Award-winner Rhett Gardner will have hands full against St. Cloud State
GRAND FORKS — Rhett Gardner walked up to the front of a banquet room in the Science Museum of Minnesota on Thursday night, March 15, and was handed an award for being the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s best defensive forward.
“It’s really exciting,” the UND center said. “It’s a game I play, so it’s my kind of award. Going into this season, I kind of had it in the back of my mind that this could be something I could win, because of the style I play. I thought I had a good year defensively playing against top lines and it worked out.”
During the regular season, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound center proved he had the ability to shut down opposing teams’ top players.
Now, with the season on the line, Gardner and his teammates will have to be at their best doing exactly that.
When UND and St. Cloud State meet in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals at 4:08 p.m. on Friday, March 16, in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, Gardner and the Fighting Hawks will be charged with slowing down the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense.
The top-ranked Huskies are averaging 3.76 goals per game, second only to MSU-Mankato’s 3.87. It’s the biggest strength of a St. Cloud State (24-7-6) team that won the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions and has its sights set on coming back to the Xcel Energy Center in April for the NCAA Frozen Four.
Although the Huskies don’t rely on one big line for scoring, Gardner has been effective in slowing down their forwards this season.
In the four regular-season matchups between the teams, St. Cloud State scored just once at even strength with Gardner on the ice.
“It’s kind of been my role all year,” Gardner said. “We’ve played against good teams all year. We played Cloud two or three weeks ago and we had a good series. I thought if I could just shut down their top guys and get them disinterested, that would be good for us.”