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April 2, 2013
CORY THORSON: Thanks for having me. It's been an unreal roller coaster ride for myself and the St. Cloud State Huskies. To have achieved such greatness with such a great program, it's such an unbelievable feeling. And by any means we're not done yet, and we have a couple more games coming up a couple weeks from now in the Pittsburgh Frozen Four, and we're looking for good things to happen there.
Q. Cory, congratulations to you and the team on making it to the Frozen Four. I want to talk a little bit about the leadership of Drew LeBlanc. Obviously he has been the guy that has really been a guiding force for you guys. Can you talk about how his approach to and the way he plays the game has rubbed off on you and your teammates?
CORY THORSON: Yeah, playing with Drew LeBlanc is an unbelievable experience. You can see how great of a player being up for the Hobey Baker, and hopefully he wins that as well, which he's much deserving of that award. But he's a guy that's at the rink six hours a day.
He's teaching before he's at the rink for about five hours. He's an absolute workhorse. He goes the extra mile in any way. And it definitely rubs off on the other 24 guys in the locker room. And it shows in our record this year and as well as this Frozen Four appearance as well.
Q. Cory and Coach, could you talk about Drew's decision to come back last year. After the injury, he probably had the option to go play at the next level, decided to come back and play for St. Cloud College State. Does that tell you, he being a leading scorer, says something about how the team could get this far?
COACH MOTZKO: Yes. I'll go into Drew last year. Game 11 he was actually offered contracts after his junior year. He makes a decision to come back and to do his senior year.
He just thought it was in his best interests. He's a buy‑in guy, buys into St. Cloud State, what we're doing as teammates, and has a devastating injury in his senior year in Game 11. I think in today's game where we see players sign early and leave early, I'm just going on a little opinion here, you hear years later like a lot of them wish they wouldn't have. They wish they would have stayed because you have to‑‑ once they leave and they know what they're missing from their experience.
And when Drew got hurt in Game 11, he had to sit‑‑ he is in school all year, sure can't go pro‑‑ it ripped his heart out that he couldn't be with his team his last year.
As we went down the stretch, we got on a roll the second half of the year. We got to our league championships. I think he made a‑‑ and it was a bad injury. Seven‑month recovery. Took him until late in the summer. He did attend an NHL camp.
I think he had the feeling that he had unfinished business and he wanted to come back and do it the right way. He was coming back for more team reasons and more reasons that because he lost it that there was a heart pull for him to come back.
I couldn't be any happier for him. It's a pretty gutsy call for him. He comes back because he did have opportunities to leave. He has a terrific season: WCHA Player of the Year. You cap it off with our league championship, and then to crown off with the fact we were able to get through our region to get to the Frozen Four.
And he's a big reason for that. And our players will tell you, we throw a lot on him. But he can handle it.
Q. Could you comment on your general game plan given two facts: One is that some 29 of your games you had three or more goals, and 20 of those 29 games four or more goals, which is not the norm in college hockey anymore. But maybe you can talk about how you've generated that level of offense and got by Miami and Notre Dame also with high‑scoring games?
COACH MOTZKO: Give a lot of credit to‑‑ we recruited‑‑ we were fortunate we recruited some high‑end talent. The fact you get a guy like LeBlanc back is critical. He's a fifth‑year senior. That just doesn't happen.
And our freshmen got a lot of accolades, Ben Hanowski, one of the top players returning from our conference a year ago, he gets injured very early in the season. We lost him for a month. We put two freshmen on LeBlanc's line.
By Christmastime, those two freshmen are the two leading scorers in the country. They're good freshmen, and they're freshmen, but their numbers are pointed to a guy like Drew LeBlanc, throw it right back at him.
Then you start building confidence. And that was one of the things that our team‑‑ when you have Ben Hanowski, Drew LeBlanc, Nic Dowd really came into his own. We upped Nick Jensen from the defense. We had upperclassmen that pushed tempo; they can push offense. Our freshmen started to score early in the year because they get to play with a guy like LeBlanc; you build confidence.
That's the biggest thing for us. You saw it last week in Joey Benik, another player for us, he broke his leg 20 minutes into our first practice. He was out until Christmas. There was talk to maybe redshirt him.
I'm sure glad we didn't make that decision. And he's got a track record of scoring goals. And now he's got six goals in the playoffs. Took him a while to get on track, get in game shape.
We have a good mix of handy, skilled players, who have built confidence. But it's led from our upperclassmen who bring that confidence to our hockey team.
Q. Do you see that being tweaked at all given the fact that these other teams, the other three teams, especially two of them play lock‑tight team defense, and you just turn your guys loose and let them go or are there tweakings that come given that you're now in the Frozen Four?
COACH MOTZKO: Well, we are what we are this time of the year. And you can't make a whole lot of changes. I don't think any of us can. The style of the system that we all play has been the critical factor for all of our teams making it to where we are at.
The only thing I'll add to that I think we finished No. 2 in our conference in defense in goals against. And that is also another one of our strengths. I think it's the underlying strength of our team is how we play defense.
