University of Minnesota hockey attracted a wonderful cult of characters before it moved across the street to the new Mariucci Arena in 1993 and became a business.
The games were played behind the big wall at Williams Arena, in what’s now the Pavilion. The amenities were nonexistent, including a press box that was built on a platform that extended over the bench seats.
The hockey side of the building also went by Williams Arena until 1985, when it was renamed in honor of the most noble of Romans, John Mariucci, the Gophers coach from 1952 to 1966 (with a season off to coach the Olympic team to a silver medal in 1956).
There were steps leading up to the press box, and the sight of two Gophers fans racing from one side of the steps to the other in the back row, in an attempt to follow the puck, was a priceless commentary on that terrific old dump of a hockey arena.
Doug Woog was the final head coach for the Gophers in Old Mariucci, and a more informal fellow you have never met in the role as a leader of a collegiate program where winning on a major scale was expected.
Wooger never did get his national championship, as the ring of Randy Skarda’s overtime blast off a pipe at the Civic Center vs. Harvard in 1989 still rings in the ears of Gophers faithful from that era.
Woog was forced out in 1999, and replaced by Don Lucia, and he ended the national championship drought at 23 years with back-to-backers in 2002 and 2003. The Don had Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin and Keith Ballard on defense in ’02, and Thomas Vanek to get the vital goals in ’03.
Bob Motzko was an assistant on those teams, and when it was time for Lucia to go, pushed aside with a tremendous won-loss percentage but a 15-year drought for national titles, it was Motzko plucked after his 13 seasons of program construction at St. Cloud State.
He turned 57 on Tuesday, the day the announcement was made, and that’s only 2½ years younger than Lucia. No matter — he has a good run in him as an outstanding tactician and developer of talent.
Motzko has an easy manner -- a people person but certainly not a super salesman. His business plan to get fans back in Big Mariucci will be to win lots of games.
Lou Nanne, the successor to Mariucci as the Godfather of Minnesota hockey, as was Pacino to Brando, said:
“It’s exciting to hire a guy who has had such outstanding success — at St. Cloud, the U.S. junior team, wherever he’s been. He was here with Don when the Gophers were at the pinnacle, and he wants to come here and have that happen again.
“It was a tough decision for Bob to leave St. Cloud, but he also knows that in college hockey, Minnesota and what it can offer is the equivalent of Alabama in college football, or Kentucky in college basketball.”
OK, up there in Grand Forks, remember — that’s Godfather Nanne saying this about the Gophers’ status in the world of college hockey, not the new coach, so don’t get mad at Motzko, or me for quoting Louie.
What will be interesting is if Motzko can maintain a Huskies-style program, which he described as “very informal.’’ There will now be more media, more seats to fill, more pressure, but informality would be sure to put a smile on the faces of those who remember Gophers hockey as a cult and not an avenue for profit mongering.
What Motzko can’t change on his own is the onerous pricing that has driven away many ticket holders. It is up to Mark Coyle, the athletic director, to create more options for reasonably priced tickets.
Certainly, the presence of the Gophers in the Big Ten hockey conference is now a chintzy excuse for people to stay away, what with the league having three teams in the Frozen Four next week in St. Paul.
Motzko came out of Austin, a late-blooming hockey location in southeast Minnesota, and first went to the U. He was cut twice in tryouts by Gophers coach Brad Buetow, and then transferred to St. Cloud State and played there.
Now, that has been reverse engineered: first the Huskies as a college head coach, now the Gophers.