As Huskies head back to Pittsburgh, fond memories of SCSU program's first Frozen Four remain
There were plenty of new experiences, and no NCAA trophy but a few nice consolation prizes, 8 years ago when St. Cloud State made its first trip to the Frozen Four. As the Huskies head back to Pittsburgh, good memories of 2013 linger.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The charter plane ferrying the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team from central Minnesota to western Pennsylvania about this time of year in 2013 was greeted on the tarmac by a pair of fire trucks from the city of Pittsburgh, spraying an arch of water over the aircraft to welcome the Huskies to Steeltown.
According to Garrett Raboin, then a Huskies assistant coach, at least one player thought the emergency vehicles were on scene because their plane was on fire.
As St. Cloud State’s current team prepares for another trip to Pittsburgh and a Frozen Four semifinal meeting with Minnesota State Mankato at PPG Paints Arena on April 8, fond memories remain among those who were part of the program’s inaugural appearance on college hockey’s biggest stage.
The 2012-13 campaign was already a historic one for the Huskies program, as they claimed a share of their first WCHA regular season title in their final season as members of that league. But a loss at Wisconsin on the final night of the regular season allowed arch-rival Minnesota to tie atop the league standings.
When the Badgers beat St. Cloud State a few week’s later in the WCHA Final Five, there was some uncertainty about whether the Huskies would even get an invite to the NCAA tournament.
“Bubble trouble,” was then-Huskies coach Bob Motzko’s answer when asked about their NCAA prospects after the loss to Wisconsin in St. Paul.
In retrospect, some believe that the early exit from St. Paul may have worked in the Huskies’ favor, as they had a chance to return to St. Cloud. The Huskies could reset mentally, have a good week of practice and start over in the NCAAs. Two days after the WCHA tournament loss, the Huskies learned that they were in, but only as an at-large invite and a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional. They were headed to Toledo, Ohio, to face powerful Notre Dame, which had just won its conference tournament. Many predicted a blowout, and indeed it was.
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The Huskies took an early lead, scored three in the second period and cruised to a 5-1 win over the Irish. The next day they beat Miami (Ohio) 4-1 and celebrated a chance to visit the home of the Penguins.
“That was such a close group and they played such a team game that they really were the better team in both of the regional games, to get through to the Frozen Four,” said Raboin, who was in his first season as an assistant for the Huskies. “It was all four lines. You look at those boxscores and it was guys that maybe hadn’t scored at a high level throughout the year, but it was our depth that really carried us.”
Brooks Bertsch, who was a sophomore forward on that Huskies team and is now a college scout for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, sees many parallels to the 2021 Huskies. St. Cloud State got contributions in the regionals from unlikely sources of offense like Luke Jaycox, Micah Miller and Will Hammer in beating Boston University and Boston College last weekend.
Bertsch admitted that some old feelings were stirred watching his alma mater advance.
“Springtime is playoff hockey. Getting into Pittsburgh, we don’t charter normally, so some of the treatment you get on the national stage that we weren’t used to showed us that it was big time, and for real,” he recalled. “The whole buildup about the location and where our team had been, it was really a culmination of a lot of ups and downs. That was the first time experiencing that. It was amazing.”
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The day before the 2013 tournament opened in Pittsburgh, all four teams — the Huskies along with Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell and Yale — gathered at Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home stadium, for a banquet. There the Elite 89 Award is given out to the student-athlete with the best grade-point average among the four teams. With the Ivy Leaguers from Yale watching, they called Bertsch’s name and noted his 3.967 GPA was the best among the 100-plus players there.
“I didn’t even know I was up for the award. I think I was lucky enough that I was only two years into my college career so I didn’t have enough time to get many C’s yet,” Bertsch joked. “They called my name and I didn’t even know the award existed before that. But I took pride in my education and life after hockey.”
On the ice, the tournament did not have a happy ending for the Huskies, who trailed Quinnipiac 3-0 after the first period of their semifinal game and fell 4-1. But in Bertsch’s award and another they got before leaving town, the Huskies took a few nice consolation prizes back to the Granite City. Roughly 24 hours after the loss to Quinnipiac (which fell 4-0 to Yale in the title game), the team was back on the ice of the Pens’ rink to watch Drew LeBlanc accept the Hobey Baker Award.
“Drew was everything that award embodies as far as a student-athlete and everything Hobey Baker was about,” Bertsch said. “No many teams have done that where their respective team is there to watch their teammate win the Hobey, so after he won we all got to run down on the floor and celebrate with Drew and get a team photo.”
Things will certainly be different in 2021, with the pandemic reducing the number of fans and the off-ice interaction between teams and ticket-buyers. But memories of this tournament will surely last a lifetime for the current Huskies, just as the fond memories of that first trip linger in St. Cloud State lore eight years later.
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