Team of the Week: St. Cloud State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
St. Cloud State was picked to finish ninth this season by WCHA prognosticators. But after a weekend sweep at North Dakota, the Huskies are just one point back of the fourth-place Sioux with two games in hand.
With a pair of 2-1 wins at Engelstad Arena, the Huskies emphasized something that had been clear within their locker room for a long time: this team is definitely better than expected, and definitely one to reckoned with. And it also earned the Huskies CHN's Team of the Week Award.
"Somebody said we took care of North Dakota. The truth is, we snuck into town and snuck out," said SCSU coach Bob Motzko. "We played well in our system, our goalie was outstanding and we got bounces. It was more a reflection of how we've been playing."
No one is predicting national championships for St. Cloud, but the atmosphere is considerably more optimistic than it has been in recent years. First-year head coach Bob Motzko has done things at St. Cloud State that Tim Army has done at Providence.
"Since the middle of the summer, the one thing (former coach) Craig (Dahl) continued to say is, 'This team is a little better than people think,'" said Motzko. "We still have time left to make those predictions true, but we are definitely a better team than I thought and it starts with (Bobby) Goepfert. He gives us a chance to be a pretty good hockey team."
Ironically, goaltender Bobby Goepfert, who is largely responsible for the turnaround, transferred from Providence to St. Cloud.
"He's a gamer," Motzko said. "You don't know that until you're really around him. The bigger the game, it seems he rises to the occasion. He has a little attitude about him."
St. Cloud started out slowly this season, and it looked like whatever improvement might come under Motzko would be slow. But the Huskies seemed to kick it into gear when the league season started, and have since been very consistent, getting at least some points almost every weekend. Then it culminated in the big road sweep of the Sioux.
But because they don't have the snipers they used to, they win with a defense, goaltending and timely scoring. In fact, top scorer Joe Jensen has missed the last four games, and the Huskies are 4-0.
"Another nice story that I didn't understand (when the season started) is, we have a senior class that's done a great job with production and leading," said Motzko.
Of course, a real Mark Parrish-like sniper would be nice. But those seem harder to come by these days with the blue chippers all going to the big schools. But Motzko said his school still has plenty of advantages, and isn't worried about.
And, regardless, Motzko said his style will continue to be aggressive on the ice.
"That's the WCHA," Motzko said. "We don't spend a lot of time with three or four backing up at the blue line. From Day 1 I said, let's play. It's more fun to play, more fun to coach, and more fun to recruit to."
After one year under Herb Brooks, the Huskies were led by Craig Dahl for the next 18 seasons. Dahl built the program into a WCHA force, and brought in a lot of talent. But fans got frustrated that his teams never quite got to a Frozen Four. Then, with the growing infuence of rejuvenated programs at Wisconsin, Minnesota and Denver, the Huskies started to fall on some hard times and see the recruiting well get a bit more dry.
Dahl brought in Motzko last year, pulling him from Minnesota's staff, in order to help out. Then, just before the start of this season, Dahl stepped down. Motzko, who had previously been a head coach in the USHL, got his first NCAA head coaching job.
It was not the first time the two worked together. Dahl was an assistant for Brooks in 1986-87, when Brooks took over the program with the idea of bringing it to Division I. Motzko had previously played for the Huskies, and continued to attend grad school there. He was looking to stay inside the program. Brooks hired him without ever meeting him.
Both Brooks and Motzko left after that season, Motzko to coach in the USHL and Brooks to return to the NHL. Dahl stayed for another 18 years.
It was quite the situation to find himself in.
"I walked into the office and asked if they were looking for any help," said Motzko. "Craig was in the office and said, 'I'll ask Herb.' Herb said yes and he never met me.
"I was going to do mailers. My first job was to run stuff to the post office. But the end of the year, Herb was sending me on recruiting trips. ... That's what he was all about. He surrounded himself with people who want to work hard. That's who he keeps around him. And Craig probably said he needed the help."
Motzko would see Brooks from time to time over the years, and he says that things you hear about Brooks are definitely true.
"I was coaching in Sioux Falls and he's scouting for Pittsburgh (Penguins)," Motzko said. "All of a sudden (between periods), he sticks his head in and chewed me out for 15 minutes. He said, 'You're screwing up this power play!' Then he diagrammed it out and he threw his pen down and walked away and said, 'I want you to straighten this out.'
"And then I laughed. Because we had the No. 1 power play in the league."