Austin native guides Gophers on the brightest of stages

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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By Vince Muzik

For the Herald

When you walk into the head men’s hockey coach’s office at the University of Minnesota, you’ll see a mural on the wall behind a big desk featuring all of the previous head coaches. Starting from the left to right, Minnesota legends John Mariucci and Herb Brooks all the way through to Doug Woog and Don Lucia, two recent coaches who had Minnesota perennially in the national championship hunt. At the end is Bob Motzko from the east side of Austin and who grew up across the street from Queen of Angels School and skated as a kid on East Side Lake in the winter. That Bob.

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“I worked and coached with all those guys to varying degrees. Bob fits right in,” said Lou Vairo, a Brooklyn, New York native who came to Austin in 1975 to coach the Austin Mavericks armed with knowledge of Soviet Union hockey tactics he wanted to implement in North America.

Vairo went on to coach the 1984 Olympic team and to this day those ideas based in off-ice training and a puck possession style of play have been a part of U.S. hockey.

University of Minnesota head hockey coach Bob Motzko listens to Mason Nevers explain a play on the bench during the Big 10 championship game. They lost to Michigan 4-3. By Vince Muzik

“Bob has turned into a world class coach,” Vairo said. “He proved he can coach and do it at the highest level.”

This week Motzko takes his Gophers team into the NCAA men’s hockey tourney in Fargo, North Dakota, as the No. 1 seed in the tournament even after coming up short in a 4-3 loss to Michigan last Saturday night in the Big 10 Conference Championship game. Motzko will tell you at this time of year every bracket is tough. This one is peculiar in that the Gophers are playing in a rival state in a bracket with two other Minnesota schools, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.

“The only thing I can say about our bracket is we’ll be the most hated team there,” Motzko quipped.

To get to play either Minnesota school in the regional final, they must beat their first opponent Thursday evening, the Canisius College Golden Griffins, the champions from the Atlantic Hockey Conference who have an older team by college hockey standards. While Motzko has three National Hockey League (NHL) first round draft choices on his squad — Ryan Johnson, Jimmy Snuggerud and Logan Cooley — Canisius has five graduate students along with 10 seniors and no highly-picked NHL draftees.

According to Frank Serratore, head coach at the US Air Force academy, whose team is in the same conference as Canisius, the Gophers will have to get out to a lead in order to prevent Golden Griffins’s goalie Jacob Barczewski from shutting them out and stealing the game.

This is not unfamiliar territory to Motzko. He took his No. 1 ranked St. Cloud State team into the regional in Sioux Falls in 2018 and was beaten by Serratore’s Air Force team in the first round. Four days later Motzko was named Minnesota’s head coach.

“Things got so bad he was forced to take the Gophers job,” Serratore joked.

In Serratore’s opinion Motzko was the best pick for the Gophers job because he understands Minnesota’s talent pool “better than anyone else” and he knows “it’s about making the right choices in building strong teams as opposed to simply putting talent together.”

Few coaches have an undefeated record against Motzko — except Serratore.

“I am 1-0 against Bob and I hope to take that record to my grave,” Serratore said.

To play hockey, Motzko transferred to Austin High School from Pacelli Catholic School after his freshman year of high school. While at Pacelli though, the school had a career day. Students could pick various career avenues to explore around the state. Motzko picked the University of Minnesota sports tour.

He remembers visiting old Memorial Stadium, Williams Arena, and the baseball field. One of the baseball players took time to meet his group and the impressionable teenager was hooked.

“By that time you wanted to be a Gopher,”  He said.

Decades later Motzko is now leaving his impression at the University of Minnesota.