Bob Motzko has been a head coach in college hockey since the 2005-06 season, and next week he'll be behind the bench in Tampa, Fla., as the Gophers make their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA men's Frozen Four. It'll be Motzko's third Frozen Four appearance leading a team, after taking St. Cloud State to the 2013 national semifinals.
So, how will that experience help when the Gophers meet Boston University at 4 p.m. April 6 in the semifinals?
"I don't like losing the first game, I can tell you that,'' Motzko said Tuesday during a video call with the four Frozen Four coaches. "There's nothing worse than having to get on a plane and leave.''
Motzko and the Gophers experienced that last year, falling 5-1 to Minnesota State Mankato in the semifinals in Boston. The coach is hopeful that experience pays off with more success this year.
"Thank goodness we punched our ticket to get back again because we have guys that have been there,'' Motzko said. "… There is so much pageantry going on this week, and we've got older guys that can help guide that. You have to embrace it, but you've got to keep your focus on what's in front of you.''
What's in front of the Gophers (28-9-1) is a Boston University team that's on a roll. The Terriers (29-10-0) enter the Frozen Four on a nine-game winning streak, advancing to Tampa with wins over Western Michigan and Cornell in the Manchester Regional.
"We're playing a team with 29 wins in Boston University, and it's going to be a tug-of-war match,'' Motzko said. "I love our leadership; I love our talent. We've just got to get after it — get out there and play our game.''
Boston U. coach Jay Pandolfo wants to make sure his team doesn't play the Gophers' game. He'd rather the Terriers dictate the pace of play against the highly skilled Minnesota roster.
"I don't think we want to get into a track meet with them,'' Pandolfo said.
Rookie vs. veteran
Michigan interim coach Brandon Naurato is in his first Frozen Four in charge of a team after advancing last year as an assistant coach to the since-fired Mel Pearson. Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold, in his 29th season at the Hamden, Conn., school, is making his third Frozen Four appearance.
Experience is not the only contrasting trait between the Wolverines (26-11-3) and Bobcats (32-4-3), who'll meet in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal on April 6. Michigan is the nation's highest-scoring team at 4.23 goals per game, led by national scoring leader Adam Fantilli. Quinnipiac is the stingiest, giving up 1.54 goals per game behind goalie Yaniv Perets, who leads the nation in wins (32), goals-against average (1.46) and shutouts (10).
Pecknold is just as impressed with Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes, the No. 4 overall pick by New Jersey in the 2021 NHL draft. "He's an elite player,'' Pecknold said. "Honestly, he doesn't need to be in college this year. He could already be in the NHL.''
Hughes is one of 10 NHL draftees on Michigan's roster, and that doesn't include Fantilli, who's projected to go as high as No. 2 overall in the 2023 NHL draft. Even with all that talent, Naurato believes cohesiveness is the key to his team's success.
"One thing I told the guys at the beginning of the year, and I think it still rings true, is that it's not the most talented teams that win at the end. It's the teams that play together,'' he said.
Coach of Year finalists named
Motzko and the three other Frozen Four coaches are among the eight finalists for the Spencer Penrose Award, given annually to the top coach in men's college hockey. Also in the group are Western Michigan's Pat Ferschweiler, Alaska's Erik Largen, Michigan Tech's Joe Shawhan and RIT's Wayne Wilson.