TOLEDO, Ohio — It took nine tries, but the St. Cloud State Huskies finally did it. They are headed to the Frozen Four.
2013 NCAA Midwest Regional
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After eight NCAA tournament appearances, the Huskies entered the regional in Toledo with only one tournament win. The two wins will mark St. Cloud State’s first appearance in the Frozen Four.
The play of Benik was a major surprise in the Midwest Regional. He came into Saturday’s contest having scored three goals in 21 games. After leading the Huskies to a win over Notre Dame on Saturday, Benik got the Huskies on the board 5:28 into the game. He added the eventual game-winner 5:36 into second period.
“Both games yesterday and today were very good,” Benik said. “For us… one thing we came into the weekend focused on was getting shots on net, and that’s what we did. If they don’t go in, we need to win those battles to bury our rebounds, and we had a couple goals like that.”
Benik missed the first half of the season due to a leg injury suffered 20 minutes into the first practice of the year. St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko noted that there was some consideration in redshirting Benik. That thought, thankfully for Motzko and the Huskies, only lasted 30 seconds. Benik was named as the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player by members of the media.
“It took him a while for him to warm up, and boy he has started to warm up here in the playoffs,” Motzko said.
This weekend is not the first Benik has stepped up in a playoff situation. Last season, Benik was a member of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees, which won an astounding 42 games in a row. In the RBC Cup, Benik scored the game-winner for Penticton in the final minute of the game.
“If you follow his track record, that is what he does,” Motzko said. “He is a fantastic young guy. There was even a point when he broke his leg and it didn’t heal as fast you want it, and there became a point where ‘Should you redshirt him?’”
Benik’s comeback from the injury was slow. He did not have any goals and only had one assist in his first 10 games after returning to the lineup on Dec. 27 against Rensselaer.
“It is hard to kind of be away from games for that long,” Benik said. “You just have to be ready and get into game shape, but you don’t know what game shape is like until you’re in the actual game, so obviously some huge adjustments to make. When I started to play games again, conditioning was one of them. And I had to be more physical and conditioned.”
Miami, the CCHA regular season champion, had its season end with a 25-12-5 record and missed a Frozen Four bid for the third consecutive season. Despite not making the Frozen Four, Miami coach Enrico Blasi said that his senior class left the Miami program in better shape than when they came in.
“It stings right now — there’s nothing that I can say to these guys right now that is going to make this any better,” Blasi said. “But on Monday, when I design a championship ring for them, and they get one, that’s special.”
After Benik’s two goals, the Huskies led 2-0 5:36 into the second. Miami cut St. Cloud State’s lead in half when Blake Coleman wristed in a shot that had rebounded off the end boards 7:50 into the second.
The Huskies answered less than three minutes after Coleman’s goal when Cory Thorson took a bouncing puck and fired it past Miami goalie Ryan McKay to squash Miami’s momentum.
“When you get that close, then they come back and score a goal, that’s hard to accept,” Blasi said. “I thought our guys battled hard; I didn’t think they gave up. We just couldn’t find a way to penetrate their ‘D.’”
Thorson later added an empty-net goal with less than one second remaining in regulation to set off a full-scale celebration on the Huskies’ bench.
“Both teams are spent right now,” Motzko said. “It turned into a defensive battle down the stretch; it had to.”