St. Cloud State asking young defensemen to play big roles

St. Cloud State’s offense went through struggles in 2010-11, but the main concern for Huskies coach Bob Motzko this season is the defense.

“If we have a spot on our team where we’re going to start with an unknown, it’s on defense,” said Motzko, who returns for his seventh season behind the SCSU bench. “We have six freshmen or sophomores on ‘D,’ so we’re going to have young guys with bigger roles.”

The Huskies have only two upperclassmen on the blue line — junior Taylor Johnson and senior Sam Zabkowicz — but they will get help from sophomores Nick Jensen and Kevin Gravel. Jensen and Gravel both made strides as freshmen last season.

“The guys that really shined for us on defense were both freshmen,” Motzko said. “By the end of the year, Nick Jensen and Kevin Gravel were outstanding.”

Mike Lee’s numbers (.910 save percentage, 2.75 goals against average) from last season were below average, but Motzko was quick to dismiss Lee from all the blame.

“Mike was kind of victimized,” Motzko said. “The players in front of him let him down. He’s ready for his time to shine, and that could be now.”

Of course, Lee and the SCSU defense are going to need more help from the offense than it provided in 2010-11. Drew LeBlanc returns for his senior season after he led the Huskies in points (39).

SCSU ranked eighth in the WCHA in scoring (2.95 goals per game) last season despite returning 12 of its top 14 scorers from 2009-10. The Huskies lost just 17 percent of their offensive production from last season to 2011-12.

About the Huskies

2010-11 overall record: 15-18-5

2010-11 WCHA record: 11-13-4 (ninth)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Seventh

Key losses: F Garrett Roe, F Aaron Marvin, G Dan Dunn

Players to watch: F Drew LeBlanc, F Cam Reid, F David Eddy, F Jared Festler, D Taylor Johnson, G Mike Lee

Impact rookie: F Nick Oliver

Why the Huskies will finish higher than the coaches poll: The young defensive corps will progress as well as Nick Jensen and Kevin Gravel did in their rookie seasons. Eddy will have a breakout season offensively after sitting out nearly half of 2010-11.

Why the Huskies will finish lower than the coaches poll: An unproven Huskies defense could leave Lee on an island again but the offense has to be a lot more productive, too.