Motzko back at Minnesota: 'You only get one kick at the can'

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Motzko back at Minnesota: 'You only get one kick at the can'
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2017, file photo, United States' under-20 hockey coach Bob Motzko watches his team scrimmage during hockey practice in Columbus, Ohio. The new men’s hockey coach at Minnesota will be Bob Motzko, who has returned to his roots after 13 seasons running the program at St. Cloud State. Motzko was hired by the university on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, exactly one week after predecessor Don Lucia held a news conference to announce his retirement after 19 years overseeing the Gophers. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Bob Motzko first came to play hockey at Minnesota in 1981, when he was cut from the team and then denied a spot on the roster again before the next season.

In the late 1980s, as the coach of a junior team in Iowa, Motzko would travel to the Twin Cities to scout high school games and take advantage of the proximity to stop by Gophers practices and take notes with ideas for drills.

Then in 2001, Motzko was hired as an assistant on Don Lucia’s staff that wound up winning consecutive NCAA championships.

So even while he was enjoying unprecedented success for the program as the coach at St. Cloud State, with his family entrenched in the community over a 13-year span, Motzko always had a place for Minnesota somewhere in the back of his mind.

“I always thought I had one more move in me. I thought there was one spot,” Motzko said on Thursday afternoon at his introductory news conference. “This was a job that you only get one kick at the can.”

After the Huskies, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, were upset by Air Force on Friday night, Motzko took a call on Saturday morning as Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle arranged for an interview on Sunday night. He was hired by Tuesday afternoon, exactly one week after Lucia announced he was stepping down after 19 seasons.

Motzko agreed to a five-year contract worth more than .9 million, starting with a 2018-19 base salary of ,000, according to a memorandum of understanding provided by the university. He’s scheduled to make ,000 in 2019-20, followed by 5 percent increases over the final three seasons. Lucia was paid ,500 in his last year.

The allure of the storied program he’d long envisioned returning to, plus a salary more than double what he earned at St. Cloud State and the resources of a Big Ten school, were ultimately too much to pass up as hard as it was to leave the Huskies, the team he wound up playing for after failing to crack the Gophers.

“They’re going to be fine. That program is in a great spot,” Motzko said. “I have a new challenge, and it’s time to get to work here.”

Though St. Cloud State no longer plays in the same league as Minnesota, thanks to the creation of the Big Ten in 2013 that forever altered the landscape of the sport, catching the Gophers up to the Huskies would be a good start. Minnesota was the last team out in the cutoff for the NCAA Tournament, missing an at-large bid by mere percentage points in the formula that determines the 16-team field.

“You’ve got to thank coach Lucia for what he’s done for us and bringing us all here and giving us the opportunity to play for this program,” said forward Tyler Sheehy, part of a deep senior class returning for a final season. “I’m very grateful for that, but at the same time with coach Lucia stepping down, I think this is a great hire, and I think everyone is really excited for what’s to come.”

Motzko was naturally on Coyle’s list of potential replacements well before Lucia told him he was done.

“We want to be about low ego and high output. I call that humility, and Bob Motzko represents that in everything he does,” Coyle said.

There’s always pressure from boosters at a program such as Minnesota to pick coaches with Gophers ties, and Motzko checked that unnecessary but welcomed box even though he never actually played in a game for the maroon and gold.

“Bless his heart. He was trying to be an ‘M’ guy, right?” Coyle said.

Every head coach, excluding interims, at Minnesota since John Mariucci took over in 1952 has taken a team to at least one NCAA championship game.

“I’m going to embrace this,” Motzko said. “I love this state. I love living here, and I love hockey.”