Huskies concentrate despite Frozen Four 'whirlwind'

8:05 PM, Apr 10, 2013   |    comments
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PITTSBURGH - The St. Cloud State men's hockey team landed in Pittsburgh to a water cannon salute by two airport fire trucks.

The Huskies, like all four teams in the Frozen Four, are receiving a police escort when they go anywhere.

There have been interviews with Twin Cities TV stations and with ESPN.

On Wednesday, the Huskies practiced for the first time at CONSOL Energy Center with the Frozen Four logo at center ice, the team's logo on all the digital screens in the arena and fans watching.

Yeah, the stage has gotten a bit bigger and the Huskies say they are confident that they will be focused for today's game against top-ranked Quinnipiac in the NCAA Division I semifinals at 7 p.m. (ESPN2).

Yale plays UMass-Lowell at 3:30 p.m. today in the other semifinals game. The championship will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).

"Driving up, you see the Frozen Four sign on the window with our name up there, it's like, 'Oh, this really happened,'" Huskies senior captain Drew LeBlanc said. "It's been a whirlwind of practice and interviews ... We haven't had a chance to sit down and enjoy the moment yet.

"It's getting really, really cool and it's business time now. That is the exciting part. We can't wait to get to that point."

St. Cloud State senior captain Ben Hanowski noted that as you drive into Pittsburgh from the airport, there is a tunnel and you come out of the tunnel and can see the city.

"We drove in and there's Heinz Field (where the Steelers play) and PNC Park (where the Pirates play) - pretty cool view," Hanowski said.

"Driving in on the bus and seeing the CST (school) logo up there next to the Frozen Four pin and everything like that is pretty special, something I'll always remember being a part of.

"But (this morning), it's go time. Later (Wednesday) night, guys will be ready to go and focused and we'll be excited to get on the ice and play."

New guard

None of the four teams at the Frozen Four has had an experience like this. Yale is the lone program in it that has played in a national semifinals game ... and that was in 1952.

If the Frozen Four was men's basketball's Final Four, the four teams playing in it would be considered mid-major programs. In other words, the traditional powers - teams like Boston College, Boston University, North Dakota, Minnesota and Denver - are not here. Consider this: Yale's home rink has a seating capacity of 3,500; Quinnipiac's home rink has a seating capacity of 3,286. Add those two together and you get a little more than half the capacity at North Dakota's Engelstad Arena (11,634).

Throw in that St. Cloud State is a No. 13 overall seed and Yale is the No. 15 seed in a 16-team field, and it gives the Frozen Four a wide open feel.

"Everyone here is in unchartered waters," LeBlanc said. "No one has any previous experience really here (at a Frozen Four).

"We have a good team to be here and we are excited to have a shot at winning this thing, that's for sure."

Motzko said, with a smile, that his favorite part to this point in all the hoopla has been riding the charter flights in and out of St. Cloud. And he has come up with an answer to when he is asked about the big-name teams not being at the Frozen Four.

"When they said these are the 16 teams in our (NCAA) tournament, everyone said it's a wide-open tournament this year and anybody can win," said Motzko, who was an assistant for two national titles at Minnesota. "Then when we came through the regions, all the talk was, well, the big names aren't there.

"The right teams are here. It's not the 'named' teams aren't here. The 'right' teams are here. Three of the teams won their (regular season) conference championships, which is the best indication of what kind of season you put through."

Thursday's game

Quinnipiac is the top-ranked team in the nation, a spot that the Bobcats have held since Jan. 19 and are led by senior goalie Eric Hartzell, a Hobey Baker Award finalist who is 29-6-5 with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.

"Eric Hartzell has to be given tons of credit," Motzko said. "His numbers are just gaudy. He is a big, strong, athletic-looking kid.

"I think their coach last week said that (Hartzell's) the best player in the country and they just have tremendous confidence as a hockey team. No. 1 in the country in defense led by a goaltender like that."
Quinnipiac, though, showed it has some offensive firepower, scoring nine goals in two regional games.

"They're extremely hard workers and they've got a lot of veterans on that team," Huskies junior defenseman Nick Jensen said, referring to the Bobcats' 17 upperclassmen. "A lot of playing style comes from experience.

"Not every (offensive play) is the prettiest, but they just get pucks to the net and work hard," Jensen said. "We're just going to grind our defense. Our two best defensive games all year were against Notre Dame and Miami in the regional. We're not going to change anything."

The Bobcats, on the other hand, will try to shut down the Huskies, who are the second-best scoring team in the nation.

"Obviously, they're a high scoring team, high octane offense," Quinnipiac senior defenseman Zack Currie said. "LeBlanc is a big part of that.

"So we're going to have our work cut out for us, but we pride ourselves in being a very defensive club, and we can score too. We've got to keep to our game and keep to our principles and what we know helped us win. I feel we'll be able to handle what they're going to throw at us."

(Copyright 2013 by Gannett Co. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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