More of the Same
St. Cloud Not Changing Anything Ahead of Frozen Four
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell's status as one of the nation's best was cemented — if it still had to be — with his nomination to the 2013 Hobey Hat Trick. Previously named a finalist for the award, Hartzell's performance at the East Regional in Providence, R.I., last week solidified him as a candidate for the nation's best player.
Since Quinnipiac's regional final against Union ended, 5-1, in the Bobcats' favor, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko planned for a matchup with Hartzell and his dominant numbers. Game-planning for QU, however, means more than just finding some hole in Hartzell. The Bobcats don't win games solely because of their goaltender.
They win because they dominate puck possession. QU yields the fewest shots allowed per game in the country at a about 23.4 and are fifth nationally in shots taken with a bit more than 34. The Bobcats, simply, always have the puck.
When it's at its best, St. Cloud State plays a very similar game. In its regional victories in Toledo, Ohio, against Notre Dame and Miami, SCSU allowed 39 totals shots.
Thursday's national semifinal will likely be decided by plays that decide puck possession battles.
"Coach Motzko puts a big emphasis on puck control," SCSU defenseman Nick Jensen said. "There's going to be some dump and chase, but we're a team that wants to control the puck at all times."
Quinnipiac has the same expectations. Controlling a portion of the game both teams are accustomed to winning is a difficult task. Motzko hasn't adjusted any part of his team's attack in preparation for the Bobcats. Teams that reach the Frozen Four aren't likely to change the way they play. The key is simply doing it better than an opponent.
"When you reach this point, your players have to know tendencies on special teams, but we just have to concentrate on how we play," Motzko said. "We want to have the puck and possess it. We can't be passive or nervous.
"We play similar styles. We've likened it to some teams that we see in (the WCHA)," Motzko said. " We break it down like that, so they're familiar with the Xs and Os. That's the best way for our guys to identify with that."
The Huskies' gifted group of forwards, led by Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski, move the puck as well as any offensive unit in the country. Winning and maintaining possession will decide scoring chances. LeBlanc and the rest of the SCSU forwards are certainly capable of creating in transition. However, controlling the puck for long stretches is the way the Huskies dictate games and control the tempo of a game.
"When we're possessing the puck and on the puck hard and not turning the puck over, that's when we're at our best," Motzko said. "We can score other ways, but we need to work the puck deep and possess it."
Beyond the forward, Jensen and the SCSU defensemen will need to perform in the face of a relentless QU forecheck. The Bobcats battle hard to win races and establish a physical game below the circles. Jensen, the WCHA defensemen of the year, is one of the nation's best in most regards. Corralling pucks and making efficient passes out of the zone is the type of the detail that will likely determine a winner Thursday night.
"Our defensive corps, it starts there," Motzko said. "They have to be able to make that outlet pass on the break out or during neutral zone transition. They've been very strong. … Jensen, to me, is one of the best players in the country."
Looking at St. Cloud's performance in Toledo two weekends ago and its MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champion, it makes sense that they'd avoid changing much of their game.
Motzko expects the same from his opponent.
"I have a feeling Quinnipiac would say the exact same thing," he said. "We're both good hockey teams. It's all going to be about execution (on Thursday). "