LeBlanc ready to go out on top
St. Cloud State senior gears up to lead team to NCAA title
PITTSBURGH -- If Louisville guard Kevin Ware requires comeback inspiration as he recuperates from a broken right leg, he should seek advice from St. Cloud State senior forward Drew LeBlanc.
The latter dealt with near-identical circumstances 18 months ago and has rebounded well enough to skate his during final collegiate season.
[assetId:171335:2013 DI MEN's FROZEN FOUR] All the way to this week’s Frozen Four.
“We're a confident group coming in here to Pittsburgh, and hopefully [will] get a chance to prove that,” LeBlanc said of his third-ranked team, which faced top-ranked Quinnipiac in Thursday’s second national semifinal game at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.
Entering Thursday’s national semifinals, LeBlanc led the Huskies in assists (37) and points (50), which are seventh-best in the nation. Three of his 13 goals to date were game-winners. He is the 2013 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Player of the Year, its Student-Athlete of the Year and an All-WCHA First-Teamer.
LeBlanc ranked in the top 10 of three St. Cloud State career lists — first in games played (169), third in assists (105) and sixth in points (147).
The result is that the 6-foot, 195-pounder from Hermantown, Minn., also is one of three finalists for the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to college hockey’s top player. The announcement comes Friday at the Consol Energy Center, during an awards show that begins at 6 p.m.
“I’ve said it a bunch of times now, but it doesn't happen if our team doesn't have the success that we've had this year,” LeBlanc said of the nomination. “I've been fortunate enough to play with a great group of guys and with great people and great leaders. It's just everything kind of aligned right and found a place for me, and I'm just fortunate to have the opportunity.”
On Nov. 5, 2011, LeBlanc, already an elite player with NHL interest, broke his left leg during at home game against Wisconsin. The injury occurred in the 11th game of his senior season and mirrored Ware’s — bones piercing skin — for gruesomeness.
“It was a bad injury,” St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko said. “Seven month recovery. Took him until late in the summer.”
It also sidelined LeBlanc’s professional aspirations, but not his collegiate ones. Applying for and earning redshirt status gave him the cushion to return as a fifth-year senior.
“He had to sit,” Motzko said of LeBlanc’s 2011-2012 circumstances. “He is in school all year, sure can't go pro — it ripped his heart out that he couldn't be with his team last year.”
LeBlanc opted for a second “last year.” Because he did and played to potential, he might end it with an NCAA title and college hockey’s top individual honor.
“I think just to be associated with the name Hobey Baker and what he meant to not only college hockey, but the time period in general — how big of a figure he was — has been pretty special for me,” LeBlanc said.
“I think he had the feeling that he had unfinished business and he wanted to come back and do it the right way,” Motzko said of his co-captain. “He was coming back for more team reasons and more reasons than because he lost it. There was a heart pull for him to come back.”
Saying the current Huskies thrive as LeBlanc does might be overstatement, but he is a main engine. An instinctive playmaker, LeBlanc mentored two freshmen earlier this season after an injury sidelined his regular left wing, fellow senior Ben Hanowski, for a month. Kalle Kossila and Jonny Brodzinski both blossomed under LeBlanc’s tutelage.
“By Christmastime, those two freshmen [were] the two leading scorers in the country,” Motzko said. “They're good freshmen … but their numbers are pointed to a guy like Drew LeBlanc — throw it right back at him.”
“St. Cloud is a phenomenal offensive team,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “They're three lines deep. LeBlanc makes them go. He's an awesome player. I heard Bob Motzko talk before about how he makes players better, and there is no question, he makes players better.”
Off the ice, LeBlanc is preparing for his post-hockey future with a math education degree. He has student-taught in the St. Cloud area as part of that preparation, and is a four-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete honoree. He also is a two-time team captain.
“Our players will tell you, we throw a lot on him,” Motzko said. “But he can handle it.”
There may yet be an NHL future. LeBlanc attended a Minnesota Wild development camp last summer and will end his collegiate career as a professional free agent. He also may have a Hobey in tow.
“I haven't thought about it too much because we're still playing,” he said of collecting that award. “We've got bigger marbles to play for than that, so trying to channel all my energy and focus towards that – that will be something that I can reflect on down the road.”