Bob Motzko, Gophers motivated to end NCAA title drought

Bob Motzko’s opening comments after practice Monday at 3M Arena at Mariucci pretty much said it all as the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team gears up for the NCAA Tournament.

"Great time of year. Here we go, one more crack at it," Motzko said before taking questions from reporters.

The Gophers (22-10-5) are in their fourth straight NCAA Tournament, and face Omaha Thursday night as the No. 2 seed in the Sioux Falls Regional. Minnesota is looking to get back to the Frozen Four, after getting to the national championship game last year and losing to Quinnipiac in overtime. That’s not lost on Motzko or the players.

This year’s Frozen Four just happens to be at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"We’ll take it to our grave. You have a loss like that, the Minnesota Vikings have a few losses that you take to your grave. That’s sports, I hate it," Motzko said. "There’s no more motivation than you’ll ever have every year to get back to a Frozen Four. Every team we coach we want to get in that tournament and have our shot."

Minnesota is in its 41st NCAA Tournament, and is seeking its first national championship since going back-to-back in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Last year was the program’s 23rd trip to the Frozen Four.

The Gophers haven’t been on the road since the middle of March, so the team went to Brainerd last weekend to get away, practice and bond. The Gophers are led by four players who have at least 30 points this season – Rhett Pitlick (35), Jimmy Snuggerud (34), Oliver Moore (33) and Bryce Brodzinski (32).

Justen Close also has a 2.33 goals against average, and a .923 save percentage. 

"He’s the backbone of our team. We’re in great hands there," Motzko said.

Should the Gophers beat Omaha, they’ll face the Boston/RIT winner Saturday night. The message from the players is simple: They have to be ready for anything.

"The biggest thing is you never know what shift is going to determine the outcome of a game. Every shift matters," defenseman Mike Koster said.

"Anyone can win any game any given night, so gotta be ready," forward Mason Nevers said.