Junior defenseman Kevin Gravel (LAK) has been a pillar of strength on St. Cloud State’s blueline, logging upwards of 25 minutes per game and facing some of the best opposing players in NCAA hockey. He has played in all 41 games to date, posting 11 points (one goal, 10 assists).
Hockey’s Future spoke with Gravel on Wednesday after practice at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
Hockey's Future: You guys finally made it here to the big dance, so how does it feel to be in the Frozen Four?
Kevin Gravel: It’s good and everyone’s excited. It’s been kind of a long two weeks after winning the (Midwest) regional, but to finally get here is pretty exciting.
HF: You guys won a share of the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA co-champions, then obviously had that disappointing loss to Wisconsin in the Final Five before bouncing back really well against Notre Dame and Miami. Can you talk a bit how that has been for you guys and how the team was able to come together to get to this point?
KG: I think when we won a share of the MacNaughton Cup, the team had higher expectations going into the WCHA Final Five. We lost to Wisconsin, but credit their team, they made a great run there. So it was disappointing, but we had to sweat through whether we were going to make the tournament. And after we got into the NCAA Tournament, it fired everyone up and just kind of carried us over into the regionals against Notre Dame and Miami.
HF: There were six WCHA teams in the tournament. Did you guys ever think that you would be the torchbearers for the WCHA in the Frozen Four?
KG: Well, as you said there were six teams here and you would think that one of them (besides us) would be here, but props to the teams that beat them. And we still have three other good teams here, but with the fact that this is the last year of the (current) WCHA, it’s added not so much more pressure but more pride in our team knowing that we’re the last WCHA team still standing right now.
HF: Having watched you closely since you arrived at St. Cloud State, one thing that I’ve noticed is how much more comfortable you have become in not only playing your position, but also in your role on the team. Has that been more of a process of growing into and becoming more comfortable in that role?
KG: I think so. I think a lot of that has come from being more confident, too. When I came to St. Cloud State as a young 18-year-old kid, I was thrown right into it and played against some of the best teams in the WCHA. I credit that to my coaches, who gave me a lot of ice time and a lot of chances to develop. I think a lot of it comes from experience in playing game in and game out. You just kind of learn your role and what you do well as a player. And I think over the years, you tend to grow into that. I feel that I’ve done a pretty good job of developing here at St. Cloud State.
HF: You’ve established yourself as a defensive defenseman at St. Cloud State, but I’ve also noticed that you’ve also begun to develop your offensive game a bit.
KG: Well, I’m trying to (Laughs). I get a little bit of a hard time from my teammates whenever I end up on the scoresheet because I’m not known for that. I think I scored in our second game this year and so everyone was saying ‘aw, look out for that.’ And it turned out to be the only game that I’ve scored in so far this season (Laughs). I think we got a little ahead of ourselves, but anytime you get a chance to chip in offensively, you obviously want to take it. But that’s not really my job. We’ve got a lot of guys up front that have the talent that can take care of the goal-scoring for us.
HF: I know that you and Nic (Dowd) are both prospects of the Los Angeles Kings. So it has to be great to know that one of your current teammates could also potentially be one of your future teammates, as well.
KG: Yeah, and we actually live together, too. So we see a lot of each of other. But it’s been fun being able to experience it together. I think it’s easier when you have someone else going through it with you because you’re not just going out there blind by yourself. And I couldn’t ask for a better guy to go through it with, either.
HF: Have you and Nic been in touch with the Kings and have they been keeping tabs on both of you throughout the season?
KG: Yeah, a little bit. They’ve been very good about kind of letting us do our own thing right now, especially with the run that we’ve been on here. But they do check in every once in a while and see how things are going.
HF: Did the Kings either call or text you guys when St. Cloud State made it into the Frozen Four?
KG: Oh yeah! They’re very good about that. They sent us a couple of congratulatory texts, so that was good.
HF: Were you at their prospect camp this past summer?
KG: Yes, that one was my third camp.
HF: Obviously, you learn different things each year you attend the camp, but what was the greatest thing that you learned from the recent camp that you’ve been able to bring back to St. Cloud State with you this season?
KG: I think it’s just the work that you have to put into it. It never stops. The Kings organization just focuses so much on creating good habits. They kind of stress, “living like a pro”, whether it’s at the rink or away from it. You just need to be doing everything the right way and making sure that you’re not taking any short cuts on anything. And that’s something that’s been a big eye-opener for me.
HF: The Kings are obviously the reigning Stanley Cup champions, so to be part of an organization like that has to feel pretty special.
KG: Yeah, definitely. I can’t say that I wasn’t rooting for them, but it was nice to see them win that cup, especially with some of the ties that I’ve had with their staff. I’ve gotten to know some of them over the years and to see their team win it was pretty cool. I also got to hear all of the stories too.
HF: How do you describe yourself as a player and what will you be able to bring to the Kings organization in the future?
KG: Well, if I ever get a chance to play for them, I think I’d be able to bring just a bit more of a skill aspect to my position. People that have seen me play the most know that I’m a guy that’s defensively responsible and I think I skate pretty well for a guy my size. But I like to take care of the defensive zone first. If I’m not getting scored on when I’m out there, I think I’m having a pretty successful shift. I think that I make the good first pass out to the guys whose job it is to score, too.