Growing up in Austin, Minn., in the 1970s and before Gophers hockey was widely available on TV, Bob Motzko had to get creative to receive updates about the team.
“To date myself, the first thing for me is the only way for me to follow Gopher hockey is I had to become a paperboy for the Star and Tribune,’’ Motzko said, recalling his seventh- and eighth-grade days. “I still have boxes of sports pages from the 1970s. I was a packrat.’’
That packrat now coaches the Gophers men’s hockey team, and he’ll be at the helm of a program that will celebrate its 100th season – coronavirus permitting – in 2020-21. On Thursday, the team began its countdown to the Oct. 3 season opener with the first entry of 100 Communities in 100 Days in Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The town highlighted first: Eveleth, home of legendary coach John Mariucci and legendary player John Mayasich.
Other initiatives will include an All-Century Gopher Hockey Greats through fan voting, throwback jerseys from the 1960s for select games, and alumni events.
A video to announce the campaign was released Wednesday, and it immediately hit home with Motzko.
“We all woke up today to the video our people put out, and you’ve got to pinch yourself once in a while to think that you’re part of this,’’ said Motzko, who’s entering his third season as Gophers head coach after serving as an assistant to Don Lucia from 2001 to ’05. “You see the video and the highlights and the history. I’m very honored and humbled.’’
Motzko, who coached under Herb Brooks at St. Cloud State in 1986-87 and led the Huskies from 2005 to ’18, recalled a ninth-grade field trip to the University of Minnesota having a lasting influence on him. “We got to tour all the sports facilities,’’ he said, “and you’re hooked.’’
Gophers players of the 1970s had an impact on Motzko, and he got to play against some of them.
“In bantams, I remember playing in a tournament against Scott Bjugstad,’’ he said. “Neal Broten was at a junior camp in Austin, and the whole town was there to watch. When I got more into high school, it was Steve Christoff and Rob McClanahan. Those were the names, and of course in 1980 [with the Miracle on Ice team] it grew.’’
Motzko began his college career at Minnesota, playing for the Gophers junior varsity team for a few weeks. He attended the U for two years before transferring to St. Cloud State, where he played, then began his coaching career during Brooks’ lone season in the Granite City.
“I’m so fortunate to have coached two of the greatest programs in this state, and only one other guy has done the same thing,’’ he said, referencing Brooks. “To think I followed in his footsteps, I’m awfully humbled by it.’’
The route back to Dinkytown as a coach took Motzko to stops like Mason City, Iowa, in the USHL, and he’d travel north to pick the brain of Doug Woog after Gophers practices. Eventually, Lucia hired him away from Sioux Falls of the USHL, and they teamed to help bring back-to-back NCAA championships to campus in 2002 and ’03. Those, of course, will be part of the 100th season celebration, but Motzko takes it back to a behind-the-scenes moment.
“I remember once Don and I were down below [at 3M Arena at Mariucci] and we had to go up to the concourse. There was nobody in the building and we’re jogging up the steps to get to the top, and he stopped and grabbed my arm. He goes, ‘Can you believe a kid from Grand Rapids and a kid from Austin work here?’ ’’