Family man Bob Motzko on mission to strengthen bonds in and around Gophers hockey

October 5, 2018

In the evening after Bob Motzko took the job as the Gophers hockey coach, his middle son went for a drive.

It wasnt a long trip last March, maybe about 10 minutes to span the three miles from the Motzko home in St. Cloud to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. Seventeen-year-old Mack had his own locker in the St. Cloud State locker room and had been hanging out at the rink practically every day after school for more than a decade.

But he wasnt there to skate that night. Instead, he cleared out his equipment, preparing to make a clean break from the only college program hed ever known as his father readied to take the helm of the in-state rival.

That was the hardest, hardest thing of leaving St. Cloud was my middle son, Motzko, a father of three, said. He didnt think they wanted him around. And the captains of the team called and said, You get back here. They brought him right back in.

They took over and took care of my son.

Thats the kind of culture Motzko built in 13 seasons with the Huskies, a program he led to eight NCAA tournaments. Hell seek to recreate that family atmosphere with the Gophers, who play their first game of the Motzko era Saturday in Duluth against the defending national champions.

But the 57-year-old coach recognizes that bond takes time to build, and he doesnt even know all his players names yet. Hes called at least a dozen of them the wrong name, finally resulting to: Hey, you. Practicing in helmets with tiny numbers on the back hasnt helped either because Motzko hasnt memorized their jerseys. Senior captain Tyler Sheehy said Motzko has joked hes going to write everyones name on tape and stick it to their helmets, just like in mites hockey.

Despite the team only just having made it through the awkward feeling-out process of a new coach, Sheehy said its clear how Motzko will bring a different vibe to the program.

He really wants to build relationships with players and get to know them, Sheehy said. Other than just being a coach whos just a coach, [hes] being a coach who is interactive with his players and gets along with the guys, and he wants to be in the loop.

The guys are really going to respect him. Theyre going to listen and relay everything that he has to say to the ice and just play hockey, which I think maybe has been missing.

Finding family

When Motzko first took the St. Cloud State job, his daughter, Ella, was going into first grade. Mack was a preschooler. And his youngest son, Beau, had just been born. Through the years, Motzko and his wife, Shelley, built a routine around hockey. Motzko would drive the kids to school as a way to fit in some quality time. Hed try to attend about a dozen of Macks and Beaus youth games.

But the whole family would convene to watch Dad coach the Huskies. And that tradition should continue with the Gophers.

Ella Motzko is a sophomore at Minnesota her dad jokes she went away to college and the family followed her and has a kinesiology lab in 3M Arena at Mariucci. She spends at least an hour a week hanging out in her dads office doing homework while he works on hockey.

Separating Coach from Dad is impossible, Ella said, because both bring a lot of heart to what they do.

Hes the same person in all of that hes very honest with his expectations, she said. With everything he says, he really means it. Hes a very genuine person. Thats why a lot of people are fans or become fans of him because you know when hes talking to you, hes listening to you. You know when hes giving you ideas that theyre genuine ideas, and hes excited to tell you about it.

Motzkos assistant, Garrett Raboin, played four years under Motzko at St. Cloud State, including three as captain. He joined Motzkos staff in 2012-13 and made the move with him to the Gophers. Raboin said when he first met Motzko in 2006 during a quick recruiting process, he immediately felt like Motzko was someone to trust.

Sheehy said that personality came across in just the few one-on-one meetings hes had with his coach so far.

Hes a really down-to-earth guy, easy to talk to, Sheehy said. Hes kind of made it clear to us that if theres something thats going on, or if he makes a mistake, and the guys are thinking it, he wants to know from us what he can do better. He doesnt want it to be a dictatorship, which is kind of cool. I think part of his personality is just being a players coach.

Here for the hockey

Motzko had been looking forward to a quiet summer, planning to head up north to his cabin and fish. But then he took the Gophers job shortly after St. Cloud States season ended and went only once, instead spending his offseason familiarizing himself with his new players and meeting more than 100 Gophers alumni.

But it doesnt bother Motzko to say, next summer to his best-laid plans. He loves the job, the recruiting, the traveling. His daughter said one of his catchphrases is, Im just here for the hockey.

Well, and every other Minnesota sport. The Austin, Minn., native declared himself a big Twins fan, die-hard Vikings fan and passionate North Stars fan who has finally come around to the Wild. He said people cant be in the same room with him during Vikings games, when he wears purple and gold from head to toe and screams at the TV.

That yelling doesnt often translate to the practices he runs, though. The coach prefers up-tempo drills and avoids time spent drawing up plays on the whiteboard in favor of freeing up players to tap into their instincts. And while he had ambitious hopes of having his players completely comfortable with his fast system in time for the first game, hes realized now the teams in but not settled.

His son Mack will also take some time to feel comfortable around his dads new program. Sheehy said Mack spent about a week this past summer with the Gophers. And maybe those moments will happen more often as time passes.

That was his world, and weve told him, Its OK. You cheer for who you want to cheer for,andthinsp; Motzko said. He for sure cheers for Dad, but he has strong allegiances, strong ties to St. Cloud. Thats the one place he knows for school, and he was really close with our program and our players. Those players treated him unbelievable after I left. They still make him feel very welcome and part of the program.

Thats one of the real cool things in coaching college, where your kids get to be a part of it.

Update hourly