Defense a strength for St. Cloud State, but will injuries stay away?

The surge St. Cloud State made at the end of the regular season and into the WCHA playoffs last season had people who follow the league wondering how good the Huskies could be if they had a full and healthy lineup.

But the injury bug took just one hour into the first official day of practice last Saturday to bite the Huskies again.

Joey Benik was supposed to be the rookie that would ignite the Huskies offense but he broke his fibula when he got bumped while he was off balance and got his toe caught in the ice as his body went the opposite way during a drill.

“It’s devastating for the young man,” said Huskies coach Bob Motzko, who said if all goes well in the recovery process, Benik could be back in November.

“He plays 160 games in juniors, never got injured and then he’s doing a little, tiny drill and this happens.”

Drew LeBlanc, SCSU’s leading scorer in 2010-11, suffered a broken leg last November, which started a string of injuries that put holes in the Huskies’ depth and offense.

LeBlanc is healthy and is counted on to lead the Huskies, along with fellow senior captain Ben Hanowski.

Travis Novak and Jordy Christian both suffered long-term injuries last season. Cam Reid and Mitch MacMillan left the team around Christmas break.

“Everyone came back in great shape and ready to get going this year,” LeBlanc said. “I don’t think Friday can come soon enough for us.”

It’s going to take secondary scoring outside the top line that includes LeBlanc and Hanowski. Nic Dowd is expected to play a big role as a junior, but the Huskies need points out of their underclassmen, too.

While it seems overcoming injuries has been the story of the Huskies lately, the strength of the team is on defense.

Junior Nick Jensen is a preseason All-WCHA pick who led SCSU in assists with 26. Motzko had him paired with his 2011-12 partner sophomore Andrew Prochno as of Tuesday. Sophomore Jarrod Rabey and junior Kevin Gravel are also together on preliminary pairings, according to Motzko.

Thrown into the starting goalie spot when Mike Lee suffered a long-term hip injury, Ryan Faragher played well as a freshman, compiling a 2.77 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.

“We had a depleted lineup and ended up with a pretty good goals against mark,” Motzko said. “With our defensive corps back and goaltending, we do anticipate and hope we’ll be a very strong defensive team.”

About the Huskies

2011-12 overall record: 17-17-5

2011-12 WCHA record: 12-12-4 (sixth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fourth

Key losses: G Mike Lee, F Jared Festler, F David Eddy, F Travis Novak, F David Eddy

Players to watch: F Ben Hanowski, F Drew LeBlanc, F Nic Dowd, D Nick Jensen, D Andrew Prochno, G Ryan Faragher

Impact rookie: F Joey Benik

Why the Huskies will finish higher than the coaches poll: There’s a lot of depth at defense and Drew LeBlanc’s return for a fifth season mightily improves a Huskies offense that relied too much on Ben Hanowski last season.

Why the Huskies will finish lower than the coaches poll: Scoring depth could be a question mark. Ryan Faragher could fall into a sophomore slump and SCSU lacks experience in net outside Faragher.