And that's a commitment from our kids and our systems and to get things done. And we've had some ability to score some goals. So you're not going to see a lot of changes now. You've got to be who you are, and you've got to let them, this is what got us to the dance and we gotta continue to play that way.
Q. Coach and Cory, I think I can speak for a lot of long‑time hockey observers to say it's just‑‑ it's just so fun to see these new names in the Frozen Four. Yourselves, Lowell, Quinnipiac. Can you talk a little bit about what that says about the state of college hockey right now and if you could both comment on it, that would be great?
COACH MOTZKO: I think the trend's been happening. You've started to see a list of teams make it to a Frozen Four the last handful of years, Bemidji State, and Ferris State and Vermont, unfamiliar names have been getting there.
And Duluth got back there. Now they've been twice in the last decade and wins the national championship. The trend has started. And that means hockey is growing. And I think it's the footprint, the National Hockey League continues to do well in outlying areas.
Hockey is growing in our country. You're seeing talent now come from our leading scorer in our school history just graduated a couple of years ago, out of California.
You're seeing players from all over country, Canada and Europe. We've got a kid from Finland that they're coming into our game.
And so there's more opportunities now for all of us to get higher‑end talent, which is causing the deadly word no one likes to use which is parity. You're seeing it also in league play now throughout the country.
And you have the emergence this year of Lowell, last two years since Norm Bazin has been there, where they climbed to the top and leaned against a Providence and brought them to the top.
These aren't flukes. This is the real thing. Hockey is in a great growth spurt right now. I know people are talking that the named schools didn't make it this year, but I think the right schools made it this year.
We won our league championship. Lowell won their league championship and their playoff championship. The three of the teams won their championships. And Yale came out and kicked our league's butt this year in one region, in Christmas, came out and beat Denver, tied Colorado College.
These are the right teams that made it this year. There isn't a Cinderella story. I think these are three programs that had tremendous seasons that were able to fight through these regions and get there.
Q. Coach, I want to clarify, I never meant to infer that it was a Cinderella story. I think you all deserve to be there as well. Cory, could you comment on it as well?
CORY THORSON: You know, to me, the way I look at it, it's great to have different teams other than the big‑named powerhouses, say the Gofers or North Dakota, Boston College and stuff like that. But like Coach said, the teams that deserve to be there are there this year and it's an honor to be part of an elite group of teams and represent St. Cloud State at the Frozen Four is unbelievable.
Like Coach was harping on, getting college hockey on the map. We've got a guy from Aldam, Huntsville, and Nic Dowd. Joey Holka from Phoenix, Arizona. So hockey is trending all over the nation. And it's great to be part of it, and it's going in an upward motion.
COACH MOTZKO: I should mention Quinnipiac. I didn't say their name. But they're the best team almost from wire to wire, No. 1 team in the country, who clearly is deserving because they proved it all year long.
Q. Coach Motzko, could you talk about the players, Nick and Andrew and their regional, being the shut‑down defensive pair for you guys, Nick's presence all year being a real true dominant defensemen, the team that got a lot of publicity because of its‑‑
COACH MOTZKO: Jensen and Prochno? Last year, Andrew Prochno came in as a freshman and Jensen was a sophomore. We paired those two together, almost right out of the block. I'm not sure they've been, in two years, if there's been two or three games those two have not been together. They've got great chemistry.
They balance each other out. And it's one of those things that happens. And it was whether by accident‑‑ it sure wasn't by design‑‑ you throw it together. And very quickly we couldn't separate them. Now after two seasons they just got a great bond together. Fierce competitor in Nick Jensen from the defensive standpoint. He was the defensive player of the league in the WCHA.
He's the glue of our defense, along with Ryan Faragher. And Andrew has learned to play that defensive style because he's always out against the team's top lines, and they both bring a very solid offensive mix to our group.
And I've always felt you've got to have that one‑stopper group in your tandem. And we're able to follow it up with another tandem right behind, Gravel and Daly, who we can match up against other team's top lines.
But it's great character, just unbelievable chemistry from the moment they got together and to the point where we just never even considered taking them away from each other.
They're almost like siamese twins, just connected on how they play with each other.
Q. Talking about St. Cloud State. It's one of those things I remember in 2010 when you guys got your first NCAA win. It was strange that a team like St. Cloud State with the history you guys have hadn't won a game before, and here three years later you're in the Frozen Four. Just talk about these last four years for St. Cloud State and finally overcoming that this year?
COACH MOTZKO: Well, I've had to defend that obviously. Craig Dahl was here before me, and I thought in 2001 St. Cloud could have been the best team in the country that year right down to the wire, but they got placed in Yost to play Michigan in the regional. That's back when they're on campus site, and, I'm sorry, there are not a lot of people when Michigan has got it going that are going to Yost and knocking them off. It would have been much better if that team could have been to a neutral site regional site to have more of a fair fight.
And that was‑‑ for many years, you go prior to‑‑ St. Cloud State has only been DivisionI since about‑‑ from the early'90s. Before that you were playing two‑game series. A lot of these programs where you see all their wins on their NCAA ledger were back when they were two‑game series, best two out of three. And you have some wins knocked on to your ledger.
