.m. CT]. And that falls squarely on the coaching staff and our leaders. We haven't talked in great depth about it, but we have enough to where our guys understand.
Let's have fun and embrace all of the events that come with the Frozen Four, because we're darn happy we're here. Let's also remember what the heck we're here for and make sure we're ready to go at 8:05 on Thursday night.
HANOWSKI: I think Coach did a good job of hitting that right on the head. We've been following his lead. Coach has been in Frozen Fours before when he was with Minnesota. As a group, we're just trying to stay together. Obviously, a lot more people wanted to talk to guys on our team in the past 10 days than usual.
But I think we have a focused group. The guys know what kind of opportunity we have here, and we're excited for it. The coaches have been doing a great job of prepping us and getting ready for Quinnipiac tomorrow night. So I don't think focus is going to be too big of an issue for our group.
Q. Drew, with time to prepare for Quinnipiac and their goaltender, have you studied much film on him? Have you identified maybe even a tiny weakness where you might want to shoot, that kind of thing when you're playing tomorrow night?
COACH MOTZKO: Don't answer that, Drew [laughing].
LEBLANC: You know, I can't say anything on that. But our coaches have done a tremendous job of getting us ready. They've watched probably seven, eight games on Quinnipiac, I would guess. They know. They've put a good game plan into place and we're just following their lead. They prep us every week, and this one is no different. We're just going out there, doing what they say to do. We're assuming they made the right game plan.
Q. Got a question for Bob, but first a comment on the players. I don't know how big the Amish community is going to be around the city of Pittsburgh, but I think there are going to be a lot of Husky fans this weekend. For Coach Motzko, you mentioned this team coming into its teenage years. You were there dare I say, a quarter century ago as part of St. Cloud. Can you talk about the particular pride of what the roots in the beginning of the program are to now attaining the Frozen Four and having a chance to win a championship?
COACH MOTZKO: Yes, we've had hockey since 1931-32. When I got hired eight years ago, and Craig Dahl was leaving, it was really to reach back to the alumni. We're trying to do a tremendous job of getting everybody back into the fold about if you wore the jersey, once a Husky, always a Husky, has been our theme. We've been a program, because players and ex-players, they want to be around for things like this. We're going to have a tremendous turnout here this week. But to watch it when I was there as a Division III player and with John Perpich as a coach and then worked there for just one year in that transition year and then followed it for many years and coached against them. It was a job that I always wanted when I was not there, to be a head coach. Then to get the job, I mean, it was truly a big moment for me, personally. I'm really into the excitement right now. This is kind of tying it all together because we've kind of had loose ends. We've been there. We've had NHL players, Olympians, All-Americans at the Division III level, and at the Division I level.
We've been looking for one thing to kind of tie it all together to bring everybody in and give them a reason, and there's been the last eight days how they've reached out with Twitter and with text and emails and phone calls. There is something brewing back in St. Cloud and our program right now, but it's been for a long time. This is just a moment that is kind of validating our program. I'm all over the map on that.
Q. Coach, you go from the final-five environment, good fans to not a great environment fan-wise in the Regional. Then to come to this atmosphere, do you notice when you go back and forth like that, a difference in the way the players react? Are there any challenges to that for you?
COACH MOTZKO: Well, we've really handled the Toledo one well, for sure. But we were so focused in Toledo, obviously, because I've heard some of the other coaches talk about how bad it was. When you win, you wouldn't get that out of us because you were so focused when that happened. It is different. But I don't think to these guys -- it was more different for the coaches, maybe, because you're trying to calm our guys down in the big game because I think we made some mistakes in St. Paul, and that's what helped us.
We usually don't take a lot of penalties. I think we were the lowest penalized team in the country. We had that big crowd in St. Paul. We were amped up, and we were playing the afternoon game. We took nine minutes of penalties, I think we took 14 all together, and nine of them were ridiculous, not smart on our part. I couldn't be mad because we normally don't do that.
But we learned from it, and we carry that into the next week. I'm hoping now with the big crowd that our guys now understand. I think they do. I know that they do.
