Sure, the Gophers’ season ended early thanks to a controversial call, and the team lost its starting goaltender to the NHL and could potentially lose its top scorer to the pros as well. But that eventful end to the year, that transpired in just the past few days, isn’t what’s on coach Bob Motzko’s mind.
“Nobody feels sorry for the Minnesota Gophers right now, I can tell you that,” Motzko said. “We’ve got to move forward.”
Motzko spoke Tuesday, reviewing his first season at the helm of the Gophers while also hinting toward the future. And while he wouldn’t share many details, such as his thoughts on what incoming goaltender could fill in for Mat Robson, he did say his staff spent four hours at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Monday emptying their pens of ink while mapping out the future.
Here’s the general idea: The Gophers are losing nine seniors plus Robson (and potentially Rem Pitlick), which could leave the team without a huge leadership group, a starting goaltender and their leading scorer.
Even if Pitlick stays, the senior class would have just three members. With the eight freshmen this season plus the incoming recruits, the Gophers could have more than 20 underclassmen on the roster.
“The first thing I said when I got hired: … ‘We have to get older,’ And the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to get younger,” Motzko said. “But we are going to get older. It’s just not as quick as I wanted.”
As far as convincing his players to not leave college early, Motzko said that will come with time as he builds relationships with them. For Robson, he said the new Wild player had an “outstanding” season, and the Gophers were just “darn glad he was here.”
For Pitlick, a Nashville Predators draft pick, it’s wait and see.
“Maybe it’s a good thing it hasn’t happened yet,” Motzko said. “We’ll find out.”
Motzko already has learned some tough lessons from his first year. He said if he could go back and change something, it would be the first series of the year against Minnesota Duluth where the Gophers tied and then trounced the reigning NCAA champions. Motzko said he wished his team had endured a bad loss that weekend because it tricked him into a false sense of security heading into a pivotal development time.
He said he needed to be harder on his team, but instead, the Gophers endured a very tough month because he thought they were farther along than they actually were.
The team ended strong, though, winning seven of its last nine games. And there is a lot of optimism for next year’s young team. No players are in need of offseason surgeries. Freshman winger Nathan Burke, who missed the final three games of the year because of an injury, should be back to full health in a month.
Everyone will rest and recharge in the next couple weeks before starting a rigorous workout regime.
“It’s a huge offseason for our program upstairs in the weight room,” Motzko said. “That freshman class, as good as they are, they are a skinny group. And they need strength and speed and confidence. That builds in that weight room.”
Walker named top freshman
The league’s coaches and media voted forward Sammy Walker the conference’s Freshman of the Year. He’s the first Gophers player to win the honor and also was a unanimous all-freshman team pick. Pitlick made the all-conference first team with his career-high 45 points. Senior Tyler Sheehy made the second team while Robson was an honorable mention.