Surveying the ruins of a weekend that saw his Gophers men's hockey team drubbed at home by a combined 12-2 in a series sweep by Wisconsin, Bob Motzko took the coaching advice of a colleague.
"A good friend of mine said, 'You can kick the trash can three times a year,' " Motzko said. "Well, we used one Monday."
A spirited practice that included an abundance of attention-grabbing, fast-paced skating greeted the Gophers as they began preparations for the Friday-Saturday series at Notre Dame.
"We owed the program an hour," Motzko said, "and Monday we had to pay back the program."
Motzko's message to his players: The little things matter, and that begins by staying focused in practice.
"We've got to remember how it felt — obviously, it was a horrible feeling — and learn from the mistakes that we made," sophomore forward Jonny Sorenson said. "Coach had a nice, long talk with us yesterday. Kind of simplified the weekend into one thing, and that was just playing the game the right way. We strayed away from a lot of things we'd done in the first half of the season."
If this sounds familiar, it is. After his team was swept 3-2 and 2-1 by Notre Dame at home on Jan. 15-16, Motzko's foot connected with the figurative galvanized steel receptacle. The Gophers responded by scoring a combined 30 goals in sweeps of Arizona State and Ohio State.
However, those blowouts, plus Minnesota's early season dominance, might have created a false sense of security.
"We've had a little issue this year because we've not been behind a lot, especially the start of the year," said Motzko, whose team started the season 10-0 and did not trail in any game until the ninth contest. "I've not liked how we've reacted at times when we've gotten down. That's hockey. ... You're going to fall down once in a while, and you've got to battle through."
That didn't happen against Wisconsin, which won the opener 4-1 on the strength of three third-period goals and took the finale 8-1. scoring the last six goals.
"Early on, we were just buzzing through everyone, and we really didn't know how to play from behind," Sorenson said. "It's something we're learning every week. … That's big for us — understanding at some point we might fall behind but just never losing focus and knowing that at any point we're a dangerous enough team and we can come back and win."
It would behoove the Gophers to not fall behind against Notre Dame, which is in third place in the Big Ten, six points behind Minnesota in second. The Fighting Irish thrive in one-goal games, especially when they get a lead and can choke the life out of the opponent's offense. That's exactly what happened in their sweep at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Motzko wants his team, especially the forwards, to emphasize details and simple plays.
"Those little gritty parts of our game, when our forwards have that going, our game's got a good look to it," he said. "… The fanciness comes out when you're playing hard. You make your best plays when your blood's pumping, you're moving your legs and you're physical.''