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St. Cloud State enters NCHC play looking to avoid emotional rollercoaster

The Huskies have gone 3-3 against three top-5 teams and hold wins against both 2014 national finalists.

SCSU goalie Charlie Lindgren (35) has made the net his own as a sophomore.
SCSU goalie Charlie Lindgren (35) has made the net his own as a sophomore.
Matt Christians

Any doubt last Friday night could be a regular non-conference home game for St. Cloud State disappeared with the game's first goal in a 4-1 victory.

With his brother Michael in the penalty box, Huskies forward Jonny Brodzinski (Los Angeles Kings) had the puck at the half wall. Skating down to the corner he found linemate Kalle Kossila open at the top of the slot. Kosilla did the rest, snapping a one-timer past Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) for his first goal of the season.

The explosion of joy on the ice and among the five thousand plus standing at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center was less a celebration of a single goal against the team which had eliminated the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament a year prior.

Hosting the school colloquially known as "the U" is special even if the visiting team did not have a number one attached to its name.  It always is when Minnesota schools face one another. One way or another, everybody involved Halloween night had an added incentive. You would hard pressed sitting above a costumed student section with a fervor and passion which would make "Let's Make A Deal" jealous to explain how zero points were stake.

"It's amazing. Every series against the Gophers is going to be absolutely packed along with North Dakota," said Jonny, who leads the team with 4 goals a year after scoring 21. "Playing in front of a crowd like this, especially in costumes, is awesome."

Roles were reversed. Jonny the big brother was beating Mike and Minnesota for the first time in the three college games the pair had played against one another.

"Yeah, it's kind of nice," he said.

A day later and 70 miles away was a different result for St. Cloud State. Despite Kossila's declaration that the team would be as pissed as their opponents would be, the Huskies ended the two game series with a crashing halt 1:19 into overtime.

Gopher sophomore and former Lakeville North (MN) forward Justin Kloos completed a hat trick with a 4-3 overtime win for the Gophers, scoring against former Lakeville South (MN) and current SCSU goalie Charlie Lindgren. Less than 24 hours after leaving Minnesota's Seth Ambroz frustrated to the point where he stated the Gophers were punched in the mouth and didn't punch back, St. Cloud State only mustered 14 shots on goal.

The road can be a heartless place. Still, the scene at Mariucci for the Huskies was a far cry from the atmosphere one night before even with so much in common.

"We just didn't have a lot of energy in the locker room," Huskies head coach Bob Motzko said Saturday. "They were trying to find it. They're a good group of guys and it's just so hard when you can't find it."

Both games, both contrasting emotions have been par for the course this year for a St. Cloud State team that is 3-3 on the year.

If the .500 record looks misleading that's because it is partially. Series splits against Colgate, Union and the Gophers - three teams each ranked in the top five when SCSU played them - have shown St. Cloud this year that its players can go against any team when the energy is there.

"We're still early in the year. We're not worrying about what Minnesota does, we have to do our job," Motzko said Friday after handing the Gophers its first loss of 2013-14.

So far that job has shown glimpses of one well done. The upperclassmen leading the Huskies have two consecutive conference titles to their name alongside a Frozen Four appearance. Once playing with Hobey Baker Award winners and finalists, the Brodzinskis and Kossilas are, along with Joey Benik and defensemen Andrew Prochno and Ethan Prow, the guys shooting for those honors.

Another change is in net. Replacing the departed Ryan Faragher, Lindgren, who had 10 appearances in net as a freshman, has installed himself as the man in goal.  The 6'2", 183 lbs sophomore goalie may lack the experience of the upperclassmen, but is beginning to match their consistency over the last two seasons.

"There were some times when he bailed us out big time," Brodzinski said about his goalie. "You see it in practice and now you see it in games."

Both nights Lindgren was able to do so whether it was early Friday before St. Cloud State's power play frustrated or Saturday when positioning and rebound control kept a 22-4 first period shot attempt disadvantage even on the scoreboard.

It's that consistency which the players are working towards as a team. While Friday's home atmosphere was meaningful and emotional, SCSU's head coach would rather not dwell on the positives and negatives.

Well at least for the guys on the ice.

"I'm sure there is," said Motzko about whether there was an added emotion. "It's more with the fans, but it's big for the Minnesota kids, it's big for our fans. You can't hide from it. It's a great atmosphere, one of the better atmospheres you see in college hockey, but our emphasis all week long was how we continue to play hockey and how we play to take another step to what we're trying to do."

That's all anyone can do as those in the crowd and throughout college hockey's Civil War (or at least its upper Midwest battlefront) figure out what it means when the Huskies host the Gophers. It's special with or without a conference - no one will deny that. At the end of the day there's another game week and one that. St. Cloud State, playing in a conference where 6 of the 8 teams are in the top 20, hosts Minnesota-Duluth for NCHC points.

The Bulldogs are no slouches, having split every series against tough opposition themselves. But the weekend is a start of a run for a third straight conference title and a chance to balance out the lows and highs of an emotional October roller coaster.

"We're playing a long season," Motzko said between the fifth and sixth games of a 34 game regular season, before the words rang true the following night.  "You don't want to start the emotional roller coaster. Next week we have Duluth. I think Duluth's one of the better teams in the country.

"That's why you can't get emotional when you play."

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