St. Cloud's Season Comes to Gallant End
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. It's always tough for players and coaches when their season comes to an end.
Unlike the four remaining teams at the WCHA Final Five, all of whom will likely be playing in the NCAA Tournament next weekend, St. Cloud State needed to sweep all three games this weekend to earn a tourney bid.
Despite a valiant effort by Mike Lee in goal, the Huskies came up short Thursday, losing 4-1 to North Dakota, who scored two empty netters late to make the final look deceiving.
To some, it's a minor miracle the Huskies were even able to make it this far. Despite a number of injuries and defections that would have crippled most teams, coach Bob Motzko was able to guide his team to a sixth-place finish in the league and a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, its first sweep of anyone this season.
"Most coaches in here will tell you they are proud of their guys," Motzko said. "I've been coaching a long time. I don't know how much longer you go at it when you're over 50, but if I could ever have a team like this again, that's what it's all about. It's an absolutely special group of guys."
After losing Lee and fellow captain Drew LeBlanc to long-term injuries early in the season, Cam Reid and Mitch MacMillan left the team at Christmas. Over parts of the second half, SCSU was also without Travis Novak and Nick Oliver because of injuries.
Junior forward Ben Hanowski and freshman goaltender Ryan Faragher kept the ship afloat until Lee returned in February and everything seemed to turnaround, as SCSU went 7-2-1 after his return to steal home ice from UNO on the season's final night.
After some early-season struggles, Lee was brilliant down the stretch, allowing just one goal last weekend. He kept the Huskies in the game for much of the night Thursday.
"There's no doubt he was a huge part of why we got on that run," Hanowski said. "He definitely gave us a chance to win tonight, as he has every game since he got back."
The Huskies struggled to find consistency for much of the season. While SCSU never swept until last weekend, St. Cloud wasn't swept either. The Huskies followed a 4-3 win over Minnesota with a 5-0 loss the next night, or a 3-2 loss to Alaska-Anchorage with an 8-3 win.
"We had a lot of adversity with the injuries, lost games we should have won," said SCSU defenseman Nick Jensen. "But through the whole season, I think our character has showed. That's what carried us through the playoffs and led us to St. Paul."
That character is what made this team so special to Motzko. At numerous times this season, it would have been easy to mail this season in. But the Huskies never did.
"We were, at one point, without seven forwards. We were shorthanded and this league can knock you on your rear end and our guys didn't get swept once this year," Motzko said. "We got points every single weekend. We did that with four or five freshmen or sophomore defensemen. And then our freshman goalie; 20 straight games he played. But Ryan Faragher, for 20 games, was one of the best goalies in the conference.
"I saw a team that dug its heels in. We lost a couple of overtime games and a couple stinkers. But we finally caught traction at the end. I think we were building for that all season long by never letting the season get away from us."