Eight weeks into his new job, Bob Motzko marvels at the whirlwinds of change.
“It’s like drinking water out of a fire hose. This happened so fast,” said Motzko, who on March 27 was hired as Gophers men’s hockey coach after spending the past 13 seasons as St. Cloud State’s coach. “… I’m finally starting to feel like my feet are on the ground.”
From the annual coaches association convention, to interviews with players, to the athletic department’s Gopher Road Trip, to finalizing his coaching staff, Motzko had plenty on his plate. Throw in a drive from St. Cloud to Minneapolis on many days — Motzko and his family will wait for the high school year to end this spring before relocating to the Twin Cities — and the 57-year-old keeps busy adjusting.
“Once you start digging in, you look at the blackboard and start figuring out depth charts and making phone calls — that’s the same. There are a lot of things in a coach’s life that are the same. What’s new is driving home,” he said with a chuckle. “I had a three-mile commute before. It’s 75 miles now.”
One of the most important tasks awaiting Motzko when he took the Gophers job was deciding on his two full-time assistant coaches. The two coaches from Don Lucia’s staff, associate head coach Mike Guentzel and assistant coach Scott Bell, interviewed for the head coaching job. Motzko decided to part ways with Guentzel, retain Bell and hire Garrett Raboin, one of his assistants at St. Cloud State.
Motzko said Guentzel, a popular former Gophers player and assistant coach for 21 seasons, is “a tremendous coach and a great hockey person. But the direction I needed to go … the comfort level to get off the ground and running, is really not anything on Mike. It was on me and what I knew I could surround myself with Garrett.”
Raboin, 33, was a three-year captain under Motzko at St. Cloud State and a Huskies assistant for the past six seasons. Motzko sees Raboin as a future head coach and urged him to pursue the St. Cloud State job.
“I was pushing him hard,” Motzko said. “He said, ‘I’m not ready.’ There were other people having conversations with him, too, about going after it. I said, ‘Why don’t you sleep on it for a couple nights?’ He said, ‘No, I’ve got more to learn, I really enjoy what I’m doing now, I have to continue to do this.’ That’s when I said, ‘Well, do you want to do this with me? Think about that.’ ”
With his staff set, Motzko can focus further on evaluating and recruiting. He inherits a Gophers team that finished 19-17-2 and missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, though one that has 10 NHL draft picks. The new coach likes the returning nucleus, so don’t expect wholesale changes.
“We do have some pieces we have to add to the roster, but I’m not going to upset that group; I’m going to coach them,” he said. “They’ve earned that. They deserve to get our best and for me not to think I have to make massive changes to our roster. No chance.”
Motzko hasn’t finalized the team’s 2018-19 roster, and recruiting continues. Earlier this month, the Gophers received a verbal commitment from 20-year-old defenseman Matt Denman, a former Prior Lake standout with Cedar Rapids of the USHL. Earlier, forward Ben Meyers, a former Delano standout playing for the Fargo Force of the USHL, changed his commitment from Nebraska Omaha to the Gophers after Motzko was hired. And Monday, Blaine junior forward Bryce Brodzinski, who verbally committed to St. Cloud State in 2016, announced on Twitter that he’s now committed to the Gophers.
With a new coach in charge, changes will come. But Motzko wants to be thoughtful as he goes.
“We’re not going to come here and flip everything upside down,” he said. “… We have the time. We don’t start play until October. The treadmill’s going, and I’m jumping in when I need to jump in. There’s a lot of good pieces in place.’’