This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. Leading up to this weekend's events, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. Look for interviews through Thursday. Today, it's Ben Hanowski from St. Cloud State.
The night Jarome Iginla was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Cloud State senior Ben Hanowski was watching the win 6-5 shootout victory of the Montreal Canadiens over the Boston Bruins.
Like many of us, Hanowski went to bed that night believing the Calgary Flames captain was destined for the Bruins. When he awoke, his phone was jammed with text messages and voicemails about how he was now a member of the Flames after Iginla ended up with the Penguins.
"It was definitely a unique day," Hanowski said during a phone interview last Monday. "That happening and then us going to the regional and making it to the Frozen Four; the last five day have kind of been a whirlwind. It was a week I'll always remember."
Hanowski's week began with that trade and ended with St. Cloud State's first ever trip to the Frozen Four this week at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The senior captain would score the opening goal in the Huskies' 5-1 victory over Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional semifinal before celebrating a trip to the Steel City with 4-1 win over Miami University the next day.
"It's still a pretty surreal feeling," said Hanowski. "It hasn't quite sunk in yet. I'm pretty exciting. My voice is gone from a lot of yelling."
It's been a over a week since the victory and Hanowski and the St. Cloud State have had their eyes set on top-seeded Quinnipiac in the second half of the Frozen Four doubleheader Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
We spoke with Hanowski last week about his trade to the Flames, scoring big goals, the Huskies' season turnaround, and his charitable efforts. Enjoy.
Q. Have you spoken with anyone from the Flames yet?
HANOWSKI: I spoke with Mr. Feaster on Thursday [March 28] afternoon when we landed in Toldeo. I spoke with him briefly. He welcomed be to the organization and expressed that he was exciting to have me be a part of it. He knew what was going on with me and regionals, so he was very good about just allowing me to focus on my task at hand and helping my team win a couple of games.
I'm sure there were some nerves heading into the weekend. Getting that first goal against Notre Dame, did that help settle the team down?
I think it's big in those kind of games to get the first goal and get a lead. We were fortunate enough to score the first goal in both games. When you get that first one to go in the nerves go away and you play with more confidence when you get the lead. That was crucial for us in both games and that was definitely a big part of our gameplay was trying to get a good start.
You've had a reputation for scoring big goals in your career. Do you just relish the opportunity to be on the ice during those moments?
Yeah. If you're not wanting to be out there on the ice during those moments then you're not going to be effective and you probably shouldn't be playing. I was just fortunate to find the puck on the weak side and put it into an open net. The puck just kind of finds when you're around the net and put yourself in good spots.
The rosters heavily comprised of freshmen and sophomore players. What is it about that group that they've been able to come in and find success early?
For one, they're just real good hockey players. They're talented guys and they work hard. They weren't complacent with coming in seeing all the guys. They wanted to come in and contribute and that's exactly what they've done. And they've been doing a heckuva job, scoring a lot of goals for us and making a lot of big plays.
What has Coach Motzko done over your last four years to get this program to this point?
He started to turn it around before I had got here. He came in right away from Minnesota and was "Coach of the Year" back-to-back. Right away he started this program in the right direction. He's a winner everywhere he's been. He won in the USHL. He won at the college level. He's been doing it for a long time and he knows what he's doing. We just feed off him and go from what he's teaching us and what he's telling us.
The season went with a couple of wins here, a couple of losses there. But starting with the Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA playoffs, the wins have been dominant, allowing just one goal in each victory up to this point. Was there something in those two games that set things in motion for this run to the Frozen Four?
We've been a good defensive team all year. We were one of the best defensive teams in the WCHA. We've got a great goaltender in Ryan Faragher and the defensive core has been extremely talented here. Everything starts with defense for us, shutting teams down. When we're playing good defense that's when we're also getting good offense and creating good opportunities for ourselves.
You had a legendary career as a high school player in Minnesota. Was choosing St. Cloud just a matter of wanting to play in your home state?
I wanted to play in the WCHA being a Minnesota kid. That's what I watched growing up all the time. But with St. Cloud, I just had an immediate connection with them right away, with the coaching staff that was here. If I would have been in Wisconsin or Colorado, I still would have chosen [St. Cloud] because I liked the university and the coaching staff. They had a lot of interest in me and that was always important to me. I wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted.
The beard. It's already been featured on ESPN. When did you start growing it out?
In college hockey you have to cheat a little bit just because most of it is a 1-game series, it's not like the pros where you play a 7-game series. I started it 2-2 1/2 weeks before the playoffs started. I got a little head-start there. I've had it for about five weeks here and it's getting a little itchy, but I guess I'm going to have to leave it here until the Frozen Four. Give it a couple of weeks and it could be really gnarly.
With the "Locks of Love" venture you're doing, have you reached the required 10 inches?
I'm right there. We got it measured a couple of weeks ago and I was at 9 1/2. It'll take me it 3-4 weeks to get that extra half inch. I'm right know knocking on the doorstep and I'm going to be extremely excited after we get done playing at the Frozen Four and I can get my hair cut.
Who's idea was it to grow out the hair and donate it?
It started with last year there were a handful of guys that were growing their hair out to grow it out. Nic Dowd, our junior forward, saw "Locks of Love". He's always been into volunteering and he said we should do it and we were like, "Yeah, we'll think about it" and he kept pushing for it and we jumped on the bandwagon. Here we are a year later and we're doing it and it's almost about to be over with.
Coming up Tuesday: Quinnipiac's Matt Peca
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy