New Experiences Don't Faze St. Cloud
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
PITTSBURGH None of the teams in Pittsburgh have Frozen Four experience, which puts everyone on even footing.
But don't tell Bob Motzko that these teams are any less deserving or worthy of being there.
"The right teams are here," the St. Cloud State coach said. "The 'name' teams aren't here. The 'right' teams are here. Three of the teams won their conference championship, which is the best indication of what kind of season you put through. And Yale kicked the crap out of the WCHA going 4-0 this year. They went into CC and Denver, knocked them off, and knocked off North Dakota in Minnesota (in the Regionals).
"So, underdog, favorite, I think the right teams are here; and this thing is just like it was two weeks ago, a wide open tournament. I believe that to stick with the theme from that week, it's still anybody's tournament."
Still, being a new experience for just about everyone does present its challenges. It may be cliche to talk about experience, but it does come into play, with all of the different forces that swirl around the Frozen Four.
But it wasn't just the Frozen Four. Every experience these days is new, including the different atmospheres the team has to play in, and the challenges that presents.
St. Cloud went from a big crowd in St. Paul for the Final Five, then to a tiny crowd with little atmosphere at the Toledo Regional, and now will go back to a full NHL-sized crowd at the Frozen Four.
"I know some coaches commented on (the small crowds in Toledo)," said Motzko, one of the few here with Frozen Four experience, as an assistant coach for Minnesota. "When you win, you wouldn't get that out of us because you were so focused when that happened."
Motzko did acknowledge, however, that there are differences between the different environments.
"You're trying to calm our guys down in the big game because I think we made some mistakes in St. Paul," Motzko said. "We usually don't take a lot of penalties. I think we were the lowest penalized team in the country. We had that big crowd in St. Paul. We were amped up, and we were playing the afternoon game. We took nine minutes of penalties, I think we took 14 all together, and nine of them were ridiculous, not smart on our part. I couldn't be mad because we normally don't do that.
"But we learned from it, and we carry that into the next week. I'm hoping now with the big crowd that our guys now understand. I think they do. I know that they do."
It brings up the raging debate these days, about what is the right atmosphere for NCAA Regionals. Motzko disagreed with counterparts Jeff Jackson and Dave Hakstol, who spoke out about the small regional crowds and suggested campus sites may be an option — though they appear to still be in the minority opinion.
"That tournament means so much to the players," Motzko said. "We do want to get bigger crowds. Don't get me wrong, we want to change that. I think we need to try something, ticket prices, just throw it out. We have to tackle something before we get to move back on campus sites. If that doesn't work, yeah, we get back."
Motzko said he's not a fan of going back to campus sites, as some have suggested as a way to improve atmosphere. He remembers, as many coaches do, what it was like before.
"We've been in nine NCAA Tournaments and it's well-documented by all of our friends that we haven't done much in those eight previous by losing. But we've been darn close," Motzko said. "We always talk about Craig Dahl's team in 2001, one of the best teams in the country that year. And a lot of people thought that was the best team in the country, and they get placed in Yost Arena and had to play Michigan. It's very different from going to Yost and winning a hockey game."
In a season full of challenging firsts, the quirkiest was dealing with Ben Hanowski's involvement in the Jarome Iginla trade. Hanowski's rights were part of the package that was sent by Pittsburgh to Calgary, an unusual experience for sure.
"I sure know Ben now after being around him for four years, and he's a fun-loving guy," Motzko said. "So the trade went down. He was sleeping. I did get a text. I was still up. It was probably midnight, something like that. And we had a morning practice the next morning, and I blew the whistle and everybody came around. I just wanted to break the tension.
"I said, 'Anybody else get traded overnight?' And the first guy laughing was Ben, and he took it in great stride. Then all the guys were tapping him on the shoulder. I said, well, there are a lot of people that want you. We're sure glad you're with us, and here's the drill. We went on to practice, and that was it."
The only atmosphere and experience that really matters to St. Cloud State now, is the one they've gone through together this year. Despite the lack of success on the big stage, Motzko believed early on he had a time worthy of finally getting there.
"I started the year with a new athletic director, Heather Weems, and a new coach who wanted to make sure you get along with your new boss," Motzko said. "We got swept in New Hampshire the first weekend of the year. New Hampshire is a great program. And I think it was the Monday we got back that we were talking, and I remember just saying, 'I really like this hockey team.'"
And now, of course, it's down to business. Who gets dialed in the most, and most quickly, will be in best position to advance to the championship game.
"As Coach said and Drew said, the hoopla, Coach loves that word ... he loves using that saying," St. Cloud forward Ben Hanowski said. "We're excited to be here. We drove in and you see Heinz Field and PNC Park, pretty cool view, and driving in on the bus, and seeing the St. Cloud State logo up there next to the Frozen Four pin and everything like that is pretty special, something I know I'll always remember being a part of it. Just getting through the day, and once tomorrow morning rolls around, it's go time. Later on tonight, guys will be ready to go and focused and we'll be excited to get on the ice and play."