Hobey Baker finalists Hartzell, LeBlanc aren't only keys to Quinnipiac-St. Cloud State semifinal
To reduce the meeting of St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac to the simplest terms, their NCAA Frozen Four semifinal pits a pair of Hobey Baker Award finalists against one another.
To make it more dramatic, it matches the nation's assists leader, St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc, against the top goaltender, Quinnipiac's Eric Hartzell.
To listen to both sides, the players deserve the praise. But to say they are solely responsible for getting their teams to a first Frozen Four is doing them a disservice.
“They obviously have a good team there,” LeBlanc said. “They play well defensively. Goaltending has been good, and they have a pretty solid group of forwards.
“So I don't know if it's as much of a matchup, so to say. I just think it's two good hockey teams on a big stage, playing a good hockey game. Hopefully that's what the fans get to see.”
Where LeBlanc has 37 assists and 50 points, he's one of six Huskies with 30 or more points and one of four with 20-plus assists.
“It's not just him,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Recknold said. “It's a deep team that finds a way to score, finds a way to win, somewhat the same way we've done this year. For us, we need to compete and do what we do well and really try to shut down their transition game.”
Quinnipiac ascended to the No. 1 ranking, won the Cleary Cup as ECAC regular-season champions and an NCAA Tournament game for the first time. The Bobcats are riding a 21-game winning streak.
Hartzell has been in goal for all 29 victories, recording a 1.55 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. The Bobcats boast the nation's No. 1 defense (1.63 goals a game) but scored nine goals in two NCAA tourney games.
“Eric Hartzell has to be given tons of credit. His numbers are just gaudy,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “He is a big, strong, athletic-looking kid. I think their coach last week said he's the best player in the country, and they just have tremendous confidence as a hockey team — No. 1 or 2 in the country in defense led by a goaltender like that.
“So, you know, they're a program or a team this year that's had confidence, it sounds like all year long. They came back with all those veterans and expected to be there and wanted to be there.”