Previews: SCSU aiming to turn heads in its final WCHA season

St. Cloud State will need to find a replacement for the departed Jared Festler, who contributed 15 goals and 19 assists to the Huskies’ cause last season. (Photo credit: Michelle Bishop)

St. Cloud State will want to secure home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs this season, just as it had last time around.

However, in this, the Huskies’ final season in the league, they’ll hope to do it again, just without all the drama.

Extraordinary scenes took place at SCSU’s National Hockey Center on the final day of the 2011-12 WCHA regular season.

The Huskies trailed ¬†Nebraska Omaha for the league’s sixth and final home-ice spot in the playoffs heading into the final weekend before the postseason. UNO was swept at home by Denver, and a win and a tie for SCSU over visiting Minnesota Duluth were enough to secure sixth place and a first-round series at home against, as fate had it, UNO.

The Huskies then saw off the Mavericks in a two-game sweep and advanced to the WCHA Final Five. SCSU will be hoping for one last trip to the WCHA’s showcase event in the Huskies’ final season in the league, and there’s enough talent returning for the 2012-13 campaign that it might see the Huskies go back to the Final Five one last time.

Head coach Bob Motzko’s club will particularly miss departed senior forwards Jared Festler (15 goals and 19 assists in 2011-12) and Travis Novak (12 G, 13 A). What talent SCSU does have coming back, though, is overlooked at prognosticators’ own risk.

The forward lines will be led by senior Ben Hanoswki, who led the Huskies last season in scoring with 23 goals and 20 assists. Redshirt senior Drew LeBlanc is also sure to contribute, having been one of the league’s best forwards last season before an injury in early Nov. 2011 forced him to sit out the remainder of last season.

SCSU will be strong at the back, too, with leaders such as junior and strong all-WCHA candidate Nick Jensen (6 G, 26 A) as well as sophomore Andrew Prochno (5 G, 24 A) heading up the Husky blueliners.

In goal, junior netminder Ryan Faragher should find himself high in the running to win the WCHA’s goaltender of the year award in 2011-12. Faragher posted a 2.77 goals against average and .915 save percentage last season, and he proved himself invaluable to the Huskies after the now-departed Mike Lee fell injured early in SCSU’s last campaign.

All that talent is going to need to shine through in the new season, and SCSU can’t afford to have its stars take any nights off. The Huskies face a brutal schedule, including the WCHA’s most difficult scheduling pod – four games each against Denver, North Dakota and Colorado College – and a stretch during the middle of the season where the Huskies will play ten games in a row on the road.

Still, if Motzko’s side can weather that storm and navigate the rest of the WCHA slate, don’t be surprised if SCSU earns another top-six finish and puts itself in a solid position going into the inaugural season of National Collegiate Hockey Conference play next year.

Head coach: Bob Motzko (St. Cloud State ’87)
2011-12 record: 17-17-5 (12-12-4 WCHA)
Predicted finish in 2012-13: 6th
Home ice: National Hockey Center; St. Cloud, Minn.
-Capacity: 5,763
-Average attendance in 2011-12: 4,939

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