Victories help St. Cloud State put focus back on the ice

“What’s happening up there in St. Cloud?” was a commonly asked question in the wake of one of St. Cloud State’s more forgettable halves of a season in recent history.

The voting media rated SCSU fourth in the preseason poll but the Huskies quickly descended down the rankings with each loss until they were completely off the radar. The Huskies ended the fall with two home losses to Colorado College, their third and fourth straight defeats.

St. Cloud State University's Drew LeBlanc knocks RIT's Andrew Favot off his skates during Friday's opening game of the Mutual of Omaha Stampede at Qwest Center Omaha. St. Cloud State won 3-1. (Photo by Michelle Bishop) (Michelle Bishop)
Drew LeBlanc (19) and St. Cloud State have won six straight games since ending the first half on a four-game losing streak (photo: Michelle Bishop).

“We weren’t very consistent in the beginning of the year,” said freshman Nic Dowd. “We weren’t getting very many shots on goal and our forwards weren’t playing good hockey. Myself included.”

It wasn’t the start many envisioned of a team that lost just five players from the 2009-10 season when the Huskies were runners-up of the Final Five and a game away from the Frozen Four.

“It was frustrating for a lot of guys,” said SCSU junior forward Drew LeBlanc. “We had high expectations and things didn’t pan out. Surprisingly, the mood was never bad.”

SCSU went down south and won the Florida College Classic with wins against Cornell and No. 6 Miami but the Huskies couldn’t make it back to St. Cloud without an incident. Chris Hepp left the team and Tony Mosey was dismissed from the program after the tournament. David Eddy was benched for the team’s next series, against Michigan Tech.

There was a lot of speculation whether the cases were related. SCSU President Earl H. Potter III told the St. Cloud Times that Hepp and Mosey violated team curfew in Florida “involving a third player and alcohol consumption.” Potter said both players were already “walking on thin ice.”

Mosey was arrested Sept. 20 after St. Cloud Police accused him of caving in the roof of a car by walking on it. He served a two-game suspension as a result. The Jan. 11 Times report also stated Hepp was present at the scene and police found “a small amount of marijuana” on him.

Mosey and Hepp each signed with ECHL teams.

It was getting to the point where the Huskies were going to have to win to take some of the focus away from the off-ice issues. That’s what they’ve done.

After the Huskies beat Cornell 4-3 and Miami 4-3, SCSU has been able to feast on the WCHA’s lesser teams to resume the league schedule. The Huskies swept Michigan Tech 3-0 and 5-1 on Jan. 7-8.

SCSU needed overtime to beat Bemidji State, 2-1, last Friday and completed the sweep with 5-1 win Saturday.

The Huskies were known for their ability to score the past few seasons but offense was one of SCSU’s weaknesses in the fall, averaging just 2.5 goals per game in 18 games. They’ve scored 23 goals in the past six games, all wins.

Five Huskies — LeBlanc (2 goals, 10 assists), Cam Reid (4 goals, 6 assists), Garrett Roe (3 goals, 7 assists), Dowd (3 goals, 6 assists) and Eddy (3 goals, 3 assists) — averaged a point or more per game in those six wins.

“The break was a real nice thing to get home, spend some time with the family and forget about what a killing we took at the beginning of the season,” said Dowd, who was named WCHA rookie of the week twice in a row earlier this month after he scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in four games at the Florida College Classic and in the home series against Michigan Tech.

“We have half a season to prove we can turn it around.”

One of the team’s best young scorers, Eddy’s return to the lineup gave the Huskies a boost after he sat out the fall semester while academically ineligible.

Goaltender Mike Lee was 3-7-1 with a .891 save percentage and allowed three goals per game in his first 13 games of the season. Lee split time with Dan Dunn in goal but Huskies coach Bob Motzko has recently made Lee the No. 1 goalie.

In the last six games, Lee has allowed just nine goals in six games with a save percentage of .940 during the streak.

These games against some of the league’s cellar dwellers could give the Huskies the momentum they need when they break into a meat grinder of a schedule to end the season.

SCSU has road series at No. 15 Nebraska-Omaha and No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth followed by home series with No. 4 North Dakota and No. 8 Wisconsin. The Huskies end the season at No. 3 Denver.

“It’s going to be fun and we can’t wait to get it going,” LeBlanc said.

