MADISON, Wis. — As the injuries and defections continued to pile up, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko keeps trying to put on a positive spin on things.
So when Nick Oliver went spinning to the ice and had to helped to the locker room after a violent hit by Wisconsin defenseman John Ramage, it just became another case of having to make do with what they’ve got.
“You can travel with 22 players and we have four goalies right now,” said Motzko. “That’s the whole team. We’re kind of simple. We have some top guys who can score and if they score, we have a chance.”
Motzko’s top scorer is junior captain Ben Hanowski and considering he scored the game’s first two goals, that 22-member crew certainly opened some eyes. Picking up its energy from the Ramage hit, St. Cloud State scored five unanswered goals – including going 3-for-5 on the power play – in a one-sided 5-1 victory over Wisconsin Friday in front of 11,213 at the Kohl Center.
To say the Huskies (11-14-4, 8-10-3 WCHA) are shorthanded is an understatement. Drew LeBlanc, Jordy Christian and Travis Novak are all upperclassmen and relied upon for minutes, but are all out due to injury. Christian was the biggest loss – blowing out his knee and is done for the season – and makes at least seven Huskies players that have at missed at least two games due to injury and four that have missed at least 12.
Throw in the fact that St. Cloud State lost Mitch MacMillan (transfer to North Dakota) and Cam Reid (left for major juniors), Motzko used a fourth line that scored a combined two points and a third line that combined for 20 entering the weekend.
“We’re young, we’re banged up, but our guys never use that as an excuse,” Motzko said. “We’re just trying to play hard. The only way we’re going to win is our top guys got to score and our goalies have got to be good.”
Watching them for 60 minutes, one never would have known that its line chart resembled a M*A*S*H unit. The Huskies were physical, they were aggressive and they attacked the net – a common theme in the visitors scoring the first five goals of the game all within five feet of the net against Wisconsin freshman goalie Joel Rumpel (19 saves).
“We knew we needed to get pucks deep, get it on their defense and we had a pretty good pace to our game,” said Hanowski, as SCSU also got goals from David Eddy, Nic Dowd and Jared Festler from around the crease. “We scored in a bunch of different ways – beat him low block, glove side, had a wrap around, had a rebound. We had guys going to the net and attacking with speed.”
The only time Wisconsin (12-13-2, 7-12-2 WCHA) was truly aggressive is when Ramage threw his right shoulder into an unsuspecting Oliver, who didn’t have his head on a swivel and likely will from now on.
The hit caused a 10-player mini-brawl along the boards 5:46 into the game that eventually was sorted out with Ramage getting a two-minute roughing penalty, a five-game major for contact to the head and a game misconduct.
“He [Oliver] had no idea it was coming,” said Motzko. “A few years ago, that was a heck of a hit.”
Ramage wasn’t the only UW player shown the gate, as freshman Brendan Woods received a game disqualification with 20 seconds left after checking Eddy from behind. According to Motzko, Eddy is ‘dinged up’ and is questionable for Saturday’s series finale, calling it ‘not a good hit.’
“We faced some adversity and when we faced that adversity, we didn’t respond well,” said UW assistant captain Ryan Little. “We branched out, didn’t stick together as a team and therefore, we fell apart and embarrassed ourselves.”
Perhaps bigger than all the scoring was the fact the Huskies have junior goalie and team captain Mike Lee back on the ice after missing the last 20 games following hip surgery. Lee stopped 31 of 32 shots, losing his shutout with 2:05 remaining when Woods redirected a blue line shot.
Creeping closer to the top six in the conference and home ice in the first round of the league playoffs (just three points behind), his return is a huge bonus.
“He’s a horse of an athlete,” said Motzko of Lee. “He was ready to go a month ago, but the doctor wouldn’t sign off until a certain point after surgery. He’s in great shape and had ample time to prepare and practice.”