Bob Motzko rattled off his concerns in the rapid manner of an auctioneer.
“We had a really good power play last year,” he said. “They’re all gone.
“We were No. 1 in the conference in penalty kill,” he added. “They’re all gone except for [Ryan] Zuhlsdorf and [Tyler] Nanne.
“We had really good goaltenders,” Motzko continued. “They’re not here.”
So, is it gloom and doom for the second-year Gophers men’s hockey coach, whose team has 12 newcomers, including 11 freshmen?
No, but some early patience might be required.
“We really like our talent,” Motzko said Tuesday during team’s media day. “We’ve got some work to do to develop critical-moment hockey to win hockey games. … That’s going to come in time. The good news is the answer’s in that [locker] room — they’re just not experienced yet.”
The first look at Motzko’s squad comes Sunday at 3M Arena at Mariucci in an exhibition game against Mount Royal, a team based in Calgary, Alberta. The coach is eager to see how his youthful team — 19 of the 27 Gophers are either freshmen or sophomores — responds to facing an opponent. The Gophers lost their top three scorers (Rem Pitlick, Tyler Sheehy and Brent Gates Jr.), their top two goalies (Mat Robson and Eric Schierhorn) and mainstays such as Tommy Novak, Jack Sadek and Jack Ramsey from last year’s team.
“As much as you try to duplicate it the best you can in practice, we need games,” Motzko said. “Sunday’s going to come at a great time for us.”
Getting so many freshmen up to the speed of college hockey will be a challenge for the coaching staff. One of those newcomers, Bryce Brodzinski, sees team captains Nanne and Sammy Walker easing the transition.
“Just watching the older guys and how intense they are in every single practice, it’s something a lot of us freshmen have to work on — not taking a shift off, not taking a practice off,” said Brodzinski, who won Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award playing for Blaine High School last winter.
Nanne, a senior, and Walker, a sophomore, give the Gophers a two-tiered leadership structure.
“Me being the older guy and Sammy being the younger guy, it’s a good mix,” Nanne said. “With the 19 underclassmen we have, Sammy can relate a lot to them, and I can relate to the older guys.”
The tests for the Gophers will come early, with a season opening trip to Colorado College on Oct. 11-12 and a home-and-home series with two-time defending NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth two weekends later. In November, Big Ten play begins and features home series against Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin, along with a trip to Michigan. And on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday, bitter rival North Dakota visits Mariucci.
“We’ve got a challenging schedule,” said Motzko, whose team also is host to the Mariucci Classic featuring Bemidji State, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State. “People in our state want to see that, and they’re going to get that this year.”
In the Big Ten preseason poll, coaches picked the Gophers to finish fifth in the seven-team league, a ranking that Motzko understood.
“When you lose that many players, we’ve got a lot of work to do to be above that,” he said. “And Gopher hockey needs to be above that.’’