The Gophers will have an expert guide Saturday as they travel an hour north up I-94 to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
"I know the way there," coach Bob Motzko said. "I won't get lost, I can tell you that."
When the Gophers take on St. Cloud State in a home-and-home series beginning at 7 p.m. Friday at 3M Arena at Mariucci, intrigue will abound even more than usual for an in-state rivalry. First, it's a top-five matchup for the No. 4 Gophers against the No. 2 Huskies, who lost in the NCAA championship game last season.
Second, it comes amid both teams' run of State of Hockey opponents. St. Cloud started its season sweeping new Division I program St. Thomas before splitting a hard-fought series at fellow 2021 Frozen Four squad Minnesota State Mankato last weekend. The Gophers will have another home-and-home series next week against No. 5 Minnesota Duluth, which also made last season's Frozen Four while the Gophers just missed it by losing in the quarterfinals.
While these series are technically nonconference games early in the season, they'll matter for the PairWise rankings at the end of the season that determine who makes the NCAA field.
"You can even tell in our locker room, you walk in there, it's amped up," Gophers forward Jack Perbix said. "It's definitely at a new level right now, which is exciting. Especially playing my brother."
And that's the third reason to circle the Gophers-Huskies meeting on the calendar: There are two sets of brothers facing each other. Jack Perbix will see big brother Nick, a senior defenseman for St. Cloud, while Gophers forward Bryce Brodzinski will take on his older sibling Easton, a fifth-year Huskies forward.
Jack Perbix said he and his brother likely won't speak leading up to the games or for several weeks after it, since the competition is so fierce between them. The Brodzinskis, though, exchange trash-talking texts fairly regularly. For example, Bryce Brodzinski still holds the Gophers' 4-1 victory against St. Cloud in the 2019 Mariucci Classic over his big bro's head.
The parents of each duo, though, go through the same angst of having to decide which son to cheer for, which team colors to rep and how to congratulate the winning kid while comforting the loser. At least the Brodzinskis are well-versed in this, having seen their other children already do this dance when Jonny Brodzinski played for St. Cloud from 2012-15 and Michael Brodzinski with the Gophers from 2013-16.
Motzko might be able to relate to that a bit as well, considering his long relationship with the Brodzinski family and his personal history at St. Cloud State. Motzko played with dad Mike Brodzinski at St. Cloud. He also coached there from 2005-18, recruiting Jonny and Easton, before coming to the Gophers and currently coaching Bryce. Motzko said Bryce and Easton have the same "genetic stamp as hockey players," and will make for an especially exciting faceoff since they are both proven goal scorers.
Motzko admitted it'll be "a little weird" at times to go up against his old team, especially one with so much sentimental value to him for the relationships he forged and the family he raised there.
But he also joked with how Brett Larson has done since taking over, including two NCAA appearances in three years with the only miss the 2020 cancellation because of the pandemic, St. Cloud is "happy [he's] gone."
Larson, though, demurred, saying he had the rare opportunity to walk into a program left in incredible shape.
"He had built it to one of the best in the country," Larson said. "And I used to joke with a lot of people my first year here, my only job was to try not to screw it up. Because he had done such a good job with it."
Clearly, there's a lot of love between the programs. But there's a fine line between that and the opposite strong emotion.
"It's an interesting combination of mutual respect," Larson said, "but at the same time, huge rivalry."