PITTSBURGH, PA -- The Frozen Four is uncharted territory for the St. Cloud State Huskies and just like Yale, the team has been labelled tournament underdogs as they head into Thursday night's semi-final against Quinnipiac.
"I don't think we're underdogs," Calgary Flames prospect and St. Cloud captain Ben Hanowski said confidently. "Everyone at the Frozen Four, every team is a good team and high quality team. So I don't think we're an underdog here.
"Maybe in the Regional people thought we were, but we believed in our team. We were the regular season co-champs in the WCHA. So we're confident in our ability and we believed and we knew we could make it to Pittsburgh."
This is St. Cloud's first appearance in the Frozen Four in the school's transformative history which has seen them move from Divsion III to Division I over the last two decades.
"It's an understatement how excited we are to be here," head coach Bob Motzko said. "It's a proud moment for our program. In a short history, we're not in our infancy as a Division I program, but we're teenagers going back to 1989-90 when we made the move to Division I. We've been in nine NCAA Tournaments and it's well documented by all of our friends that we haven't done much in those eight previous by losing. But we've been darn close.
"We have a great group of guys that deserve to be here, and I'm awfully proud of them."
The team enters the semi-final match-up on the heels of a solid season in the WCHA. They claimed their first MacNaughton Cup title after defeating Wisconsin 4-2 on Mar. 8 in a weekend series at Dane County Coliseum and ended up with a 25-15-1 (18-9-1 in the WCHA) record on the year.
They also captured their first-ever NCAA Regional title this season, punching their ticket to the Frozen Four with wins over traditional powers Notre Dame (5-1) and Miami (4-1).
"Probably not many people thought we were going to make it past the Regionals," Nick Jensen said on Wednesday. "But I've never seen our team play better hockey in those two games all year. We're just going to continue to play the way we got here, and we're really happy we're here."
Motzko pointed to the Huskies run for MacNaughton Cup as defining time for his charges. Six teams were in the running and it was hotly contested battle, separated by four points. The Huskies dropped four of their last eight games but were still able to capture their first MacNaughton Cup, sharing the title with Minnesota.
According to Motzko, their ability to work through those late-season on-ice difficulties and come out with the title gave them life in the NCAA Tournament because they knew they had the internal fortitude to weather the proverbial storm.
"We weren't struggling. We were surviving and we were a nervous team. That's one thing we were coming down the stretch. We'd never been in that position before. I did think that we were nervous. We ended up winning and were able to battle through and win that series to win the MacNaughton Cup, and I think it made us a better hockey team."
Today's semi-final between St. Cloud and Quinnipiac takes place at 6:00 PM MT and is broadcast on ESPN2 and Dial Global Radio.
Huskies Note: If you've seen recent pictures of the Huskies squad, the team resembles a group of cavemen thanks to their overgrown locks. But their unruly hair has a purpose; the team has been growing their hair out for 19 months in order to donate it to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the USA and Canada suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.
"We've come to embrace it," Nick Jensen told KARE 11. "It's come to mean something on our team and define our guys."
The initiative was spearheaded by Hanowski, Jensen and Nic Dowd.