Hobey Baker candidates from St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac meet in the semifinals
April 11, 2013 12:00 PM
St. Cloud State players warm up at the start of their time on the Consol Energy Center Ice on Wednesday.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc was not about to reveal where he might try to slip a puck past his opponent in the Frozen Four.
LeBlanc has had a week to prepare for Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell, but if he has identified even a small weakness, or a slight vulnerability, he gave nothing away Wednesday afternoon from the podium at Consol Energy Center.
"Don't answer that Drew," said his coach Bob Motzko half tongue-in-cheek, but serious.
"You know I can't say anything on that," said LeBlanc, with a grin.
Tonight's prime-time meeting between Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State pits two Hobey Baker finalists against one another, which is a rarity in the history of the Frozen Four.
LeBlanc is the prolific forward who returned from a gruesome leg injury in 2011 to help lead his team to this semifinal, and Hartzell is the 6-foot-4 undrafted goalie who has helped put the Bobcats on the map this year.
"I'm sure he'd do anything to trade that Hobey [nomination] for a national championship. I feel the same way," said LeBlanc. "They've been up in the top of the country all year long. So we know they have a good team. But we feel like we deserve to be here as well though.
"We want to go out there and help our teams win."
Both have eye-catching numbers.
LeBlanc has amassed 50 points this year with 13 goals and 37 assists, the latter of which leads the nation.
Hartzell is ranked No. 3 in goaltending, with a 29-6-5 record, 1.54 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, but is first in goals-against among goalies with more than 2,000 minutes played.
Each player also has a highly capable cast around him.
Quinnipiac is known for its defense and goaltending and has allowed the fewest goals per game in the country, giving up an average of just 1.65 per game.
"That's what it's coming down to. Their forwards are fast, really good in transition and can make plays quickly," said defenseman Loren Barron.
"Our team is more of a shut-down team, and teams usually get frustrated playing against us because we don't allow goals easily ... we don't allow teams to make those offensive plays"
The Bobcats offense might be underrated.
One player -- Matthew Peca -- scored the fastest hat trick in NCAA history in the regional final, and his linemates -- Connor and Kellen Jones -- are on a two-point-per-game clip in the tournament.
"We've generated a lot of chances this year," said Quinnipiac Coach Rand Pecknold.
"The big thing that I think we need to get going that's been better is our power play. We've been working on it a lot and I think it's ready to kind of take off."
Meanwhile the Huskies, which are known for offense and boast several goal-scorers in the nation's top-20, also have a strong goaltender in Ryan Farragher and an underrated defense.
"It's kind of peculiar. We feel that even though they are very good defensively they also have some good offensive players up front," said LeBlanc.
"And even though we're more known as the goal scorers our defense is good and we have a good defensive team as well."
Barron said Hartzell's presence in net is what gives the offense its wings.
"Eric is calm and keeps us knowing that we can trust him in any situation. We don't have to worry about Eric giving up a soft one," said Barron.
"He makes big saves which allows us to make more chances and stop plays, break them up earlier.
"He's just rock solid back there. He's so quick, dynamic, very athletic, very good at controlling his rebounds."
Hartzell said he believes he came into his own this year after getting training that taught him to play without second guessing each move.
"You have to read the game as a goalie. It's not necessarily about who's on the ice," said Hartzell.
"LeBlanc is a tremendous player, an amazing athlete. When he's on the ice you've got to be aware of where he is. That's just part of hockey."