Team of the Week: St. Cloud State
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
Following an 0-3-1 stretch against Minnesota State and Nebraska-Omaha in late January and early February, people were no longer asking the question many had been asking all season: What happened to St. Cloud State?
Picked by the media and coaches to finish second before the season began, those same people took a look at the Huskies' remaining schedule and instead started asking: Will St. Cloud win another game this season?
With Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Denver the four remaining teams on the schedule — at the time, the top four teams in the league — the question was a valid one.
Instead, the Huskies have played some of their strongest hockey of the season over the last three weeks — and following their dominant sweep of the Badgers over the weekend, St. Cloud State has been named the College Hockey News Team of the Week for the second time this season.
And if the Huskies continue to score like they did against Wisconsin, there is a good chance SCSU can make a deep run in the WCHA playoffs, which begin next weekend. Where they will play is still up in the air, mostly because the bottom half of the conference is still very much fluid. St. Cloud could finish as low as ninth with a bad outing against DU this weekend combined with other results from around the league. They could even finish as high as fifth — something a month ago that seemed almost preposterous.
"With the hole we've dug ourselves, we're not turning on any computers," said Huskies head coach Bob Motzko. "In the past, it's been fun to follow your progress, but we haven't been in that situation [this season] and I still don't think we are yet.
"We have to continue to keep that mentality. The thing we need to focus on right now is Friday night. We have to find a way to scratch and claw and win on Friday night just to put ourselves into position for a chance at home ice."
Of course, the potential for home ice is still a ways away for Motzko's crew. St. Cloud is in eighth place in the WCHA standings, one point behind Wisconsin and two behind Colorado College, which currently holds the final home ice slot. The Tigers and Badgers play each other in Madison this weekend.
SCSU's series at Magness Arena also has national implications. Victories could move the Huskies even closer to the at-large bubble in the Pairwise, where they currently sit in a tie for 19th with in-state rival Minnesota.
Along with the Gophers (who like SCSU have lost just once in their last six) and North Dakota (unbeaten in its last seven), St. Cloud is among the hottest teams in the league. Perhaps most impressive is the quality of opponent during that stretch, however.
"The good thing is, we've turned a corner. The bad thing is, we had a big corner to turn," Motzko said. "We're playing with a little more confidence right now, we're scoring more goals recently and I think that really gets our offensive guys... it gets their juices going a little bit."
The quality play of SCSU culminated in a dominating effort of the Badgers at the National Hockey Center. In the spirit of the "juices" Motzko refers to, senior forward Garrett Roe scored a pair of goals each night — including both game winners — en route to being named the WCHA's Offensive Player of the Week. Now with 34 points (10-24—34), Roe is approaching the 40-point plateau for the fourth time in his career. And like last season, Roe looks to be peaking at just the right time.
"We saw the same thing from Garrett last year," Motzko said. "At the same point last year, I think the difference is just two points. But he went on and had the great playoff run and ended up with almost 50 points."
And while some consider him to be having a down season, Roe has turned it on in the second half. Over SCSU's last six, Roe has chipped in with nine points. Since the first of the year, the senior co-captain has 18 points in 14 games.
It's no coincidence that Roe's play has improved since the addition of sophomore forward David Eddy at the semester break. He's averaged a point per game since his return from the academically ineligible list during the season's first half.
"I don't know if Garrett is responsible for picking up our offense, or if it's the other way around," Motzko said. "Probably a little bit of both."
Mike Lee has also responded after a rough first half in goal. While sharing time with senior Dan Dunn during the season's opening months, Motzko handed Lee the job full time in December and the sophomore from Roseau, Minn., has steadily become more reliable. Lee has allowed more than three goals just once over the last eight games (he made 51 saves in the game he allowed 4 goals).
"Mike's gone every game but one since Christmas and has been solid," Motzko said. "I think [going every night] has been really helpful for him and good for our team. Dan Dunn has gotten us a lot of wins since he's been here, and been very strong for us. But we went with a change at Christmas and I think it helped Mike settle in and find a groove."
"I think our defensive core has also emerged. We've had a couple of freshmen (Nick Jensen and Kevin Gravel) back there who I think have really found themselves and hit their stride."