Bob Motzko wanted to be a Gophers hockey player in the early 1980s — so much so that twice he tried out for the team, and twice he was cut.
Nearly four decades later, Motzko is running the program.
Motzko, 57, was formally introduced as the University of Minnesota’s 15th men’s hockey coach Thursday, taking the wheel Don Lucia let go on March 20 after 19 years and two NCAA championships.
Now it’s Motzko, a Gophers assistant under Lucia from 2001 to ’05, who dives into the pressure-packed job.
“I fully understand what’s in front of me,” said Motzko, who spent the past 13 years as St. Cloud State’s coach and led the Huskies to eight NCAA tournaments.
“I think every coach here going back to Glen Sonmor has played for a national championship. This is one of the greatest programs in college hockey, and it’s part of the fabric of our state.”
Motzko agreed to the terms of a five-year contract that will pay him an average base salary of $592,000 a season — $2.9 million over the five years. He’ll be eligible to receive additional performance and academic bonuses.
Motzko, who made $302,000 at St. Cloud State this season, will make a base salary of $525,000 for his first season. Don Lucia’s salary this past season was $612,500. Lucia was scheduled to make $630,000 next season in the final season of his contract, and Lucia still will make that much over 14 months serving in his new role: special assistant to Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle.
Coyle moved quickly to hire Motzko, contacting him Saturday, the day after St. Cloud State, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, lost to Air Force in the West Regional semifinals in Soiux Falls. Motzko interviewed Sunday night, and he was announced as the new coach Tuesday.
“When I had a chance to meet him this weekend, I was incredibly impressed,” Coyle said. “We want to be about low ego and high output. I call that humility, and Bob Motzko represents that in everything he does.
“... When I talked to a lot of our hockey alum and people that I trust, one name that came up every time I asked, ‘Who should be the next head coach at the University of Minnesota?’ It was Bob Motzko,” Coyle continued. “He’s about recruiting, he’s about relationships, and most importantly, he understands what Minnesota hockey is.”
The decision to leave St. Cloud State didn’t come easy for Motzko, who played for the school, worked with Herb Brooks as an assistant coach and guided the Huskies to a 276-192-49 record.
“I have to thank them because we were truly blessed for everything that happened there,” he said.
The lure of the U, however, swayed Motzko.
“I’ve had a long relationship with this university,” said Motzko, a Gophers assistant on their last two NCAA championship teams in 2002 and ’03. “More importantly, I’m from the state. I played high school hockey here, tried to play college hockey at two universities; played at one.
“This was a job that you only get one kick at the can, and it was there.”
Looking to add grit
Motzko promised an up-tempo brand of hockey, mixed with grit — something that at times was missing from the Gophers as they finished 19-17-2 this season and missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
“We’re going to be fast, we’re going to be skilled, and we’re going to add a whole lot of toughness to the way we play this sport,” Motzko said. “I told the team yesterday, the first thing we have to do is we have to be humble, and we’ve got to find a way to have a little humility in the way we act. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
Gophers captain Tyler Sheehy expects that the emphasis on grit will help.
“Coach Motzko said we’re going to be more tough, so we’ll see where that takes us,” Sheehy said. “It’ll probably be a good thing for us, and that’s something we have to add to our game.”
Motzko has not decided on his assistant coaches. Two members of Lucia’s staff — associate head coach Mike Guentzel and assistant coach Scott Bell — interviewed for the job, along with Northern Michigan coach Grant Potulny.
“I haven’t even had time to sit down and chat; it’s just been text messages and a phone call,” Motzko said of Guentzel and Bell. “I need some time. And they need time.”
Motzko also emphasized that even though he has a new job, he will keep the same approach.
“My world’s not going to change,” he said. “That’s one thing with me. I’m coming 75 miles south, but my world, how I operate, is not going to change where I’m comfortable.”