The St. Cloud State Huskies may have been a No. 4 seed in their regional, and they may be facing the No. 1 overall seed in their first ever Frozen Four game Thursday night in Pittsburgh. But don't tell the Huskies they're underdogs.
"I think everyone here is kind of in uncharted waters," redshirt senior and Hobey Baker Award finalist Drew LeBlanc said. "One of these four teams, it will be their first time winning a National Championship, so no one has any previous experience really here. We're here. We have a good team to be here, and we are excited to have a shot at winning this thing."
The Huskies put together one of their most impressive regular seasons ever in 2012-13, winning a share of the WCHA regular season title with Minnesota, the second-ranked team in the nation heading into the national tournament. They finished the season ranked ninth in the nation and probably would have had a more favorable road through the NCAA tournament had they overcome Wisconsin in the WCHA tournament, but they're not complaining about a road to Pittsburgh that required wins over Notre Dame and Miami.
"It switches so quickly, head coach Bob Motzko said. "It's anybody's tournament, then a week later -- oh, shocking that these teams get through. So I don't know if it's underdog or not. I did learn a new lesson this week because I kept thinking as a coach, because you do get interviewed a lot, you have to come up with something new.
"The right teams are here. The 'named" teams aren't here, but the "right" teams are here. Three of the teams won their conference championship, which is the best indication of what kind of season you put through. And Yale kicked the crap out of the WCHA this year. They went into [Colorado College] and Denver, knocked them off, and knocked off North Dakota and Minnesota.
"I think the right teams are here, and this thing is just like it was two weeks ago -- a wideopen tournament. I believe that to stick with the theme from that week. It's still anybody's tournament."
The Huskies certainly have the offensive firepower at the forward position to compete with anybody. They've shown that in playoff action so far this year, beating the Irish and RedHawks in regional play by a combined score of 9-2. But scoring is something they've been familiar with all season, with their forwards scoring 3.41 goals per game on average, good for second in the nation.
They're led offensively by LeBlanc, who's scored 50 points in 41 games this season, certainly deserving of a Hobey Baker nod. But that's just another area where the Huskies are looked at as underdogs heading into the Frozen Four -- sure, they score at a high rate, but they know they have a tough task in Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell, LeBlanc's fellow Hobey finalist, who leads the nation's top defensive club.
Our coaches have done a tremendous job of getting us ready," LeBlanc said. "They've watched probably seven, eight games on Quinnipiac I would guess. They know. They've put a good game plan into place and we're just following their lead. They prep us every week and this one is no different. We're just going out there, doing what they say to do. We're assuming they made the right game plan."
For Coach Motzko, it all comes back to the belief he's had since he started in St. Cloud eight years ago, when a reporter asked if a national title was something that could happen to the Huskies.
"The first thing that popped out of my mouth was 'it can happen here,' Motzko said, "and someone gave me that and framed that article. The caption on it is "it can happen here." That is in our locker room now. ... That's been our calling card when we recruit. It can happen here, and "it" is anything. It can happen here. You recruit guys like this that can believe it and now it's validated."