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 University handed out its postseason awards on Wednesday night.
The usual suspects got them:
MVP and outstanding senior, three stars award -- forward Drew LeBlanc. ... He is also one of five finalists for Sports Illustrated's male college athlete of the year in any sport
Most improved -- junior forward Nic Dowd
Most determined -- junior defenseman Nick Jensen
Outstanding rookie -- freshman forward Jonny Brodzinski
Outstanding goalie -- sophomore Ryan Faragher
Outstanding student-athlete -- sophomore forward Brooks Bertsch
The Huskies tied with the Gophers for the MacNaughton Cup and reached the Frozen Four in the NCAA tournament.
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)
This season has not gone quite the way Joey Benik imagined it would.
Benik, a freshman forward at St. Cloud State, broke one of his legs 20 minutes into his first Huskies' practice.
SCSU coach Bob Motzko recently talked about Benik, who was the Huskies' MVP at the Midwest Reginal with two goals in each game.
Motzko said Benik broke his fibula in a weird accident in that first practice. It happened when he was pushed over.
"It wasn't healing quite right and we walked about red-shirting him," Motzko said on his weekly radio show, "because he would only get a half season."
On the other hand, Motzko wanted Benik in his lineup.
He told Benik, "We need you. We can do some special things and you can help us."
Turns out, in the end, Motzko was right.
The Huskies won their second and third NCAA games in nine postseason appearances last weekend -- they went in 1-9 in NCAA tournament games -- and are going to their first Frozen Four next week in Pittsburgh.
Thanks, in large part, to Benik.
Benik had an assist in his first game for St. Cloud State, versus RPI on Dec. 27. But it was more than a month before he got another point. That was his first goal. It came against the Gophers on Feb. 8.
He got another goal Feb. 23 against Colorado College. So his regular-season numbers were two goals, one assist for three points. Pretty modest.
Motzko said he originally put Benik on one of the Huskies' top line, which was probably the wrong thing to do. "It took him 1-1/2 months to get back in shape," Motzko said.
But Benik has started to heat up in the playoffs.
In the Huskes' first playoff game they faced Alaska Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. And Benik had a goal and two assists, doubling his points total to that point.
It was a hint of things to come. Motzko said he could tell Benik's skills were coming around.
What he has done in the playoffs is not a big surprise, Motzko said, adding, "He has scored goals his entire life. That's what he does."
And his timing could not have been better.
Drew LeBlanc, the WCHA player of the year, went scoreless for the Huskies in the regional. So did junior forward Nic Dowd. Those are SCSU's top two scorers.
And Ben Hanowski, the team's other co-captain along with LeBlanc, had only two points.
Given that, Motzko said, he would have assumed goalie Ryan Faragher would have to shut out the Huskies' regional opponents for SCSU to win. Faragher didn't have to.
Benik and linemate Cory Thorson came through.
Here is what Benik did in the West Reginal:
SCSU 5, Notre Dame 1
Benik scored two power-play goals and had an assist. His first goal, at 9:28 of the second period, gave the Huskies a 2-0 lead and was the game-winner. Had four shots on goal, was a plus-1 and was named the first star of the game. His goals were his fourth and fifth of the season.
SCSU 4, Miami 1
Benik scored twice again. His first goal at 5:08 of the opening period put the Huskies ahead 1-0. His second goal at 5:36 of the second period was the game-winner. It made the score 2-0. The goals were his sixth and seventh of the season. He had five shots on goal, was a plus-3 and was named the first star of the game.
Thorson, Benik's center, had two goals, one an empty-netter, had five shots on goal and was a plus-4. He was named the second star of the game. And the right wing on that line, Brooks Bertsch, had two assists, was a plus-3 and was named the third star.
The knock on Benik coming out of high school, he was a 2010 graduate of St. Francis, was that he was too small. He spent the previous two seasons before SCSU playing for Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League. He is 5-10, 170 now.
But as Motzko says, Benik could always score.
As a high school junior, he had 65 goals and 102 points, as a senior he had 34 goals and 90 points.
Last season he led the Vees in scoring with 38 goals and 76 assists. Penticton won the Junior A national championship in Canada and Benik played well in the playoffs.
Just like this season.
I was sure it was an April Fool's joke when the "news" broke on twitter that George Gwozdecky and the University of Denver had parted ways.
Turned out it wasn't. And now Mike Chambers of the Denver Post is reporting, according to sources, that the Gwoz was fired.