That tournament means so much to the players. We do want to get bigger crowds. Don't get me wrong, we want to change that and I am against going back on campuses right now. I think we need to try something, ticket prices, just throw it out. We have to tackle something before we get to move back on campus sites. If that doesn't work, yeah, we get back.
But I'm telling you, after being in a handful of these regions, your guys are pretty dialed in. We had a great demeanor about us there. Whether there were 5,000, 6,000 more people for us, this is the stage we wanted to get to.
Q. Bob, when you started out coaching and you were at Miami and Denver, and then obviously at Minnesota, did you catch yourself thinking someday that you wanted to lead a program as a head coach and what it would be like to get to the Frozen Four and have that opportunity to win a national title? Your reaction to when you won it in Toledo and made it here as a Frozen Four coach?
COACH MOTZKO: Yes, yes. If you're going to get in this business and coach at a program like St. Cloud State, you want this to happen to your program. Our program had been so close even before I got there. I mean, Craig Dahl had it very, very close. When my turn rolled around, you want to recruit guys like this, and you have to put the belief that they can have it happen.
The only thing, the very first interview I did when I got hired at St. Cloud, it popped out of my mouth. The question was, I've come from Minnesota -- I'm referencing that. I'm not saying -- Well, we won a couple titles there and in the interview the guy said, "Coach, do you think you can win a National title here?"
And the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, "It can happen here." And someone gave me that and framed that article. The caption on it is, "It can happen here." That is in our locker room now. It can happen here, but it means so many more things. Yes, we can win a National Championship. You can become a doctor. We have three former doctors that are alum from our university. We use that in so many different ways. That's been our calling card when we recruit. It can happen here. And "it" is anything, it can happen here. You recruit guys like this that can believe it and now it's validated.
Obviously, we've got to take the next step. People pave the way, a couple years ago with Bemidji State punching their ticket. Ferris State punching their ticket. This isn't an aberration now. Our sport now, it's a race to get into that region, and it's going to be a dog fight to get in there, because anybody can get in there.
Even before with St. Cloud State or any of the teams here, it's not a surprise. It's been happening for a handful of years right now.
Q. Can you talk about the last 24 hours? I know you said you want to have them have some fun with it and stay focused. But have there been wow factors and things that stood out to you that made you feel like this is a normal hockey weekend?
LEBLANC: I know this building is only a couple years old, but just driving off and seeing that big Frozen Four sign on the window with our name up there, it's like, oh, this really happened. Since then it's been a whirlwind of practice and interviews and this and that. We haven't had a chance to sit down and enjoy the moment yet. And that is kind of part of being here. That is handling all the hoopla, like Coach was saying earlier, and we're having fun with it. It's getting really, really cool and business time now, and that is the exciting part. We can't wait to get to that point. In a couple of hours, it will be go time.
JENSEN: Yeah, there's been a lot of excitement ever since we got into the Frozen Four, both home and then obviously arriving in Pittsburgh. A lot of guys have never been here. I know I've never been here myself. Being able to be in the Pittsburgh Arena, I've never been here. Obviously, it's an outstanding rink, just all the activities.
I know Drew touched on a bunch of them. All of it has just been a lulling situation for all of us, and all the guys are excited to be here. The focus is there. While all this excitement is going on, everyone's enjoying themselves.
But in the back of their mind, everyone's thinking 8 o'clock tomorrow night. That is what they're focused on, and we're going to be ready.
HANOWSKI: As Coach said and Drew said, the hoopla, Coach loves that word. He loves using that saying. We're excited to be here. We drove in and you see Heinz Field and PNC Park, pretty cool view, and driving in on the bus, and seeing the St. Cloud State logo up there next to the Frozen Four pin and everything like that is pretty special, something I know I'll always remember being a part of it. Just getting through the day, and once tomorrow morning rolls around, it's go time. Later on tonight, guys will be ready to go and focused and we'll be excited to get on the ice and play.
