MINNEAPOLIS — There has not been a significant culture shock this winter for Cedar Rapids RoughRiders goaltender Andrew “Geno” Pichora in moving from his home in suburban Pittsburgh to eastern Iowa. But the United States Hockey League goalie admits that he enjoys life in the city. And as such, he is looking forward to being a Minneapolis resident in a few years.
On Tuesday, Pichora announced his commitment to the Minnesota Gophers, and hopes to be on campus competing for time in the crease in a little over two years. Pichora, who turns 17 on March 12, visited the U of M campus last weekend and sought the advice of his goalie coach in picking a college. Luckily for the Gophers, his goalie coach has close ties to everyone on the current coaching staff that has offices inside 3M Arena at Mariucci.
“I played with (assistant coach Ben Gordon) in Germany, I played with (assistant coach Garrett Raboin) at St. Cloud State and I played for Bob (Motzko), so I talked about all three of them,” said RoughRiders assistant coach Bobby Goepfert, who was a goalie for Motzko with the Huskies from 2005 to 2007. “Bob especially is the type of coach you love playing for. He has a confident calmness to him and as a goalie it’s nice to play for a confident guy that’s going to support you.”
Pichora is currently 5-foot-11 and around 200 pounds but Goepfert believes he is still growing.
“I toured the school and loved everything about it,” Pichora said, noting his preference for a bigger campus in an urban setting. “Being in Minneapolis, eight miles from St. Paul, I liked that feel and all the guys I met on the team were great.”
The Gophers currently have three goalies on the roster, junior Jack LaFontaine along with freshmen Jared Moe and Justen Close. Pichora said ideally he would join the program in the fall of 2022, when he is 19.
As would be expected from a Pittsburgh kid, he added that Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury — who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win a trio of Stanley Cups — is his hockey hero.
“I’m one of those goalies who will do anything to keep the puck out of the net, whether that’s going by the textbook and everything you’re taught as a goalie,” Pichora said. “I don’t think many goalies have my compete level nowadays. If I have to do whatever it takes and look sloppy to make a save, I’ll do it.”
Excited about tournament time
A significant part of the Gophers’ current roster hails from Edina, Minn., and is therefore disappointed not to see the Hornets playing in the state tournament this week, but they love this time of year anyway.
“The buzz is going around the whole city from single-A to double-A and even the peewees and all the young guys take off school. It might be a nightmare for the parents to drop them off and pick them up,” said Gophers co-captain Tyler Nanne, who won a pair of high school state titles with Edina. “You’ve got people driving hours upon hours to see the games and stay for the weekend, so it’s a special time. I was lucky to be a part of it. Obviously the Hornets didn’t make it this year but it’s always exciting to see new teams get a chance.”
Motzko attended the Class A tournament’s opening game on Wednesday morning and saw his son Mack score a goal for St. Cloud Cathedral in an 11-2 rout of Mankato East.
“It was great,” the elder Motzko quipped. “I like being a dad.”