From: St. Cloud Times
By Kevin Allenspach
The reality check hits tonight.
For the 16th-ranked St. Cloud State men’s hockey team, it’s a collision course with increased expectations.
For the Denver Pioneers, two years removed from back-to-back national championships, it’s the start of the WCHA season without the league’s scoring leader (Paul Stastny) and the reigning Hobey Baker winner (Matt Carle).
Perhaps nowhere will the fact that a new season has arrived be underscored more than at the National Hockey Center.
“There were quite a few games last year where we came up and nipped people,” said Huskies senior Justin Fletcher, who ranks behind only Minnesota’s Alex Goligoski in scoring among returning WCHA defensemen. “That’s not going to happen again. Teams are going to see us coming more than they did before.”
Picked toward the bottom of the league a year ago, the Huskies nonetheless beat or tied seven ranked opponents and finished 20-13-3 after starting 2-6-1. And when they won, it was invariably because of their defense, going 2-13-2 when allowing three or more goals.
“There’s no reason our defense shouldn’t be as good because it’s virtually the same,” Fletcher said, referring to the loss of one senior (T.J. McElroy) from last spring. “I think the difference is we’re going to have more scoring than since I’ve been here.”
The Pioneers have been as subtle as a freight train the past three years, finishing second last season before an inconceivable first-round playoff upset by Minnesota-Duluth derailed their hopes of a three-peat. But if there’s a team that could sneak back to the top again, this might be it.
Wade past the bemoaning about Stastny and Carle and forward Gabe Gauthier, who racked up 155 points in his four-year career, and you find Ryan Dingle, the only returnee among the top 15 scorers in league play.
Of those other 14, four were seniors (Brett Sterling, Marty Sertich, Joey Crabb and Gauthier). The remaining 10 (Stastny, Ryan Potulny, Carle, Joe Pavelski, Drew Stafford, Phil Kessel, Robbie Earl, David Backes, Ryan Carter and Travis Zajac) all were mined by the NHL.
That leaves Dingle, an undrafted junior forward from Steamboat Springs, Colo., a little surprised — not only at the heights he attained last season but at how that mountain of talent he was climbing has been sheared off.
“I think it shows our league was extremely competitive,” said Dingle, who is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. “All those other guys around me had the opportunity to go pro and I salute them ... but I’m not putting the burden on my shoulders that I have to go out and be the next one. I had a good year last year, but when you put Stastny and Carle and Gauthier out there, those guys on the other team weren’t looking for me.”
They will be now.
Denver, ranked 11th and 12th in the national polls, features five drafted rookies — part of a record 11 draftees on the team. Sophomore defenseman Chris Butler, the Pioneers’ second-leading returning scorer, and sophomore forward Patrick Mullen both had goals in each game of last weekend’s Ice Breaker Invitational (a 5-2 loss to No. 8 Miami and a 3-2 win over No. 14 Colgate). And Brock Trotter, a redshirt freshman who received a vote in the league’s preseason Rookie of the Year balloting, had a couple of assists.
Based on reputation, though, the guy to stop is Dingle.
“Subconsciously, I’m sure you think about it, and you’re always drawn to the expectations you have for yourself,” said Dingle, 22, who played at Tri-City and Des Moines of the USHL. “I’m just going to try to control the controllables, the effort I give, and if that allows me to fulfill a role like I did, great.”
However it plays out, Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky doesn’t want to hear about last year and who could’ve been here and how teams have been decimated with lost talent.
“All of our (WCHA) coaches say that every damn year,” Gwozdecky, whose team has won its last four games in St. Cloud, told a preseason conference call. “It’s the most boring thing and it makes me want to hang up the phone. That’s coachspeak. Replace guys? That’s what we do.”
How will it pan out? The bell is about to ring.
» Former Huskies coach Craig Dahl stopped by at the end of practice Thursday and chatted with several upperclassmen. Other than the freshmen, he still has at least a recruiting connection to everyone on the team.
» Gwozdecky last weekend was inducted into Miami’s Cradle of Coaches during a dedication of the new Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio. He coached there from 1989-94. His induction, the first for a hockey coach, places him among members like Weeb Ewbank, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler.
On Thursday before the Pioneers skated at the Hockey Center, Gwozdecky said junior goalie Peter Mannino looked better than his statistics in the season opener.
“We were terrible in front of him,” Gwozdecky said.
Despite hints in the preseason that he’d go to a No. 1 goalie system after years of rotation, it’s expected both Mannino and senior Glenn Fisher will start this weekend.