St. Cloud State’s hockey team had been close, as head coach Bob Motzko said. The Huskies had one victory in 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, with the win coming in 2010.
“This program,” Motzko said, “needed to get over that hurdle.”
On March 31, 2013, they finally did, beating No. 1 seed Notre Dame 5-1 and No. 2 seed Miami (Ohio) 4-1 to win the Midwest Regional. The Huskies advanced to their first Frozen Four in the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
While St. Cloud State lost to Qunnipiac 4-1 in a Frozen Four semifinal, Motzko said it best: “This is a very special time for our program.”
St. Cloud State’s website told the team’s story heading into the 2013 Frozen Four.
A coach’s dream, he called them.
March 31 in Toledo, Ohio, those players lived their coach’s words in deeds small and great, winning St. Cloud State’s first NCAA Division I championship berth with 4-1 defeat of Miami University in the Midwest Regional final.
The Dream Team is led by Drew LeBlanc, a math teacher in training from Hermantown, Minn., who was sidelined most of his senior season by a compound leg fracture. LeBlanc put team first, came to practices in a wheelchair, then returned for a fifth year. He won the national fan balloting for college hockey’s highest honor, the Hobey Baker Award, with 24,696 votes.
At the other end of the bench is Brooks Bertsch, a sophomore forward from Dubuque, Iowa, who took turns this season sitting as Motzko rotated forwards in and out of the lineup. Bertsch recorded three assists at the Midwest Regional.
Between the pipes is goaltender Ryan Faragher. The lanky goaltender Motzko calls “country strong” persevered in the shadows of the team’s stellar and more flamboyant forwards. In two regional games the sophomore recorded 37 saves and gave up two goals. Faragher skated into the limelight Sunday, earning an all-tournament team nod.
Exploding on the scene is Joey Benik, a first-year forward who scored two regular-season goals while recovering from a broken left leg incurred during the first hour of his first college practice. He was named MVP of the Midwest Regional, recording four goals and an assist in Toledo.
Consider forward Cory Thorson and defenseman Andrew Prochno. Thorson was thrust this week into a new role, centering linemates Bertsch and Benik, a combination that hadn’t played a game together all season. He responded with three goals and an assist at the regional, earning all-tournament honors. Prochno also made the all-tournament team, recording two assists on the weekend, while battling on the end boards and defending in front of the net.
Earlier this month, Motzko talked on his 1450 KNSI “Bob Motzko Show” about the end of his bench, the temp workers who labor every practice, but on game day sometimes wearing the cardinal red and black, sometimes wear a jacket and tie.
He might as well have been talking about the character of his entire team.
“This core of guys, their attitude has been outstanding,” said Motzko, seated a few feet from the MacNaughton Cup, symbol of St. Cloud State’s first Western Collegiate Hockey Association title. “Not one guy has pouted. Not one guy has even given you the look. It’s kind of a coach’s dream to have that happen in a season.”
Thorson, at the postgame press conference, echoed his coach: “We have 25 guys in that locker room right now that have worked their tails off all season and made such a big dream come true.”
A Dream Team, indeed, with more dreams to fulfill.
On the cover and above: St. Cloud State’s Frozen Four-bound team celebrates its Midwest Regional title. (Courtesy Tom Nelson/St. Cloud State University Communications)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Quinnipiac and Radford
• Tuesday: Rensselaer (RPI) and Rhode Island
• Wednesday: Rice and Richmond
• Thursday: St. Bonaventure and St. Cloud State
• Friday: Saint Joseph’s and St. Lawrence