Few Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches gave their St. Cloud State University hockey team much of a chance this year.
After all, the Huskies were picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the WCHA preseason coaches’ poll.
But, the two Pittsburgh Penguins prospects have done their best to elevate St. Cloud State to one of the WCHA’s elite teams.
“I can’t complain. We’re hot right now,” Goepfert said. “It’s good to be there right now.”
The Huskies (18-14-4) finished sixth in the WCHA. However, they have their minds set on a long postseason run.
“We’re playing really well,” Jensen said. “As a team goal, we’re trying not only to make it to the WCHA Final Five, but trying hard to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, as well.”
Since expectations were low for St. Cloud State, Goepfert believes the team relishes its underdog role.
“I just think one of the keys to success is that we’re not looking too far ahead,” he said. “We want to do as well as we can – hopefully do something no one expected to do besides ourselves.”
Goepfert, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior, consistently has been one of the NCAA’s top goaltenders all season. The Penguins’ 2002 sixth-round pick (171st overall) ranks sixth in the nation with a .926 save percentage and seventh with a 2.06 goals-against average.
Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Goepfert had to sit out last season after transferring from Providence College to St. Cloud State prior to the 2004-05 school year.
“The beginning of year, I didn’t feel I had any rust – just little things I had to get back into,” Goepfert said. “I practiced all last year, so all the physical stuff was there. Not playing games, it was kind of tough to stay sharp mentally. Things like playing with a lead, playing down, playing a one-goal game – certain situations you can’t experience until you start playing games. The first half of year, I felt all right with my game, but knew I could take it to another level. Hopefully, I can hit my stride here.”
Goepfert played his freshman and sophomore years at Providence and was a standout for the Friars. However, in 2004 he searched for a fresh start.
That’s where Jensen, Pittsburgh’s 2003 eighth-round choice (232nd overall) came in to play.
“I played against Bobby in the USHL and got to know him a little bit. We went to the Viking Cup tournament. Bobby was our goalie and I got to know him well then,” Jensen said. “When he was looking for a team, he called me up asked how it was here. Then he came out and I took him on a tour.
“He’s been our best player – our backstop,” he continued. “Every time we make a mistake, he’s been there to pick us up. He’s been our MVP so far.”
Goepfert is happy with his new team and being able to put the past couple of years behind him.
“My year off – going into it, I was kind of nervous how it’d be the year after. I thought maybe it’d be tough to get through,” he said. “Honestly, it was probably the best thing for me. That summer  was bad. It really took a toll on me emotionally. A year off is exactly what I needed to get back on track and start loving the game again. I wouldn’t have the success I have now if I had to rush into it.
“I think my job is pretty much the same no matter where I play – keep the little black thing out of the net,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a little different out here with the size of the rinks. I am getting used to the high quality of talent out here. I am just enjoying myself. I love playing here and on the road rinks. It’s definitely a great atmosphere out here.”
Goepfert is impressed with the talented goalies in the Penguins’ organization. He had the chance to play against the franchise’s top goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, in the 2003 World Junior Tournament. Fleury’s Canada squad beat Goepfert’s U.S. squad, 3-2, but Goepfert stopped 39 of 42 shots and was named the player of the game. In addition, some say Goepfert was the best goalie in that tournament, which also included Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen.
“I watch that [Canada-U.S.] game on tape a lot and I remember it pretty well. I kind of had some nightmares,” Goepfert said with a laugh. “It was definitely a game I will always remember. I think Marc-Andre was two years younger than everyone there. Just to watch him play and move around was awesome. He is such a great goalie. I have watched a couple of [Penguins] games out here on TV. He’s definitely something special.
“I think he’s a great goalie but I am not intimidated by it. Whenever my college career is over, I intend on giving him a run for his money,” he continued. “I think every goalie in the organization is trying to do that. It creates healthy competition for everyone. I think that can only make everyone better, especially when you have great goalies in the organization.”
While Goepfert is keeping pucks out of the net, Jensen is putting them in on a regular basis. A 5-11, 191-pound winger, Jensen’s 14 goals rank second on the Huskies. He has 11 assists and his 25 points rank third on the team even though he missed four games with a knee injury (torn MCL in his left knee).
“It happened on my first shift of our first game back from Christmas break against Colgate,” he said. “I was just told to stay off it and I would eventually get back playing. I have a brace on it and that’s made it a lot sturdier to play on.”
So far, Jensen has 93 points (45+48) in 147 games at St. Cloud State, the same school that produced Penguins winger Ryan Malone. He’s not afraid to assert himself, either, with 104 penalty minutes.
“I’d say my game is more of a physical game, getting in there on the forecheck and causing havoc,” he said. “I like to think of myself as a goal scorer – when I get my opportunities I can put them away. In terms of the next level, I am more of a third- or fourth-line player: good in the defensive zone and a strong penalty killer kind of guy.”
Jensen has followed the Penguins this year and looks forward to coming to training camp in the fall.
“We catch a lot of Penguins games. In our living room, we have three TVs and we always have a game going on and we usually get to see Crosby and the boys out there,” he said. “I think it’s real encouraging to see the younger guys get a chance to prove themselves. Some of the guys I have worked out with over the summer are getting shots in the NHL now. Their AHL team [in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton] has been doing unbelievably well, also. They had a great start. It’s really nice to see that.”
Jensen hopes he can contribute along with the rest of the young players in the Penguins’ system.
“It gives a lot of guys hope that are in my situation that they are getting chances,” he said. “Teams like Detroit and Colorado have so much depth at forward, it’s so hard to crack their NHL team or AHL team. With the youth and new style of the NHL, it benefits me that there are not the typical 6-3 power forwards anymore.”
After this year, Goepfert and Jensen hope to reunite in the NHL with the Penguins one day.
“There have been some nights where we’ve talked about that. Nobody can predict the future, but it’s fun talking about it,” Goepfert said. “Once my college career is over, hopefully we can keep playing together. He seems to score timely goals. I’d love to have him up front playing for me and definitely not against him.”