‘Next man up’ Molenaar, St. Cloud State fourth line answer rallying cry to advance Huskies to championship game

Joe Molenaar reacts after scoring Thursday night for St. Cloud State (photo: Jim Rosvold).

PITTSBURGH – When Easton Brodzinski suffered a broken femur in St. Cloud State’s win over Boston College in the Albany regional final – an injury that required a rod and two screws to fasten back together – it opened up a spot in the lineup for tonight’s national semifinal.

The next man up was freshman Joe Molenaar.

“When a guy like Easton goes down – he’s a guy who has mentored me all year, my roommate on the road,” said Molenaar. “For the whole team it was tough. At first thinking he’s such a big piece for our team, it’s heartbreaking.”

St. Cloud coach Brett Larson slotted Molenaar on the left wing with two seniors.

“Then once this week starts and I’m practicing on the line with Will Hammer and Jared Cockrell, two seniors who have been really good to me about keeping me prepared for moments like this,” Molenaar said. “I was excited to be in the lineup, (and to) give it a chance.”

Molenaar had played in just 11 games this season for the Huskies, and had yet to score a goal.

The rookie and his linemates twice took advantage of the opportunity to answer what Larson last week called a “rallying cry” – to step up and win for Brodzinski.

Hammer answered first when he picked off a drop pass in the Minnesota State zone, quickly turned, and fired it past Mavericks goalie Dryden McKay.

Then it was time for the next man up.

Molenaar scored his first career goal to tie the game at 4-4 after the Mavericks came back from that 3-1 deficit to lead 4-3, steering home a goalmouth pass from Hammer.

“Will got a nice tip on it and I found the soft spot and the puck bounced right on my stick. Probably one of the easier goals I’ve scored,” said Molenaar.

“A lot of people call them our fourth line,” said Larson. “But really the way our team is built, we think we have four first lines. They just play differently.”

That depth has been important to the Huskies all season.

“The value that Hammer’s line brings every night, no matter who is on it, has been one of the main parts of our success this year,” said Larson.

This time, it was Molenaar’s turn to contribute to that success.

“When you’re out of the lineup you always have to think you’re next man up,” said Molenaar.

“I just think all year long it’s been about doing whatever I can to help the team. Whether I’m in the lineup or not, just trying to have a positive impact every night. To get that goal tonight, it feels great.”