The offense is clicking and Lee has finally found the hot hand, but perhaps the biggest key to SCSU’s streak was losing the distractions.

The weekend series by the numbers

Minnesota State at St. Cloud State

Records: MSU — 10-11-5 (4-11-3 WCHA). SCSU — 11-11-2 (7-8-1 WCHA).

Last meeting: SCSU knocked MSU out of the WCHA first round in three games last season: MSU 5-4 (OT), SCSU 3-2, SCSU 3-2 (OT).

Special teams: MSU — 14.2 percent PP (47th in nation), 81.9 percent PK (33rd in nation). SCSU — 15.8 percent PP (38th in nation). 82.5 percent PK (27th in nation).

Streaks: MSU four-game winless. SCSU six-game winning.

Goaltending: MSU — Phil Cook (15 GP, 8-6-1, 3.01 GAA, .908 save percentage). SCSU — Mike Lee (17 GP, 7-7-1, 2.89 GAA, .901 save percentage).

Leading scorer: MSU — Kurt Davis (7-12–19). SCSU — Drew LeBlanc (8-21–29).

North Dakota at Colorado College

Records: UND — 18-7-2 (13-5-0 WCHA). CC — 14-11-1 (8-8-0 WCHA).

Last meeting: UND swept CC late last season in Colorado Springs in a pair 3-2 Sioux wins.

Special teams: UND — 20.8 percent PP (15th in nation), 83.7 percent PK (20th in nation). CC — 23.6 percent PP (5th in nation). 85.5 percent PK (11th in nation).

Streaks: UND one-game winning. CC two-game winning.

Goaltending: UND — Aaron Dell (23 GP, 17-5-1, 2.07 GAA, .916 save percentage). CC — Joe Howe (21 GP, 11-9-1, 2.70 GAA, .908 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UND — Matt Frattin (20-10–30). CC — Tyler Johnson (16-12–28) and Stephen Schultz (12-16–28).

Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota

Records: UAA — 7-12-3 (6-10-2 WCHA). MINN — 10-9-3 (7-7-2 WCHA).

Last meeting: The teams split a January series last season in Anchorage. MINN 7-4, UAA 2-1

Special teams: UAA — 14.6 percent PP (46th in nation), 80 percent PK (42nd in nation). MINN — 21.1 percent PP (13th in nation). 73.5 percent PK (57th in nation).

Streaks: UAA two-game losing. MINN one-game losing.

Goaltending: UAA — Rob Gunderson (16 GP, 8-4-3, 2.58 GAA, .916 save percentage). MINN — Kent Patterson (16 GP, 8-4-3, 2.56 GAA, .916 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UAA — Tommy Grant (10-10–20). MINN — Jay Barriball (11-11–22).

Wisconsin at Michigan Tech

Records: UW — 17-8-3 (9-7-2 WCHA). MTU — 3-18-3 (1-14-1 WCHA).

Last meeting: UW swept MTU in October in Madison. UW 5-2, UW 4-1

Special teams: UW — 25.7 percent PP (2nd in nation), 81.5 percent PK (35th in nation). MTU — 20 percent PP (17th in nation). 74.2 percent PK (56th in nation).

Streaks: UW three-game winning. MTU 18-game winless.

Goaltending: UW — Scott Gudmandson (21 GP, 13-6-1, 1.77 GAA, .935 save percentage). MTU — Josh Robertson (14 GP, 1-9-2, 4.42 GAA, .888 save percentage) and Kevin Genoe (12 GP, 2-9-1, 4.02 GAA, .888 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UW — Craig Smith (14-22–36). MTU — Milos Gordic (11-16–27).

Alabama-Huntsville at Nebraska-Omaha

Records: UAH — 3-23-2. UNO — 13-9-2.

Last meeting: UNO beat UAH 5-1 in October 2007 in Omaha.

Special teams: UAH — 19.7 percent PP (21st in nation), 78.1 percent PK (48th in nation). UNO — 23 percent PP (7th in nation). 83.2 percent PK (23rd in nation).

Streaks: UAH four-game losing. UNO one-game losing.

Goaltending: UAH — Clark Saunders (15 GP, 3-12-0, 3.87 GAA, .887 save percentage). UNO — John Faulkner (24 GP, 13-8-2, 2.61 GAA, .908 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UAH — Matt Baxter (9-11–20). UNO — Joey Martin (8-18–26).