COACH MOTZKO: There are so many things about the experience for these guys. I think taking a charter flight is the coolest myself. They come right into St. Cloud and pick you up. That never gets old, but I think this is our last interview. If I'm not mistaken, this is what we've told our guys that it's open for 30 minutes. From that moment on, we'll get dialed in. We'll set the stage for them on everything that happened and now it's time to get back to business when this is over.
All the teams are under the same rules right now. The leaders are going to have to take charge of that. That's pretty much it on that standpoint, and everything has been great. The biggest thing for me was when we landed last week in St. Cloud, we got back from the regions and the airport was packed with a couple hundred people. For an old coach, I go, wow, this is pretty cool. People are jumping on board.
Q. Drew, can you talk briefly about what it's like to be a Hobey Baker nominee and the honor that goes with that? And for coaches and teammates, can you talk about, briefly, what it's like to play with Drew and coach him?
LEBLANC: Well, I think just to be associated with the name Hobey Baker and what he meant to not only college hockey, but the time period in general, how big of a figure he was, just to be associated with that has been pretty special for me. I've said it a bunch of times now, but it doesn't happen if our team doesn't have the success that we've had this year.
I've been fortunate enough to play with a great group of guys and with great people and great leaders. It's just everything kind of aligned right and found a place for me, and I'm just fortunate to have the opportunity.
But at the same time, I haven't thought about it too much because we're still playing. We've got bigger marbles to play for than that, so trying to channel all my energy and focus towards that, that will be something that I can reflect on down the road.
Q. Drew and Bob, in the goalie battle that we'll see tomorrow, Ryan probably is flying under the radar a little bit against a Hobey Baker finalist. Your confidence level in him that he's been able to step up and under the spotlight and play pretty well tomorrow is how high?
COACH MOTZKO: He's our guy. We go to battle with this guy. We've watched him. Last year with Mike Lee, a World Junior goaltender, and Mike going in on the Monday before the practice before our first league game at North Dakota, he blew his hip and had to go under surgery. We had to turn to a freshman and say, tag, you're it, and you're going to go at North Dakota for your first start. He shuts them out 4-0, and I think at that moment it turned heads that we've got something here. We've watched him get better and improve in so many areas. When he's had a couple of these challenges as a goaltender to get better, he's handled them. I think all of us -- I know all of us, not think, have complete confidence in him that he's going to be prepared to go.
LEBLANC: We feel he is one of the best in the country too. We see it day-in and day-out. We get the bird's-eye view of it going there. He gets going. He's won in big games and played on big stages before and performed well. He thrives under these moments. I'm sure he's looking for the opportunity to think of it as I can outdo one of the best goalies in the country and hopefully show that he is that high-caliber goaltender. We're excited for the challenge tomorrow. That's for sure.
THE MODERATOR: 8:05 tomorrow [7 p.m. CT], Quinnipiac and St. Cloud. Thank you guys very much, and best of luck.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
Yale vs. Massachusetts Lowell, 3:30 pm, ESPN2
At the end of the day, grit and determination are one thing, but if numbers are any indication of how often grit and determination haven't been enough, Yale could be in trouble. UMass Lowell has been too good for too long this year, and I think they move on to Saturday night.
The PICK: UMass-Lowell wins
Roman says: UMass-Lowell is a team of destiny. the River Hawks -- I keep wanting to writer River Rats, the name of a trick water skiing group in the Twin Cities -- won the Hockey East regular-season title for the first time and the Hockey East tournament for the first time. And now they are in the Frozen Four for the first time. Don't wakt them up.
And they have a coach named Norm. Norm Bazin. He was recently named the American Hockey Coaches Association's coach of the year. ... Then there is Hockey East's track record. Boston College has won three of the past five NCAA titles. This year UMass Lowell is carrying Hockey East's banner.
Yale is a Cinderella team. And how often does the underdog go all the way in real life? Not often. The Elis got shut out twice going into the West Regional. It was hockey's version of boxing's rope-a-dope. The Gophers got knocked out with a quick hook in overtime. North Dakota fell, too, making Yale 4-0-0 vs. the WCHA this season. SCSU is lucky it's not playing the Elis/Bulldogs.