Supposedly the early NCAA losses -- first game exits in five of the past six years -- were wearing on DU's athletic braintrust. And allegedly they were having trouble agreeing with Gwoz on a contract extension. So again, according to sources, Gwoz will get paid for 2013-14, the last year left on the 12-year contract he signed way back when.
My first memory of the Gwoz goes back to 2008-09, my second year on the Gophers beat. The Gophers were on a roll -- 6-0-4 and ranked No. 1 in the country -- and had a road series at Magness Arena. They won the first game handily, 5-2 on Nov. 21. Then Gwoz mixes up the lineup, benches a few key underperforming players, and the Pioneers win the next night 4-0.
His record was amazing in that respect -- his teams never got swept in the WCHA. And I mean never. The Pioneers went several seasons without it happening. And his teams won 20 games per year like clockwork. For 12 years in a row in this current stretch.
The Gwoz was not afraid to shake up his lineup. Or to speak his mind.
And then, after the game, he came up to the press box and sat at a table with the local writers and shot the breeze. Who else does that?
I always liked him. Even though there was a bit of I'm-smarter-than-you-are arrogance to him. He didn't just give you canned answers to questions.
He'll land on his feet somewhere. Coaching job will open up after the hockey season ends. Maybe a few before it ends.
Just so he stays out of the new Big Ten Conference; he beat The Don's teams pretty regularly.
A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL YEAR
That's what Gophers play-by-play announcer Wally Shaver called this season on the Don Lucia radio show. But was it?
The Gophers were coming off a Frozen Four appearance after a horrendous stretch of no NCAA trips at all in three years.
The Don had six of his top seven scorers back, all six of his top defensemen back and just needed a goalie. And he found one in freshman Adam Wilcox who set a program record for lowest goals-against average.
With all that, surely, the Gophers would win their sixth national title -- their openly stated goal? Nope. Surely they would reach the Frozen Four? Nope.
Win the Final Five? Nope. How about another MacNaughton Cup? They shared it with St. Cloud State.
This was an underachieving team that way too often played down to the level of its opposition. That had to get punched before responding. It was 7-0-0 after losses until losing 3-2 in overtime to Yale in the West Regional semifinal.
But it lost or tied to everyone in the WCHA except one team, 11th Bemidji State, which it played only twice.
This was the year for the Gophers to win a title, with the Bjugstads, Haulas and Schmidts. That's why Bjugtad came back, for unfinished business after flirting with turning pro.
There was no dominant team in the NCAA field like Boston College a year ago. With 15 NHL picks, the Gophers had as much talent or more than anyone. This was their year and, yet, at the end something was missing.
They pressed on the accelerator in the third period against Yale, tied the score and gave a slight sigh of relief and the season was over. In nine seconds.
That game should never have gone into overtime.
The team with less talented wanted it more and took it.
DIFFERENT FROZEN FOUR
"Anybody can beat anybody" in the NCAA tournament, Lucia said on his Monday radio show. "It is a matter who is playing well on a particular weekend.
"Yale played well. They have a veteran coaching staff. ... They are 4-0 against the WCHA. They earned their way in [to the Frozen Four] by beating us, beating North Dakota. They got it done this weekend. It is something we have to live with it."
The Elis or Bulldogs, Yale goes by both nicknames, beat Colorado College and Denver in overtime in November before wreaking more havoc on the poor WCHA last weekend.
Jesse Root, who scored the goal that beat the Gophers, was the West Regional MVP.
This will be Yale's first appearance in a Frozen Four in 61 years. But they have been knocking on the door. Coach Keith Allain has had them in the NCAA tournament in four of the past five seasons.
The Elis lost to the eventual champion, Boston College in 2010 and Minnesota Duluth in 2011, on two of those trips. Still their NCAA record was 3-5 all-time coming into last weekend.
When they were in the Frozen Four in 1952, the event was held in Colorado Springs, Colo., and wasn't even called the Frozen Four. Two of the best teams from the West and two from the East were invited to play. Yale lost its first game there.
Michigan beat Colorado College 4-1 for the national championship that year.
Yale is the first Ivy League team in the Frozen Four since 2003 when the NCAA tournament was expanded from eight to 16 teams.
But Yale isn't the only team new to the Frozen Four. The other three regional champions -- St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac and UMass-Lowell -- are all first-timers.
Yale draws UMass-Lowell in the semis on April 11.
"I was impressed with St. Cloud" in the Midwest Regional, Lucia said. "They played very well, very opportunistic."
