MARQUETTE - While most of the St. Cloud State University hockey team had Nov. 19 and Jan. 27 circled on their calendars this season, Kingsford native Kevin Gravel had a trip to the Berry Events Center marked for over a year.
Unfortunately, the sophomore defensemen and former Marquette Ranger didn't get the result he was looking for in a pair of 5-2 and 3-2 losses to the Northern Michigan University Wildcats in nonconference play on Friday and Saturday night.
"Once I saw this game was on the schedule last year, I marked that one down right away. I was really looking forward to coming here," Gravel said Saturday night before hopping on the team bus back to St. Cloud, Minn.
St. Cloud State junior defenseman Kevin Gravel of Kingsford skates at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Friday against Northern Michigan. Gravel played for the now-defunct Marquette Rangers during the 2008-09 season. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"Obviously it wasn't the kind of results I expected or wanted, but it was good to be back in Marquette. I have a lot of family, a lot of friends around here. They all got to come out to the games and I got to see them for a little while. Minus the games, it was a good trip."
Gravel played for the now defunct Rangers of the NAHL just down the road from the Berry Events Center at Lakeview Arena during the 2008-09 season and spent the 2009-10 season with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL before enrolling at St. Cloud State.
He was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings No. 148 overall in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
In his return to Marquette, Gravel recorded a plus/minus rating of minus-4 on Friday paired with junior defenseman Taylor Johnson and rating of 0 on Saturday with freshman Jarrod Rabey.
SCSU head coach Bob Motzko said Gravel was a bit nervous coming back to Marquette this weekend, and that there were a few plays his young defenseman probably would have liked back against NMU.
"This is not indicative of what he's been," Motzko said. "He's been outstanding for us. He's calm, he's patient, he makes plays, he defends great and he can play all night long."
Gravel appeared in 39 games last year for the Huskies as a freshman, recording a goal and five assists.
SCSU finished 15-18-5 overall last year and 11-13-4 in the WCHA before being swept by the eventual NCAA champions from Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
"He was a tremendous freshmen for us last year," Motzko said. "In the first half of the season, we threw him in there and let him grow old and get better. By the second half of the year, he took over a top four spot for us. We were a very good team in the second half of last year and he was a big reason for it. We had two freshmen defensemen that anchored for us."
Motzko said the program is expecting Gravel to not only be one of the better defensemen in the WCHA this season, but to be an anchor for the program back on defense the next three seasons.
To do that, Gravel said he'll need to build in the experience, confidence and posture with the puck that he acquired last year as a freshman.
"The league we play in is a grinding league," Gravel said. "Every team is a solid team you have to come and bring your game every night. You learn that pretty quickly when you step right into the line up as a freshmen."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.