2014 NCAA Hockey Tournament: St. Cloud State stung, but optimistic for future

Matt Christians

The takeaway from a 4-0 loss to in-state rival Minnesota.

ST. PAUL-- St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko had the tough task Saturday of addressing a team that gave everything and came up one game short of the Frozen Four. The Huskies followed up Saturday's 4-3 overtime win over Notre Dame by playing like a team which 24 hours earlier had to work hard over 77 minutes to earn the "W" and falling to Minnesota 4-0 in front of an announced crowd of 8,893 at Xcel Energy Center.

What came easy against the Fighting Irish was not the case against the Gophers. Minnesota kept the Huskies at bay, using its speed to take over and push SCSU to the outside. Offensively it was to the point where Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox was barely tested.

Wilcox made 24 saves as St. Cloud State was shut out for only the second time this season.

"They did a good job of splitting D-to-D and I think that delayed our forecheck quite a bit in the beginning," Huskies co-captain Nic Dowd said about the Minnesota defense. "I think we made it pretty easy fpr them to play and get pucks out. They're obviously a good skating group and what's tough to handle is that not only did they play good team defense, but they're also great on offense.

Despite the loss, Motzko found plenty of positives among his team, which won the inaugural NCHC regular season title.

"They've made this program better, and they've made their university better by the decisions to stick with us and finish their eligibility," he said Saturday. "There's a great story in there and I hope it's told and I know a lot of it's been told about (Hobey Baker finalist Nic) Dowd and I'm so proud of these guys. And it was not a good night for us.

We ran out of a little steam, but you have to tip your cap to the University of Minnesota. They played an excellent game, they shut a lot of things down, we never got a power play and it was a difficult night for us to get anything going."

Saturday wasn't the time for reflecting, however. With four seniors knowing their careers were over and the rest having unfinished business, the future remains a little out of reach. Dowd could not choke up the words to talk about the end of his collegiate tenure.

For Motzko, he's more than proud of where the St. Cloud State program is heading a year after making the Frozen Four for the first time. The Huskies have made a regional final the last three times the team made the tournament (2010, 2013, 2014).

It goes beyond results, though.

"We think we're heading in the right direction," he said. "It's hard to feel like you're bragging about something right now when you lose, or boast about your program. We're very very proud about where we're going - and I hope it comes out right here - the thing we're most proud of is at a time when programs are losing some really good players, we're having guys stick around when they have every opportunity to leave."

Growing together, St. Cloud State looks to continue that next year. Several key components look to return, including sophomore Jonny Brodzinski and five of the team's top-six. Both goalies who played Sunday - Ryan Faragher, who made a career-high 39 saves Friday despite having the flu, and freshman Charlie Lindgren - have eligibility as does junior defenseman Andrew Prochno. The Huskies are closer to reloading than rebuilding. (This year's team lost 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski among others.)

Right now it's a matter of knowing how close the team was to another Frozen Four, though.

"There's a belief in our program, a belief in each other in what's happening," said Motzko. "We know that can change in a heartbeat, but we've been going in the right direction and we fell short this year with a team that we wish had one more shot in two weeks."

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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