Lucia drove to Toledo, Ohio, from Grand Rapids, Mich., to watch SCSU and Notre Dame, its opponent in the championship game. Don's son Mario is a freshman forward for the Irish.
"It was a long weekend," Lucia said. "[The Irish] didn't play at same level as they had before in the CCHA tournament. ... I was happy for Bob [SCSU coach Bob Motzko]. He is a friend."
Motzko was on Lucia's staff with the Gophers before taking the SCSU job.
"Anybody of the four could win it," Lucia said, referring to the teams in the Frozen Four.
The WCHA's Final Five as been a tournament of upsets. Lower seeds have won all four games so far. And if the trend continues, Colorado College, which finished eight in the regular season, will beat Wisconsin in the title game tonight and get an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament.
Upsets have happened across the board in the four other Division I tournaments this week.
And that's a problem for St. Cloud State. The Huskies lost 4-1 to Wisconsin on Friday in the Final Five semifinals and now are tied for No. 11 in the PairWise Rankings, a mathematical formula which mimics how the NCAA seeds and fills out its 16-team tournament field.
No problem, you say? Actually, it is. The Huskies are "tied" for No. 11, but they lose the tiebreaker to both Niagara and Minnesota State, who have higher RPIs, a measurement of a team's strength of schedule.
So the Huskies are actually No. 13. They got themselves in that predicament by going 3-5-0 in nonconference games. (The Gophers were 8-0-0 in nonconference play, the only team in the country without a loss or tie outside its league. Minnesota State was 6-0-2.)
But there are 16 spots, right?
Yes, but two of them already will be taken by teams not in the PairWise's top 16.
The winner of the Wisconsin-Colorado College game will grab one. Wisconsin has the best RPI of teams tied for No. 17; ditto for CC among teams tied for No. 25.
The Atlantic Hockey champion also will be a team not among the PairWise's top 16. In fact, Canisus and Mercyhurst are not in the PairWise Rankings at all because their RPI is under .500.
What that means is the NCAA already can go 14 deep at most from the top of the PairWise Rankings. Remember St. Cloud State is No. 13.
If another team not in the PairWise's top 14 wins a tournament, the NCAA cutout drops to 13. And so on.
SCSU has to root for the favorites to win tournament games today and Sunday.
Here are the games the Huskies have to watch today:
Hockey East championship: UMass-Lowell, No. 3 with highest RPI, vs. Boston University, tied No. 17 with Wisconsin, but really No. 18, 6 p.m. in Boston ... Huskies need UMass-Lowell to win
ECAC championship: Union, No. 14, vs. Brown, No. 20 with highest RPI, 6 p.m. at Atlantic City, N.J. ... Huskies have to root for Union while at the same wondering if the Dutchmen could jump them in the PairWise with a win.
Notre Dame, No. 8 with highest RPI, vs. Ohio State, tied for No. 25, but really No. 26, 1 p.m. in Detroit
Miami, tied for No. 3 but really No. 4, vs. Michigan, No. 29, 4:35 p.m. in Detroit
Huskies need Notre Dame and Miami to win
SIX FOR WCHA?
If St. Cloud State can get in as at at-large team, the WCHA, in its final year with the present teams, would have six teams in the NCAA tournament. The other four conferences would have 10.
Hooray for the WCHA, huh?
Already securely in are the Golden Gophers as the No. 2 seed in the overall field behind Quinnipiac.
The Gophers are No. 2 in the PairWise, hence their seed. No. 6 North Dakota, No. 10 Denver, which lost in the first round to CC, and Minnesota State Mankato, the team with the highest RPI among teams tied for No. 11, are also in.
The Gophers will be the top seed in whatever region they are assigned to, probably the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich.
North Dakota will probably be a second seed wherever it goes, DU and MSU third seeds.
|Sports (275)||Gophers game day (73)|
|Gophers postgame (167)||NCAA (2)|
|Bemidji State (36)||Frozen Four (49)|
|Gophers awards and honors (89)||Gophers post season (50)|
|Gophers roster moves (114)||MS-Mankato (40)|
|North Dakota (69)||St. Cloud State (47)|
|UMD (37)||WCHA news (346)|
|College hockey (428)||Coaching (40)|
|Lynx (255)||Gophers (430)|
|Men's hockey (458)||Pregame (50)|
|Volleyball (3)||WCHA (4)|
|Women's hockey (28)||Wrestling (2)|
|Alaska Anchorage (12)||Colorado College (7)|
|Denver (19)||Michigan Tech (7)|
|Nebraska Omaha (12)||Wisconsin (27)|