Once we went to region sites, St. Cloud‑‑ and until St. Paul four years ago, we never played on this side of the Mississippi. They'd been sent out East every time, and they were sent into opposing buildings a handful of times. Lake Superior State, they had to go there for the best of two.
And I think there was a reason. You saw the same thing for Miami University. And I coached there for six years. They had not won a game, until they finally won their first game, they were able to break that barrier.
That's what we were able to do when we got to St. Paul a few years back, was the first time we were on this side of the Mississippi. It was the first time our fans could really attend a game, and we were able to get our first win and play Wisconsin who knocked us off to get to the Frozen Four.
So I kept seeing a stat where we're 1‑and‑9 in NCAA play. Well, I've changed it, we're 3‑and‑1 in our last four. We've made a change, have seen some programs, and Miami was a team that did that, and hopefully this is a sign for ourselves that we've broken that barrier and we can continue to get in that tournament and find success.
Q. Talk about the conferences here. It seems mostly between the fan bases that you always get the guys out in the WCHA talking about how easy the ECAC is, but obviously the two teams here from the ECAC, Yale beating the two teams in your conference. So what do you make of that and what, if anything, do you know right now about Quinnipiac?
COACH MOTZKO: Well, I think just that's what fans do. In today's world with social media and the social, Twitter and all that, they're going to tell you how good their team is and how bad your team is, and you just have to put up with it.
And that's everywhere. But it means nothing. Yale proved that this year, I think 3‑and‑1 in their play. We played RPI this year. They came in at Christmas. Things weren't going well for them and we split the series. I'm very good friends with Seth Appert, and I'm shaking hands, and I said you're going to win a lot of games second half. I thought they were a great team. And they went on to climb back in the standings and take second in the conference.
We played Quinnipiac now four times since I've been here. We were out at Quinnipiac and they came to our building. Those Jones boys were just young players at the time. In fact, and we saw them play. There's a reason that they're so good.
They've got some great hockey players and they proved it again this last weekend and they proved it all year long. Hartzell is from Minnesota, where we're very familiar with him. I've known his dad for 25 years, I've known his dad, watched Eric grow up and play in the USHL. And he's having a‑‑ as a Hobey finalist. They're an outstanding hockey team.
And so that's just fan talk. But I think if you get into the hearts of the coaches and people that know the game, it's hogwash. Very competitive college hockey. It has gotten squished together now. There's not a lot of separation between a lot of leagues right now and there's a whole lot of parity.
Q. Bob, first of all, want to talk about Joey Benik who was so great in the regionals. Obviously, as you touched on earlier, he had missed the first half of that with the broken leg. But could you talk a little bit about his development and what you have been most impressed with as far as that development up to this point?
COACH MOTZKO: I don't know if there's any one thing. Joey is‑‑ Cory could probably confirm this‑‑ he's a pretty cool cucumber. He doesn't have a lot of emotion. He went through the rehab to get back.
And like I said, I threw him in a little too high right off the bat. It took a good month, month and a half, for him to get in game shape. And I think he just had to go back to work. Because right when the doctor cleared him‑‑ because with a broken leg you can't skate. And then he was doing some light skating for a few weeks.
Then he gets cleared. And if I could go back, we're the ones that made the mistake‑‑ we should have slowed him down. We were anxious to get him in there. He's got tremendous offensive ability. But we threw him up a little too high out of the blocks. And when you do that you lose a little confidence.
But he handled it great. So we had to back him back down for a month. Let him really get in game shape, and that means he didn't get a ton of playing time in some games. But he worked hard in practice. And that's where we saw it coming. That's probably the best spot is we could just see every day he continued to grow. And Cory's had a tremendous season for him. We felt coming down the stretch if we could get Cory, we threw that line together last week, and try to get him another offensive player that would have the ability to push some tempo from an offensive standpoint, that maybe that would have something.
So by luck or by great call, I'm not sure which one it is, but we put those guys together and they had a little magic for a weekend and obviously grew some confidence together. And we all hope it will remain there but he's got a track record of doing what he's done.
He's one of the‑‑ 70 some goals I believe one year in high school hockey he scored and set a record there. He was on pace to be there‑‑ he broke the record or was just one or two numbers from it. Then he was a great player in Penticton, won the Canadian championship a year ago and scored the game‑winning goal in the last minute of play for them to win the championship. And he gets the big stage. He knows how to play in the month of March.
Q. Cory, I know you've been playing with Joey these last several weeks and you guys seem to have such great chemistry together. Can you talk about just what makes that chemistry work?
CORY THORSON: You know, I just give all the credit to Joey and also to Brooks Bertsch, my other wing. Those are just two humble guys, giving up their bodies to do whatever it takes to help out the team. They both have tremendous upsides. They know what to do with the puck, and it's been showing on the score sheet.
I can't say anything more about like how great it is to play with two guys that work so hard every day and it rubs off on me. And I think that's helped Joe's line together, just how badly we want to win games for St. Cloud.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports