Puck Drop
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Bob Motzko spent a season as an assistant coach for Herb Brooks at St. Cloud State, so it's not surprising that he'd pick up a trick or two from the Miracle on Ice architect.

On Monday, that meant a spirited practice heavy on battle drills for his Gophers men's hockey team, 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 competitions among players. It might not have been the nonstop "Herbie" sprints that Brooks famously forced his 1980 Olympic team to do immediately after an exhibition tie with Norway, but Motzko's tactic was an attention grabber for his team after its lackluster effort in being swept at home by Notre Dame.

"It sure was an issue for us this last weekend," Motzko said of the lost puck battles. "… We needed to be better prepared last weekend, and we weren't. We're gonna not make that mistake again."

Motzko put the blame on himself and his staff for not maintaining the proper focus for a Gophers team that was 11-1 and had spent the past five weeks atop both major national polls.

"I want a little bit more business approach to how we're doing things right now — fundamentals, our attitude, doing things the right way and getting habits going the right way," said Motzko, whose team returns to action Thursday and Friday with a nonconference series against Arizona State at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

The coach's message hit home with the players. They even welcomed the attitude adjustment.

"That was good to get us going again and get ready for the weekend," junior forward Sampo Ranta said. "We want to play again and battle and show what we are. … I thought we needed it."

Added senior forward Brannon McManus, "I loved it. It got us in the right mind-set to start the week."

Of course, saying you'll play harder and actually doing so are two different things, and the Gophers have a chance to prove it against Arizona State.

Though the Sun Devils carry a 5-11-2 record in their 28-game, all-road schedule, they pushed the Gophers in a 4-1 and 6-4 Minnesota sweep on Jan. 3 and 4.

"I thought we handled them pretty well," McManus said, "but if you give them a chance to score, they'll score on you."

Motzko liked his team's response to the battle drills and its approach to sharpening its focus.

"When you start off as we did, there's high emotions. We tried to guard against getting too up on that," he said.

"You lose three of the last four games, and we're not going to get too far down. The truth always lies in the middle."

For McManus, the hope is the Gophers are getting a rough stretch out of the way as the games become more important.

"It's never fun to lose, especially the way the year's been going so far," he said. "At the same time, it's good to have a lesson. I'm glad it's happening in January and not in March or especially in April.''