If Bob Motzko feels tugged in several directions when assembling schedules for his Gophers men’s hockey team, well, he is.
First off, the Gophers play a 24-game Big Ten slate, which leaves 10 slots for nonconference opponents. Since the team almost always plays two-game series – single games against two Eastern teams on a weekend have been an exception – there usually are spots for five opponents. With four other Division I programs in Minnesota, plus longtime rival North Dakota just across the border, Motzko’s dance card fills up quickly.
“We have a lot of folks that need and want to play us,’’ Motzko said this week during his appearance at the Star Tribune stage at the Minnesota State Fair.
He also has a lot of fans who want – and even demand – that the Gophers hearken back to the good, old, pre-Big Ten days of the WCHA, before college hockey’s upheaval that began with the 2013-14 season.
“We’re trying to keep our schedule as familiar as it used to look,’’ Motzko said, “just in a different conference.’’
Then there is Motzko’s goal of taking his team out East a couple of times in a four-year span, a move that he believes will help come NCAA tournament time.
“We still want to see Boston College and Boston University,’’ he said. “There’s a history there.’’
If Motzko’s scheduling aspirations and the fans’ preferences ever were to mesh perfectly, the upcoming 2019-20 season might be the gold standard.
The Gophers open the campaign Oct. 11-12 with a trip to Colorado College, a former WCHA rival they haven’t played since December 2012. Two weeks later, they have a home-and-home set against Minnesota Duluth, the two-time defending national champion. On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, they’re host to North Dakota, which last played at 3M Arena at Mariucci three years ago. And to top it off, the Mariucci Classic will be an All-Minnesota tournament, with the Gophers facing Bemidji State, and Minnesota State meeting St. Cloud State on the opening night.
“We do have a great schedule,’’ Motzko said.
As for future nonconference opponents, he offered a few hints about what might be in store.
North Dakota: The Gophers and Fighting Hawks begin a four-year contract this season, with two series in Minneapolis and two in Grand Forks. “I know that’s a big one for our fans,’’ Motzko said.
Colorado College: The Tigers will be one of the teams in the Mariucci Classic in the 2020-21 season, he said.
Minnesota Duluth: The Gophers and Bulldogs have a contract to play a home-and-home series four times in a five-year span. The contract started in the 2018-19 season and lasts through 2022-23. In addition, the Gophers will play at UMD in the Icebreaker tournament in the 2020-21 season.
Minnesota’s other Division I schools: “Bemidji wants in, St. Cloud wants in, Mankato wants in, and we want to reciprocate,’’ Motzko said. As for putting together another All-Minnesota Mariucci Classic, Motzko said that can’t be accomplished every year, but the Gophers do have St. Cloud State lined up for the tournament in the future, possibly in 2020-21.
Boston University: Motzko said he received a call from Terriers coach Albie O’Connell, who wants his team to play Minnesota during the 2020-21 season in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of BU’s 1971 NCAA championship victory over the Gophers. “We’re going to look at it,’’ Motzko said.
A series at Arizona State: The Sun Devils, an independent team, played in Minneapolis last season, and the Gophers don’t have a future series in the desert, but … “everybody raises their hand when Arizona calls to play down in Arizona,’’ Motzko said. “… I would love to go down to Arizona, but we just have so many other people [asking to play the Gophers] right now.’’
With a finite number of spots, Motzko must choose carefully.
“It is difficult to fit everybody in,’’ he said. “We’re going to try our best to feed our fans what they want to see.’’