Bob Motzko gave his team the news near the end of Tuesday’s practice.
“I told them, ‘Guys, we’ve a new goalie trying out,” ’ Motzko said of his Gophers men’s hockey team. “And they went silent.”
Jack LaFontaine, a junior who has alternated starts with freshman Jared Moe, was puzzled.
“In the back of my head, I said, ‘OK, it looks like we’re having a fourth goalie, another guy coming on,’ “ LaFontaine said.
Then out to the 3M Arena at Mariucci ice strode a 5-foot-8, 38-year-old.
“I knew right away because I saw his face. ‘Is that P.J. Fleck?’ “ LaFontaine said. “He’s waddling out in his goalie equipment. … I was howling.”
The Gophers football coach accepted Motzko’s invitation to join the team late in practice, show off his goaltending skills, have some fun and offer some inspirational words.
So, how did Fleck, who grew up in Illinois as a Blackhawks fan but didn’t play hockey, fare in his on-ice stint?
“I told him, ‘We’re going to find out if you can play goal.’ We found out,” Motzko deadpanned. “He tries hard. My goodness, does he try hard.”
LaFontaine went back to the 1990s to find an apt comparison. “I’ve never seen anyone play the position like that since [Dominik] Hasek,” he joked.
Fleck, who joined hockey practice once at Western Michigan six years ago, offered this scouting report when asked if he would start himself in goal:
“Absolutely not. He was a little rusty, hadn’t played in a while. Some saves that were pretty lucky. He just stood there, and the puck hit him. Not sure if he’d make the travel squad this week.”
Fleck challenged Gophers players to not take it easy on him, and some obliged.
“They were all going in the upper corner,” Motzko said. “He’s not a big guy. I was worried he was going to take one in the neck and knock him down. One of our guys put it right over the bar and three went right under the bar. That’s why I cut her short. They were showing no mercy.”
Motzko appreciated Fleck adding some levity to practice and speaking to his team about how a young squad can mature quickly.
“What P.J.’s doing with the football program and how great his leadership has been and how exciting it is, it’s great,” Motzko said. “With an off week, bring him over and have him talk to our guys and have a little fun. That’s college athletics at its best right there.’’