The Gophers have their new men’s hockey coach, and he’s a familiar face in Minnesota.
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko on Tuesday was announced as Minnesota’s new coach, replacing Don Lucia, who stepped down last week after leading the Gophers for 19 seasons. Motzko, 57, was a Minnesota assistant coach under Lucia from 2001-05, helping the Gophers win NCAA championships in 2002 and ’03 before taking the job as head coach at St. Cloud State, his alma mater.
“I am excited and honored for the opportunity to lead Golden Gopher Hockey,” Motzko said in a statement. “The rich history and tradition of this program is honored by so many in our state and around the country. We will work tirelessly to make those people proud.”
Motzko was one of four coaches who interviewed for the job, sources told the Star Tribune. The others were Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel, Gophers assistant coach Scott Bell and Northern Michigan coach Grant Potulny, a former Minnesota assistant coach and three-year captain.
But Motzko, who turned 57 on Tuesday, was the choice. Gophers players were informed of the hiring at team meeting Tuesday, and he’ll be formally introduced at news conference Thursday. Contract terms were not known Tuesday.
“After 13 years competing against Bob, we are excited to welcome him back to Gopher Hockey, where he had so much success as an assistant earlier in his career,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement. “Bob has a unique perspective on the program. He grew up rooting for the Gophers, he’s coached for the Gophers and he’s coached against the Gophers. … He fully understands this program’s historic legacy and its unique place in our state’s culture.”
At St. Cloud State, Motzko built the Huskies into a program that made eight NCAA tournament appearances in his 13 years, including a Frozen Four berth in 2013. The Huskies won the NCHC regular-season title this season, finished runner-up to Denver in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. But Air Force upset St. Cloud State 4-1 on Friday in the West Regional semifinals in Sioux Falls. The Huskies finished with a 25-9-6 record.
On the international stage, the Austin, Minn., native has been successful, too, coaching the United States to the gold medal in the 2017 World Junior Championship and the bronze medal this year.
Expect the Gophers under Motzko to play an up-tempo style, similar to what he used in the Granite City.
“You will see another version of the fastest game in town,” said former Gophers star Pat Micheletti, who was a consultant to Coyle and senior associate athletic director Tom McGinnis on the search. “There’s no question about it, he likes to play fast. … There’s a difference between liking to play fast and really playing fast, and Bob’s teams, they play fast. That is the type of player he recruits.”
Statistics this season bear that out. St. Cloud State ranked fourth nationally in scoring (3.60 goal per game) and 12th on the power play (22.4 percent). The Huskies were solid defensively, giving up 2.52 goals per game (16th nationally).
Lucia, the Gophers’ career leader in coaching victories who guided Minnesota to five Frozen Fours (three with Motzko at his side), said in a news conference last week that he often took grief because he wasn’t a Minnesota graduate. Motzko isn’t, either, but Micheletti doesn’t expect that to be a big issue.
“Zero,” Micheletti said when asked if Motzko not being an “M” man was a concern. “Bob has a very good rapport with the alumni, and Bob is a very outgoing and outspoken guy. I don’t think ultimately that’s going to be a problem. Will I say we have to reunite the alumni? There’s no question about it. It’s going to take work on a lot of the alumni’s part to bring it back together.”
Micheletti, who worked as a TV analyst for several St. Cloud State games this season, was impressed with Motzko’s attention to detail and his ability to relate to his players.
“He’s very personable guy, a very knowledgeable guy. And he’ll tell it like it is,” Micheletti said. “… He has a very good way of keeping everybody involved, which is very difficult in this day and age to keep your players happy. Everyone knows where they stand, everyone knows their role.”
In 13 years at St. Cloud State, Motzko has a 276-192-49 record. His teams won regular-season titles in the WCHA in 2013 and the NCHC in 2014 and ’18. The Huskies also won the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
One knock on Motzko is his 5-8 NCAA tournament record. The past two times the Huskies made the NCAA field — in 2016 and this year — they were No. 1 regional seeds and lost to No. 4 seeds Ferris State and Air Force, respectively.
Motzko’s parting statement thanked “players, staff and our fans for their support and contributions to the success we have enjoyed.” He added: “As a proud alumni of St. Cloud State, it has been my honor and privilege to serve as the Huskies’ head coach the past 13 seasons. ... These people are some of the best in college hockey.”