The PICK: River Hawks reach title game
St. Cloud vs. Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.
Joe says: In the other half, St. Cloud is the sole WCHA torch bearer, and without the Huskies, the wave of online vitriol from East Coast hockey fans would be unbearable. SCSU is led by one of the two Hobey Baker finalists in the Frozen Four -- fifth-year senior forward Drew LeBlanc, who was surprisingly pointless in the Huskies' regional.
Instead, St. Cloud got scoring from some unexpected players, in particular, from Joey Benik (four goals in two games), who finally looks like the player Bob Motzko wanted when he recruited him. While it's great to get secondary scoring, St. Cloud likely won't get past Quinnipiac without it's leaders -- the LeBlancs, the Dowds, the Jensens, the Brodzinskis -- carrying the load.
Meanwhile, on the back end, it looked as though goaltending might be an issue heading into the playoffs (as a team, giving up 3.25 goals/game in the last eight regular-\season games). In the postseason however, the Huskies have tightened things up and are playing better defensively.
The numbers in this one don't tend either way, and so Huskies' fans have to be comforted and yet worried by the possibility that their shot at a title depends on simply which team will show up. The Huskies who were dominant in the WCHA regular season are a dangerous squad. The Huskies who sputtered in nonconference play and in the Final Five are very beatable.
Squaring off against St. Cloud is Quinnipiac, the top-ranked team (both in polls and PairWise computer rankings) for much of the year, and a team that many WCHA fans and commentators (I'm looking at you, Tom Chorske) have written off as overrated or undeserving of a #1 seed.
It's certainly tougher to be convinced that this team is a legitimate top seed when their schedule consists largely of teams like American International, Dartmouth (two games), Cornell (five games), Colgate (three games), a conference schedule with only three teams in the top 20 in PairWise, and a nonconference schedule with only one team in the PairWise top 20.
But the math doesn't lie (numbers are for nerds, but nerds are honest), and the Bobcats can't control who they play. With that in mind, credit must be given to a team that's lost just three times since November 6 (a streak which legitimizes the question of whether WCHA fans have their own "Midwest Bias" to reckon with).
Statistically, there's no one that stands out on this team offensively (just five players have more than 20 points). What makes this team a contender is their senior in net, Eric Hartzell. A Hobey Finalist, Hartzell has gone 29-6-5, with a 1.54 GAA and a .933 save %. He's given up two or fewer goals 34 times this year, earning his team the top statistical defense in the country, which will certainly be key against a Huskies team that's scored the most even-strength goals in college hockey this year.
Despite detractors, Quinnipiac has a consistency that St. Cloud lacks. It's a safe assumption that the Bobcats will play solid defense, led by Hartzell. Goals might be harder to come by for QU than St. Cloud, but when your team is so used to getting good defense and winning close games, offense isn't as much of a concern.
The bottom-line is that while there may be questions about whether Quinnipiac played in a dominant conference (they didn't), the fact remains that neither did St. Cloud (how many WCHA teams underwhelmed on a regular basis?). The Bobcats have beaten who they've been paired against on a regular basis, and their top players have shown up week-in and week-out. St. Cloud's had a great run, but questions about Quinnipiac's legitimacy have been answered.
The PICK: Quinnipiac wins
Roman says: Well Joe, that's more like it. You are picking the wrong team again. Eric Hartzell, whose dad played for the Gophers, is a focused senior goalie. And Gophers coach Don Lucia says watch out for senior goalies. The Qs are legit, but the Huskies are coming off two dominating wins in the Midwest Regional when their big scorers were quiet.
Sophomore forward Ryan Faragher has played in big games. He has to be solid for SCSU to win. The Huskies have a nice mix of veterans and freshmen scorers. And if they get production from both groups, watch out.
The PICK: Huskies win
National Championship: Masschusetts-Lowell vs. Quinnipiac, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Joe says: The title game pits two of the best goaltenders in college hockey against one another: Hartzell, QU's senior Hobey Finalist, vs. Hellebuyck, the freshman stud for UML. In the first National Championship appearance for either team, will we see a tight defensive battle, much to the chagrin of the roughly 3,200 fans who will be in attendance? (sorry NCAA).
