It’s tough to convince some people — those that thrive on routine and having as many things as possible run exactly the same from one day to the next — that variety is the spice of life.
Drew LeBlanc is one of those folks.
A star fifth-year senior forward for St. Cloud State, LeBlanc is a strict creature of habit. His model for everyday life has inspired his Huskies teammates, too, and that’s part of the reason why SCSU sits in first place in the WCHA.
The Hermantown, Minn., native has mastered his day-to-day routine in his time at SCSU, and he’s made it work for him. He’s a four-time WCHA scholar-athlete award winner, and his 40 points and leadership on the ice so far this season have his university building him up as a Hobey Baker Award candidate.
Like everyone, LeBlanc has faced challenges along the way that have thrown his routines out of whack. That he’s dealt exceptionally well with them all, though, could be considered a major credit to him.
A compound leg fracture last season put LeBlanc out of on-ice commission for seven months, and now the secondary education major is trying to balance his obligations to his team and to a second group: his pupils at St. Cloud Apollo High School for his semester-long stint as a student teacher.
Huskies coach Bob Motzko said he has met very few people who operate like LeBlanc does. It’s such a seldom-seen thing, Motzko said, that LeBlanc sometimes works as much like a machine as he does as a person.
“He’s truly a creature of habit, almost like a machine,” Motzko said. “From the time he gets up in the morning to what he has for lunch to how he trains, every single thing in his life is routine. I’ve only been around a few people like that in my life, and he’s one of them.
“What’s funny about Drew is that he operates with the same mannerisms every day. It’s like with his breaking his leg last season — one of the worst injuries I’ve ever seen in hockey in terms of that Joe Theismann sort of compound leg break with the bone sticking out — and then he’s in class [the following] Monday.
“That sort of thing just doesn’t happen [with most people] but that’s down to his routine. He works out every single day, and if he gets out of his routine he gets uncomfortable and forces himself to find a way to remedy that.”
LeBlanc doesn’t reject the “machine” label out of hand — he laughed when he was told how Motzko described him — but in terms of on-ice performance, LeBlanc felt another Huskies player was more deserving of the moniker.
“I wouldn’t go as far as ‘machine,'” LeBlanc said in response to Motzko’s assessment of him. “I’m definitely very, very routine-oriented, but the machine on our team is more likely Nick Jensen. He’s the one on our team who plays 45 minutes a night, so I’d give him that title.”
It’d be silly for LeBlanc to take no credit for SCSU’s success this season, though. His 10 goals and 30 assists for 40 points — good enough to put him into a tie for third place on the NCAA Division I scoring chart — have been a big help in propelling St. Cloud State to the top of the WCHA tree and within striking distance of the Huskies’ first WCHA regular season championship.
It would be their last one, too, as the Huskies are set to move to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference after the season. For right now, SCSU is one point clear at the top of the WCHA standings with two games in hand on Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota State.
In terms of LeBlanc’s contributions on the ice, Motzko said he has rarely come across a player like LeBlanc who so effectively balances his talent, leadership qualities and role as a high-functioning student of the sport.
“He’s got the greatest hockey IQ of any player I’ve ever coached,” Motzko said of LeBlanc. “His thought process to move the puck in offensive areas and to continue to move us forward is scary.”
Motzko continued: “I’ll give you an example: When [SCSU senior forward] Ben Hanowski went down with an injury earlier in the year and he was out for a good chunk of time, I put two freshmen on Drew’s line and by Christmas they were the top two goal-scorers in the country for freshmen.
“That’s what Drew LeBlanc will do when you play with him. He’s a guy you beg to be on a line with because he finds you and creates offense when there’s nothing there and puts the puck in the right areas to keep the chain going.”
Off the ice, it’s LeBlanc’s need for a set routine in everything he does that keeps him running at a high level day after day.
“It’s the same off the ice as it is on,” Motzko said. “He’s in student teaching right now, but when he was in classes [at SCSU], he’d drop off his sack lunch every day at, like, 10 a.m. in his stall in the locker room, go to class, and then have lunch at the same time every day.
“I’m pretty sure that, if I was to open the bag, it’s the same lunch every day. That’s just how he operates.”
LeBlanc is more than a month into his student teaching experience at Apollo, with two sections of Algebra II and one section of Algebra I to teach. He points to his father, a math teacher, as his inspiration for wanting to teach the subject to the kids of today.
There’s still much left to do between now and when he earns his degree, of course, but he has enjoyed his time thus far in his new classroom.
“So far so good, I think,” LeBlanc said. “They’re still working me into the classes at this point, so I had two and then I just got my third one. I’ll have a lot more work here starting in the next couple of weeks, but so far it’s been pretty good.
“Math’s pretty sequential in terms of the steps you take to get to the right answer, and that’s kind of why I like it. A lot of math people think outside the box but, for the most part, I’m a pretty sequential guy in that I like to have things in order and do everything in a certain way, and I suppose that does play a part subconsciously in everything else I do outside of teaching.”
LeBlanc isn’t entirely the same person on the ice as he is in the classroom, but he did see some similarities between those two roles he plays.
“My dad’s a math teacher, so I suppose it’s in the blood, but — and I catch some flak from my teammates about this — I just like being around people and helping them,” LeBlanc said. “It may not seem like that [on the ice] because I kind of keep quiet on the rink, but I do like working with the kids, and I enjoy that quirkiness of high school kids.
“I remember being the same way around that age, and now I’m seeing it from a different side. I remember exactly what it’s like for them, and they make me laugh every day. I have fun with it.”
The entire Huskies team has drawn inspiration from LeBlanc’s worth ethic, Motzko said, and incorporating that heightened sense of organization into what the team does together is paying dividends.
“Even through the seven months he was out of commission with his injury and all the other challenges he’s faced, he’s a driven kid and he just keeps moving,” Motzko said. “It’s a remarkable story of what he went through to get back.
“We’re taking on [the attitude of] Drew LeBlanc, and our team is taking on how he operates as its leader, and the only thing that affects him is sticking to his routine. The team has taken onto that personality.”