Team of the Week: St. Cloud State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
St. Cloud State knew it would have some inexperience issues to work through, and in the WCHA, where the margin of error is so slim, it could mean a challenging season.
What it didn't expect, however, was for the special teams to implode as it had early in the season. As a result, the Huskies got off to a slow start, and particularly struggled to score goals.
Part of that has improved. The penalty kill and young defense has rounded into form, and the goaltending has remained solid. It was enough — despite going 0-for-10 on the weekend with the man advantage — to sweep Denver on the weekend, and win CHN Team of the Week honors.
"A couple things blindsided us — and the biggest is special teams," St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. "Last year, we were towards the top. This year, the power play has been abysmal. The penalty kill took a positive step a week ago.
"The power play is something we need to solve," Motzko added. "Then we're back to everything else we had to begin with. We finally got a full lineup, and we feel we have a strong goalie and a defensive corps. We're just one of many teams that are a work in progress."
The first weekend, against Mercyhurst, St. Cloud scored seven power-play goals. But that was fleeting. Ryan Lasch, the 25-goal scorer and Hobey Baker Award finalist a year ago, scored in the first game of the season, but hasn't scored since.
"He's getting a lot of chances, by the boatload," Motzko said. "Ryan has put all the pressure on himself. It will end soon. I'm not worried about him. It's going to come. ... His world is crumbling around him, but he's climbed out of the hole and worked his tail off.
"When you go through a slump at the start of the season, it kills you mentally. If all of sudden you have 10, 11 goals then have a 3-week slump, it hurts but you know (those 10 goals are) there. It just compounds itself when you start a year that way.
The team got a boost in general this past weekend with Nicholas Rioux joining the lineup. The sophomore had to sit out all of last season and 10 games this season because he had participated in Major Junior previously. His first game, on Saturday, he scored against Denver.
At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he bolsters the defense, and has been able to step right in because he's practiced with the team for over a year. The upperclassmen in the lineup have been tremendous: senior David Carlisle and do-everything junior Garrett Raboin. But neither is particularly big. That's where Rioux and guys like sophomore transfer (from Air Force) Chris Hepp come in.
And then there's 6-foot-5 freshman Oliver Lauridsen, who had to sit four games while getting through NCAA Clearinghouse issues, then played a bit, then got hurt. He's finally returned.
And Motzko said that freshman Sam Zabkowicz has been "outstanding from the get go."
"I think we have more points from our defensemen now than all of last year," Motzko said.
The wins over powerful Denver, improved the Huskies to 7-4.
"We were due to have a breakout game and get us jump started," Motzko said. "Denver had been going on their first (league) road trip, and they admit it wasn't their best weekend, and we couldn't have been going any harder."
So now it's time to get the power play on track.
"We're looking for the right chemistry," Motzko said. "And some of the chem that's been there in the past, shorted out on us."
This weekend, it's right back in the fire with Wisconsin at home. The Badgers have 16 power-play goals this season, and will put that penalty kill to the test again.