I'm not so sure. Title games can be weird; numbers don't always pan out, nerves get rattled, and heroes can come from anywhere in the lineup. That's not to say that these two squads, who are #1 (QU) and #3 (UML) in team defense, will suddenly play wide-open, shootout hockey. But we may see some quirkiness.
Neither team has tremendous offensive depth or power-play offense, but I think we'll see a few more goals than the numbers suggest. Quinnipiac is a big, senior-heavy team that also takes a lot of penalties (fourth-most per game in the country).
UML is a younger, smaller skating team that was just 32nd on the power play this year. But as we saw in the regional, UML moves the puck in transition well and may draw some penalties. If my hunch is correct that this game might involve some uncharacteristic play, the River Hawks will capitalize a few times on the power play, and steal their first National Championship.
The PICK: Massachusetts Lowell wins 4-2
Roman says: Maybe my bias is showing, but the WCHA had six teams in the NCAA tournament. It was filled with good, but not great teams. The conference's most talented team, the Gophers, is at home. But SCSU is a worthy representative. I like teams that can get scoring from three lines.
And if you like comeback stories, the Huskies are darn good. Both Drew LeBlanc and Joey Benik have overcome broken legs. It's a team filled with Minnesota, the State of Hockey, 14 if you count 'em up. I can't pick against them, although I think this is a toss-up game.
One last thing Joe, the Frozen Four sells out. Now not everybody goes when their team loses in the semifinals But methinks more than 3,200 will use their tickets and be at the final.
The Pick: SCSU
Hobey Baker Winner
Joe clearly loves making picks. And there were only three to make this week. So as a bonus, he rubbed his temples and tells you who will win the Hobey on Friday:
Joe says: It's been 12 years since a goaltender's won the award, and Hartzell certainly has the numbers. In terms of how the Selection Committee may pick the finalist, both Leblanc and Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College have great statistics this year, and with good off-ice accomplishments for both, it's hard to argue for one over the other.
That alone could send votes Hartzell's way. LeBlanc has been an awarded academic honors each year he's been at St. Cloud, so the Committee could hang their decision on this. In my mind, it comes down to Hartzell and LeBlanc, and if you mix in a little of the "MVP" thinking, it's hard to believe that Quinnipiac is anywhere near the team they are without Hartzell.
The PICK: Eric Hartzell wins
Roman says: I agree, it's down to Hartzeel and LeBlanc, both seniors. Gaudreau is a sophomore and his team didn't make Frozen Four. Although votes were probably in and counted before regionals, so their late stumble maybe didn't matter.
I think LeBlanc wins Hobey. He's too good a story. And the story should have a happy ending. Obviously, I'm going with heart on this pick.
The NCAA announced men's hockey future regional sites on Thursday, and Xcel Energy Center is on the list for 2014. That's no surprise given recent history, as the X hosted in 2010 and 2012 as well.
Here are the sites and dates for 2014:
• East Regional: Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, Conn., March 28-29
• Northeast Regional: DCU Center, Worcester, Mass., March 29-30
• Midwest Regional: U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, March 28-29
• West Regional: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, March 29-30
• Frozen Four: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, April 10 and 12
|Sports (284)||Gophers game day (73)|
|Gophers postgame (167)||NCAA (2)|
|Bemidji State (36)||Frozen Four (49)|
|Gophers awards and honors (91)||Gophers post season (50)|
|Gophers roster moves (114)||MS-Mankato (42)|
|North Dakota (71)||St. Cloud State (48)|
|UMD (37)||WCHA news (346)|
|College hockey (435)||Coaching (40)|
|Lynx (255)||Gophers (434)|
|Men's hockey (467)||Pregame (50)|
|Volleyball (3)||WCHA (4)|
|Women's hockey (29)||Wrestling (2)|
|Alaska Anchorage (12)||Colorado College (7)|
|Denver (19)||Michigan Tech (7)|
|Nebraska Omaha (12)||Wisconsin (28)|