St. Cloud – The metaphorical elephant in the room — or in this case, not in the room — came up quickly during the Gopher Road Trip on Wednesday as University of Minnesota coaches and their boss offered their best Shecky Greene impersonations.
“I’m standing behind this podium just in case you start to throw things at me,’’ Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle joked in front of a crowd of about 150 at the Courtyard Marriott ballroom in St. Cloud.
“Normally, what we coaches do on these trips is get up here and rip on each other. I’ve got about 15 minutes worth of material to rip on Bob Motzko, so who’d like me to do that right now?’’ men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino asked, drawing a smattering of applause.
“It always could be worse,’’ football coach P.J. Fleck said after ribbing Pitino, his friend and neighbor. “You could be Bob Motzko coming back to St. Cloud. … I’m kidding! Too early, too early!’’
Bob Motzko, of course, is the new Gophers men’s hockey coach who spent the past 13 seasons as St. Cloud State’s coach and was hired by Minnesota in late March. He did not appear at the St. Cloud stop on the road trip, but joined it later Wednesday for the stop at the Legacy Course at Cragun’s in Brainerd.
The decision was Motzko’s.
“Next year, I’ll be there,’’ he said. “It’s been 40 days, and it’s pretty hard to throw on a different color sweater and come walking in 40 days later.’’
Motzko added that his reception in St. Cloud since changing jobs has been good.
“The people that I’m closest with and who I’ve had contact with have been outstanding,’’ he said. “They’ve been Minnesota nice.’’
Coyle, the man who hired Motzko away from St. Cloud State, said the hockey coach’s ties to the Granite City remain strong.
“I hope you know, and if you talk to your neighbors and friends, how hard that decision was for Bob,’’ Coyle told the crowd. “I had to do a serious sales job to convince him to come to Minnesota. St. Cloud meant the world to him.’’
“I’ve gotten to know Bob, and two weeks ago we spent time together,’’ he said. “He does speak very, very highly of St. Cloud. It means a lot to him, and it means a lot to us.’’
As for his team, Motzko said he’s still evaluating his roster and getting acclimated with recruits. The full 2018-19 schedule, he said, will be released shortly and the Gophers will keep regional rivalries alive through nonconference play.
“We’re still gonna play the Minnesota schools. We still have Duluth on the schedule,’’ he said in front of about 250 at Cragun’s. “We’re gonna play the people in green from across the border [North Dakota]. Every darn year we want to have them on our schedule.’’
Motzko, who took over for Don Lucia after the Gophers missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in the past three years, doesn’t see a bare cupboard in Dinkytown. He pointed to returning goalies Mat Robson and Eric Schierhorn, and the expected return to health of forwards Tyler Sheehy and Tommy Novak.
“We have a sneaky chance to be pretty good next year,’’ Motzko said.