Playoff bound though it is, as it heads into the final weekend of the WCHA regular season, St. Cloud State isnâ€™t going anywhere.
They ainâ€™t movinâ€™ up and they ainâ€™t movinâ€™ down.
They are staying right there in fourth place behind that trio of juggernauts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Duluth.
â€œI keep telling our kids,â€ said St. Cloud coach Jeff Giesen, â€œweâ€™re in fourth place, but weâ€™re in fourth place behind the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4 team in the country. And thatâ€™s not a bad place to be.â€
Donâ€™t think for a second, then, that the Huskiesâ€™ momentary lack of mobility (upward or downward) will lull them into any lackluster effort during these final two games. Not with the No. 1 team in the land, Minnesota, on the docket for a home-and-home series.
Indeed, this weekend St. Cloud has nothing to lose, and everything to play for.
â€œI think playing the Gophers going into the playoffs,â€ said Giesen, â€œis going to be an advantage for us. Regardless of the outcome. Because itâ€™s going to make us perform at a higher level, and a higher speed. Weâ€™re hoping thatâ€™s going to help.â€
Coaches crave consistency over all else, preferring a flat line hum over a white-knuckle roller coaster ride any day.
Right now, the Huskies arenâ€™t playing consistently well enough to suit Giesen.
He cited a 4-3 win at Duluth one weekend, followed the next by a tie and loss to lesser light Minnesota State as examples of his teamâ€™s lack of reliability.
â€œWeâ€™re still looking for that high level,â€ he said. â€œThe consistency thing hasnâ€™t been there for us. (Not) for the last four or six games, either.â€
Of course, itâ€™s difficult to get traction when you are playing â€œthe Big Threeâ€ a dozen times collectively each season. The eight Frozen Four titles those schools have amassed among them stems from something called â€œa culture of winning.â€
That culture is something Giesen, now in his third season as bench boss, is trying hard to install and instill.
â€œItâ€™s been a longer process than we thought (it would be),â€ he said. â€œBut thatâ€™s our goal. Higher expectations, and then finding players with those same expectations.â€
Giesen said that such a culture is made up of four distinct qualities. The â€œteamâ€, preparation, academics, and the recruiting of players with the passion to play.
â€œItâ€™s a matter of changing expectations,â€ he said. â€œIf youâ€™re not going to expect to be in the top, then youâ€™re probably not going to be.â€
When it comes to players with passion, Giesen thinks of diminutive junior defenseman Danielle Hirsch as passion personified.
â€œThereâ€™s no question,â€ Giesen said. â€œShe brings it every day. For being five-foot-nothing, she can play a physical game. She skates well, does a lot of the little things, and has a great attitude. Sheâ€™s happy as a lark to be at the rink every day.â€
Hirsch actually stands 5-foot-2, and is the freshly minted team record holder for assists by a defenseman — 18 of them and counting.
â€œSheâ€™s a really good skater,â€ said Giesen, â€œand really handles the puck well. She actually can shoot the puck pretty well, too. But sheâ€™ll be the first to admit that it doesnâ€™t show by the amount of goals sheâ€™s scored (just three in three seasons) over her career.â€
Giesen and his staff have been busy recruiting more players of Hirschâ€™s ilk. They may have found a good one in forward Alex Nelson, who will enroll at St. Cloud this fall.
Nelson is one of five finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award, presented each anum to the top female high school senior player in Minnesota. Nelson, who plays for Andover High, scored an eye-popping 109 goals (and 101 assists) in her first three seasons.