His team was voted the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten a day earlier by his coaching colleagues, but Bob Motzko wasn’t leaping to grab the bouquet.
“I’d sure like that if that were the case in March,” the Gophers men’s hockey coach said Tuesday. “This is November, and we haven’t played a game yet. I always thought coaches polls to pick a season are silly, but I know it’s tradition and I know it’s for fans.”
The status bestowed on his team is a compliment, though, for what it accomplished last season and what it returns. The Gophers finished 16-14-7 but went on an 8-1 stretch from late December to early February. They advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals, which were wiped out by COVID-19, and return nine of the top 10 scorers and all three goaltenders from that team.
“It’s, ‘Tag, you’re it,’ ” Motzko said of the Big Ten coaches’ pick. “We can’t hide that we’ve got a good hockey team returning. We still have another big step to take, though. If we get off to a start like we finished last year, we’ll be in a good spot.”
Still, Motzko knows the balance throughout the Big Ten won’t make for an easy route to the title for any team. Penn State, the defending regular-season champion, was picked to finish in last place by the coaches. That’s for a team ranked ninth in both major national preseason polls, highest among Big Ten teams.
“In the Big Ten, all seven teams think they can win the league,” Motzko said, “and all seven teams have a chance.”
Under the knife
Motzko was asked if he took up any hobbies during down time during the extended offseason. No, he said, but he did undergo knee replacement surgery.
“I got a new knee, which is something that I put off for five years, and I finally had time to do it,” he said.
Motzko joked that his 40-yard dash time isn’t 4.7 seconds like it used to be. “I’m not there yet,” he said. “I’m about a 5.2, but I’m working on getting back under 5.”
Game times, TV set
The Gophers will have six of their eight games in the announced portion of the season schedule on the Big Ten Network.
They open their season Nov. 19 and 20 (Thursday-Friday) against Penn State at 3M Arena at Mariucci, and both games will be on BTN. The game on Nov. 19 will start at 7:30 p.m., and the Nov. 20 game will start at 3 p.m. That Friday game precedes the Gophers’ 6:30 p.m. football game against Purdue that also will air on BTN.
Minnesota’s home series on Nov. 23-24 (Monday-Tuesday) is against Ohio State, and both games will start at 7:30 p.m. on BTN.
The Gophers travel to Michigan State on Dec. 3-4 (Thursday-Friday), but there is no TV coverage scheduled and times will be determined. Minnesota’s Dec. 8-9 (Tuesday-Wednesday) series at Michigan will be on BTN, with times to be determined.