View From St. Cloud State

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It is another rivalry weekend for Minnesota, as the Gophers play at St. Cloud State on Friday and host the Huskies at home on Saturday. We talked with Zack Fisch, who is the play-by-play announcer for the Huskies on 88.1 FM KVSC in St. Cloud. Fisch is in his fourth year covering the Huskies. KVSC is the student radio station at St. Cloud State, but is the FM Home of Husky Hockey. Games are available on 88.1 FM and KVSC.org and you can follow Zack and the crew on Twitter at @KVSCHockey.

GopherSports.com: Zack, what is your take on the Huskies this year?
Zack Fisch: St. Cloud has amassed a rash of injuries, but despite losing captains Drew LeBlanc and starting goaltender Mike Lee, the Huskies continue to have success early in the season. Losing LeBlanc, the team's leading scorer last season, to a pair of broken bones in his leg, is the biggest loss and changes the complexion of the team's offense. With Lee out, first-year goaltender Ryan Faragher has been solid and turned heads in his first WCHA start when he shutout North Dakota in their building, making 44 saves in 4-0 win. With Lee having season-ending surgery this week, it is Faragher's team to lead.

While the Huskies sit at 5-5-2 overall coming into this weekend, their biggest flaw on the season has been their inability to stay out of the penalty box. St. Cloud has 133 penalty minutes and has been called for six majors on the year.

The Huskies are led offensively by junior Ben Hanowski who has notched 13 points. Senior Jared Festler has six goals on the season and has always played well against Minnesota. Sophomores Nic Dowd and Cam Reid will center the top two lines and be heavily relied upon to up their scoring in LeBlanc's absence. Also, sophomore Cory Thorson has found a scoring touch and has three goals in his last four games.

On the backend, the Huskies are young defensively, but the youthful group on the blueline has been a pleasant surprise. Kevin Gravel has played well and uses his size well, while fellow sophomore Nick Jensen is among one of the top young defenseman in the WCHA and has a transition game that is second to none. First-year players Andrew Prochno and Jarrod Rabey have not only being strong in their own zone, but have lit the lamp as well.

GS: Who is one player that Gopher fans should pay extra attention to?
ZF: Junior forward Ben Hanowski. With his fellow captains injured, the leadership role falls on his shoulders. While he is known as a vocal leader in the room, Minnesota's all-time leading high school scorer has led on the ice this year too. Hanowski spent all of last season playing through a shoulder injury and tallied 13 goals and 7 assists. Now healthy and with a "C" on his sweater, Hanowski is on pace to far surpass those numbers. A third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hanowski already has 7 goals and 6 assists and leads the team with 13 points. He has great chemistry on a line with Dowd and fellow junior David Eddy, and the winger has grown into his body well and is using his frame to create scoring opportunities. He is a key part of the power play and will see lots of ice-time playing on the top line.

GS: Finish this sentence for us. St. Cloud State will win if ...
ZF: Plain and simple, the Huskies have to find a way to stay out of the penalty box and win the special teams battle. St. Cloud has uncharacteristically taken six major penalties on the season and coach Motzko continues to preach how his team needs to shore up its penalty problem. With an electric atmosphere in both buildings expected this weekend, SCSU, and specially its younger players, will have to make sure to not get caught up in the excitement and give the Gophers extended time with a man up.

The power play is struggling for the Huskies heading into this weekend, and coach Motzko was quoted as saying they'd be changing things up this week. St. Cloud went 0-for-8 last weekend at Minnesota State on the man advantage, and in addition, gave up two shorthanded goals. With LeBlanc out, the whole dynamic of the Huskies power play has changed. Hanowski has been stationed at the point on the man-advantage, but I believe his counterpart Jensen has the ability to quarterback the power play and be a difference maker in turning around the man advantage.

If St. Cloud can stay out of the box and chip in a power-play goal or two, they have a good shot this weekend. Ryan Faragher will have to continue his strong play between the pipes, but special teams is key.

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