I plan to do a 2015-16 season wrap-up soon after I have the opportunity to gather some thoughts following the recent NCAA West Regional in Saint Paul, MN. I have followed this program for practically a “lifetime” and obviously when you have a team that hit a high watermark for wins it’s still a little tough to accept they failed to make it past the first game of the NCAA Tournament. But, in a “one and done” tournament every team participating is either there because they earned it through successful play during the season or earned their way in during post-season play. Each team has their particular set of strengths and if they can focus on what they do best, get a few lucky bounces and some great goaltending they have a good chance of moving on.
On the surface, the Huskies did a number of things very well that should have allowed them to prevail. They were 2 for 4 on the power play while shutting down the Ferris man-advantage, had a huge advantage in faceoffs 42-26 and outshot the Bulldogs 33-31. And, although I expected Ferris to provide a strong defensive posture, I didn’t expect them to be quite as structured or as rugged as they turned out to be. I felt it was essential that the Huskies exert themselves on the FSU defense and get some traction in the FSU defensive zone if they were to be successful. Well, that didn’t happen until the third period. The Ferris neutral zone play had SCSU off their attack and closed down the passing lanes like no other team has done this season. Ferris thrives off of turnovers and they scored their first four goals off of SCSU turnovers. There’s no question the Ferris defensive scheme can be a dreadfully dry style of hockey to watch but it can be successful in tournament play when you have a potent offense like the Huskies to slow down. Face it, Bob Daniels of FSU is an experienced coach and his game plan in post season play was superb shutting down Mankato and Michigan Tech in the WCHA playoffs and defeating SCSU on Saturday. He did a magnificent job of utilizing the strengths of his team and it was successful. He nearly duplicated the effort in the West Regional Championship game vs Denver battling to a 3-3 tie with eight minutes to play before the Pioneers finally pulled away for the 6-3 win. That’s great coaching and it’s fun to watch.
The Huskies were much more effective in the third period vs Ferris playing with desperation and putting Ferris on their heels due to a combination of aggressive offensive zone play and the Bulldogs feeling the pressure of a team coming back on them. The Huskies finally had their game in order by periods end and could have ended it with opportunities by Judd Peterson (off the crossbar) and Mikey Eyssimont late in the period. With the momentum clearly in SCSU’s corner they probably needed to end it before the period expired preventing the Bulldogs from heading back to the locker room to re-group. But, an aggressive rush up ice by Ferris and a defensive miscue by the Huskies led to a sudden end to the SCSU season within 18 seconds of overtime – a painful way to lose after so much was gained in period three.
It was a painful post-game press conference for coach Motzko to endure considering the success and expectations for this team. But, he did a great job reflecting on the legacy of his seniors and thanking the fans for their outstanding support in Saint Paul. It was probably appropriate to shield his seniors from the post game table and to have sophomores Patrick Russell and Nate Widman field questions following the game. These two will clearly be experienced leaders in 2016-17 and it was probably a symbolic move that the Huskies are already moving forward for next year.
In Bob Daniels press conference he showed why he is one of the classiest and most likeable coaches in college hockey. First and foremost he went out of his way to show his respect for the Huskies stating “It does mean a lot beating a team with the quality of St. Cloud State.” About the win he commented “there is a moment and I’ve been on the other side of it, where you feel for the other guys. It’s a great game on one hand, but it’s pretty cruel on the other. We’ve been on both sides of it….if you win in overtime in a one and done situation, you can’t help but realize what the other kids are going through and how hard they’ve worked. So there is a moment where you’re elated but you also feel that, too.”
For the fans, players and coaching staff this one will hurt for awhile. It’s not often you see such a well-rounded team that was strong offensively, defensively, on special teams and at the goaltender position. This was a senior-laden team that seemed to be a lock for the Frozen Four. But it was not to be. The coaching staff will put this season on the shelf quickly and begin preparation for the 2016-17 season. That’s the nature of college hockey. There’s always next year.