The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 20, 2013

Unsung heroes help teams reach Final Five

By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer

ST. PAUL — Looking at the teams in the WCHA Final Five, the six rosters feature the best the league had to offer this season.

From WCHA Player of the Year Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State to the league’s top rookie in Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams to 12 others who made one of the league’s three all-conference teams, it’s a star-studded field.

But none of the teams would be in St. Paul this weekend without depth and balance — players who may have been overshadowed by their award-winning teammates but are just as valuable.

“Not only do we have to prepare for teams’ top-end players, but their complete teams,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “I want to compliment all of the teams for challenging us.”

For Minnesota State, Chase Grant (see main story) fits that bill, as does forward Zach Lehrke and defenseman Tyler Elbrecht, even as so many accolades went to Williams, Matt Leitner and Eriah Hayes, along with coach Mike Hastings.

During Tuesday’s conference call involving the coaches of the Final Five teams, each coach was asked about his team’s unsung hero or under-the-radar star.

For MSU’s opponent, Wisconsin, coach Mike Eaves cited junior Jefferson Dahl, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound center.

“He maximizes his play both physically and mentally,” Eaves said.

The Mavericks certainly aren’t overlooking Dahl, though, as he had a two-goal, one-assist weekend last January in Mankato when the Badgers swept MSU.

St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko tabbed junior forward Nic Dowd. Dowd is second on the team in scoring, but has been overshadowed by LeBlanc, Defensive Player of the Year  Nick Jensen and some of the best freshmen in the country.

“He’s been under the radar for two years,” Motzko said of Dowd. “He leads our team in blocked shots and had just under 40 points. ... He’s a great defensive player.”

Minnesota coach Don Lucia noted 23-point forward Sam Warning, although the sophomore may be out this weekend with an injury. “He quietly fits in when he plays with (Erik) Haula and (Zach) Budish. ... He quietly goes about his game and doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, but he’s had a really good year as a sophomore.”

Hakstol said senior defenseman Joe Gleason has been North Dakota’s unsung player. Gleason, who has played all three forward positions and both sides on defense during his career, “over four years has meant so much to our team.”

For Colorado College, junior defenseman Eamonn McDermott was pegged by coach Scott Owens.

“(Senior Mike) Boivin has received a lot of accolades, and he should,” Owens said. “But (McDermott) has been the glue back there on the blue line. He’s logged a lot of quality minutes.”