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DL roots reach the NCAA’s Frozen Four

Detroit Lakes native Garrett Raboin and the Frozen Four-bound St. Cloud State University men’s hockey team were greeted by fans at the St. Cloud airport last Sunday evening after beating Miami, Ohio, for the Midwest Regional championship. Raboin is a former Husky player and is now an assistant coach under SCSU head coach Bob Motzko. Tim Hennagir/Monticello Times

“Husky Pride” naturally flows through Detroit Lakes native Garrett Raboin’s veins, after playing four impressive years as a defenseman for the St. Cloud State University men’s hockey team.

But unlike most SCSU fans, Raboin is living Husky Pride to its fullest.

After a fruitful college hockey career at SCSU and professional stint over in Europe, Raboin returned to his roots and was hired as an assistant coach under Husky head coach Bob Motzko this year.

It so happens the 2012-13 season is the most successful one ever for SCSU, one which includes the team’s first-ever McNaughton Cup — which they shared with the University of Minnesota — and their first trip to the Frozen Four.

In other words, it’s been quite the first year for the former SCSU defenseman, who now coaches the Husky forwards.

“I came into a great situation here,” Raboin said. “Coach Motzko has done such a great job here and I am very fortunate to return to the place where I played my college hockey.

“I’m very grateful to Coach Motzko and (assistant coach) Mike Gibbons.”

Entering his first year as a coach of any kind, Raboin had a lot to work with on the ice.

Two former teammates from his SCSU playing days are still on the team in senior forwards Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski.

LeBlanc is currently a Hobey Hat Trick finalist (final three for the Hobey Baker Award) and Hanowski is one of the team’s leading scorers with 17 goals and 14 assists.

It was like coming home to familiar faces for Raboin, even though there is an obvious difference from sitting in the box coaching than having the gear on and playing on the ice.

“It’s almost more nerve-wracking coaching than playing, since you have less control on the outcome,” Raboin said. “But I just love being back in the college atmosphere. If I’m either a player or coach, I’m around the game all the time, so it doesn’t feel like work at all.”

Raboin also was a part of Husky history after he was a standout defenseman on three NCAA tournament teams, while being a three-year captain and accumulating 21 goals and 62 assists in his career.

One of those goals came in the Huskies’ first-ever NCAA tournament win, as well.

The success Raboin was a part of in his first year as an assistant coach is unprecedented in Husky history, though.

Not only did SCSU win their first McNaughton Cup and earn their first berth in the Frozen Four, the program nears a Hobey Baker winner in LeBlanc, who also won the WCHA MVP award.

Junior defenseman Nick Jensen earned the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year honors, as the Huskies built an impressive run to this year’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, which starts Thursday.

The Huskies rolled through the Midwest Regional by dominating top-seeded Notre Dame 5-1 in the semifinals and securing the Frozen Four berth with a 4-1 victory over Miami of Ohio.

Some unexpected contributions came from one of the team’s top freshman in the two-game regionals, as forward Joey Benik slung in four goals and an assist to more than double his regular season stats.

But Benik’s breakout performance in the playoffs doesn’t surprise Raboin one bit.

“We have the highest-scoring freshmen class in the nation, so this is something special,” Raboin said. “That’s a credit to the guys putting in the time and the coaches for recruiting them.”

LeBlanc is a rare fifth-year senior, who played with Raboin his freshman season. LeBlanc broke his leg his senior season and was tagged with a medical redshirt, which allowed him to return and post Hobey Baker-like numbers this season.

“Before he broke his leg, Drew was one of the top scorers,” Raboin said. “The day after he suffered his broken leg, he came to practice wheeling himself in a wheelchair. That’s the kind of guy he is, Drew has great character.

“He has a natural knack to make plays, even though he doesn’t shoot a whole lot. He simply sets his teammates up so well.”

LeBlanc’s 37 assists attest to that notion, while he still is a threat to put the puck past any goalie with 13 goals.

Raboin is in charge of the second-leading scoring lines in the nation, with another super freshman, Jonny Brodzinski, making a huge impact with his 22 goals and 11 assists.

“These guys just hit the details of the game, the fundamentals of the game,” Raboin said. “They pay attention to detail and they work hard. This summer when I came aboard, I saw the guys working their butts off and I told coach Motzko this is the hardest working group of guys I’ve been around.”

It’s definitely paying off for the Huskies, who will face the top-rated team in the nation, Quinnipiac University in the semifinals Thursday, starting at 7 p.m.

The regular season set the tone for SCSU’s run through the NCAA regionals, as they consistently remained on top of the WCHA and eventually won the McNaughton Cup, along with the Gophers.

“These players are confident in themselves, but they are very even-keel,” Raboin said. “They don’t get too high or low. On our way to the McNaughton Cup, they gained points every weekend, no matter if it was only one point.

“They answered the bell each and every week, which is tough in the WCHA.”

Next up will be a tough task of playing Quinnipiac, which boasts a Hobey Hat Trick finalist in goalie Eric Hartzell.

“They have a talented group of forwards and a strong, solid defense,” Raboin said. “The best way to play a goalie like theirs is to put the rubber at him. You have to go to work and find a way to score on him.”

Raboin isn’t just looking at the season with a set of coach’s eyes, either; he’s seeing it as an alumnus, as well.

“I’m just very proud as an alumnus and this group of players kept the chain going in the right direction,” Raboin said. “Making it to the first-ever Frozen Four in SCSU’s history is special for me. It’s been crazy down here and everyone is excited.

“It’s a special time to be an SCSU fan.”

Or in Raboin’s case, former player and assistant coach.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.