Team of the Week: St. Cloud State
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
A year ago, it was frequently offense leading the way for St. Cloud State. With Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc and a number of gifted offensive weapons available to SCSU coach Bob Motzko, goals were never in short supply for the Huskies.
This season, Motzko still expects the goals to come. However, his defense and goaltending have led SCSU to a 5-0-1 start that included a two-game sweep of North Dakota in Grand Forks. The wins, which also got SCSU off to a 2-0 start in NCHC play, made them the College Hockey News Team of the Week.
In each game in Grand Forks, the Huskies were down, 1-0, after the first period. Each time, they erupted for the next three goals to earn the wins. The timing was different each night, but the message was the same. St. Cloud State may have lost a lot of scoring and experience, but it still expects to be among the nation's best.
Junior goaltender Ryan Faragher stopped 45 of 48 shots over the weekend. Most importantly, though, was the St. Cloud forwards and defensemen keeping North Dakota from piling up shot after shot, especially when trying to protect leads. It's times like these where losing defenseman Nick Jensen, who forwent his final year of eligibility to sign a professional contract, stands out more than losses of the Huskies' gifted forwards.
"Obviously, we lost a lot of great players with Hanowski, Leblanc and the others. But I think losing Nick Jensen kind of got overlooked," Motzko said. "He played so many key minutes for us last year and became one of the best defensemen in the country. We have a lot of talent back there returning. We knew Ryan Faragher had played a lot of hockey coming into this season, and we needed him to take that next step as an upperclassman. He's still trying to do that, but he's played very well thus far."
In five starts, Faragher is undefeated with a 2.00 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. The Huskies aren't allowing many shots, but Faragher's brushing almost all of them aside.
In front of him, Andrew Prochno and Kevin Gravel lead a talented group of defensemen. Motzko believes Faragher can be one of the nation's best goaltenders. While his numbers have never revealed that level of talent, he's been consistently good in his time as the No. 1.
His performance against North Dakota last weekend was crucial, especially with UND going up, 1-0, each night. Keeping the deficit at one and waiting for its offense to come together was a good formula for SCSU.
"We went down, 1-0, but the thing for us was that we were able to keep it a 1-0 game for 35 minutes," Motzko said of Friday's game. "Ryan Faragher made some big saves, and we just played well defensively. Going into the third period, we just needed a goal. Kevin Gravel, an upperclassman, makes a play from the slot, and we get more confidence. We end up with two more. The same thing happened the next night, and we were able to sneak out of there with a couple wins. It doesn't happen too often."
Through six games, a 5-0-1 mark is exactly the type of start every coach hopes for. With new-NCHC rival Miami coming into the National Hockey Center this weekend, the Huskies need more of the same. Some additional contributions from a few key forwards should come as well.
"We've got some guys that we need to score goals that haven't quite gotten off it yet," Motzko said. "It's worked for us well so far because our defensemen, team defense and goaltending with Faragher have been really strong. We know we need guys to score, though, and we expect that they will. It's a long season."
That long season is only complicated by a number of new opponents. However, these first few weeks haven't been too hard on SCSU. Opening with Bemidji State and then starting conference play with North Dakota meant four games with clubs the Husky players are very familiar with. That won't be the case all season, but it's not something Motzko believes his players care about much.
"We've played most of our opponents in the last few years," Motzko said. "Obviously, Bemidji and North Dakota were in the WCHA with us. North Dakota's been our travel partner forever, so we've always played them four times a year. Miami, we saw in the NCAA Tournament last season … So it hasn't changed much for us just yet. We aren't looking past each weekend. With Miami coming in, it'd be crazy to think about anything other than Friday night."