Preseason Top 16: #15 St. Cloud State

Last Season

The Huskies stumbled out of the blocks, losing three of their first four games, and spent most of the WCHA regular season alternating wins and losses. They tied Minnesota Duluth on the last day of the WCHA season, giving them one more point than Nebraska Omaha, which let them earn the 6 seed and home ice advantage. That home ice advantage proved vital as they swept the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs before losing their first Final Five game to North Dakota.

It was the best of times….

When the Huskies went on a 3-0-1 run to first lock up home ice advantage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and then dispatch Nebraska-Omaha in the subsequent first round series.

It was the worst of times…

They played some good teams (1 vs Minnesota and Denver, 2 each vs Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State) but the 6 game winless streak the Huskies endured from November 19th to December 16th doomed them from having any chance at a high finish, and almost cost them home ice in the playoffs. It would have, had Ben Hanowski not scored with 1:07 left in their Saturday tie with Omaha.

The Coach - Bob Motzko (SCSU '87)

Motzko is currently in his 8th season leading St. Cloud, and his most notable feat was leading the program to its first ever NCAA tournament victory in 2010. Motzko has also coached SCSU's 2nd and 3rd Hobey finalists, Ryan Lasch and Bobby Goepfert.

Notable NHL Alumni

Matt Cullen
Bret Hedican
Andreas Nodl
Ryan Malone

Players to watch

It all starts up front with maybe the most underrated forward in all of college hockey. Ben Hanowski was 13th nationally last season in goals per game, scoring 23 in the Huskies 39 contests. Amongst WCHAers he was 4th in goals both overall and in conference play.

After Hanowski, the Huskies' two leading goal scorers graduated, so Junior Nic Dowd (11 goals) will have to carry much of the load offensively. Nashville draft pick Cam Reid had just 6 goals and 15 points as a Sophomore, but has a ton of talent and should be a big contributor as a Junior.

The Huskies won with defense as much as offense last season, with Nick Jensen, Andrew Prochno, Jarrod Rabey and Kevin Gravel making up one of the best defensive corps in the WCHA last year while being one of the youngest as well. With all of those players a year older they should provide a lot of good cover for Sophomore goalie Ryan Faragher.

Speaking of Faragher, he will have to improve a bit from last year's marks when he had a .915 save percentage, but he was pressed into duty after an injury to Mike Lee, and I expect much improvement from him. He's tied for the fourth highest returning save percentage in the WCHA and allowed 3 or fewer goals in every SCSU game save one since January 14th last year.

Newcomers

There may be bigger names entering division 1 hockey this year, but one of the most intriguing is Joey Benik. He had a solid year in the BCHL last season but he made his name as a high schooler at St. Francis, a tiny 1A school in Minnesota where he set the state record for regular season goals with 63 in 2009. Many critics pointed to St. Francis's soft schedule and questioned Benik's ability, but he will have the chance to prove himself at the highest level of college hockey starting this fall.

Another recruit Husky fans should be excited about is Kalle Kossila. Kossila is a native of France but spent last season in the Finnish League's U-20 division, and was the 3rd leading scorer in that league. Europeans have had increased impact in college hockey lately, and Kossila should be no different.

Jonny Brodzinski is a former Mr. Hockey Award finalist in Minnesota and while he had a good season for Fargo of the USHL this year, his best feat probably came last year when he went from the Class AA state tournament in Minnesota in the afternoon to playing his first USHL game that same night.
 
Non conference series to watch:

The Huskies won't have an easy opening to their season, as they'll travel to Durham to take on New Hampshire, who should be in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth as well. It will be a rematch of  the series the two had in October of last season when SCSU got a win and a tie at home vs. the Wildcats

Season prediction:

SCSU's season will depend almost entirely on how the recruits can blend in with the current crop of forwards and whether goalie Ryan Faragher will take a step forward in his Sophomore season. We know that Ben Hanowski will score goals, it's just a matter of how many of his teammates can keep up with him. It should be the difference between whether the Huskies make the NCAA tournament or not.

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