When he spoke to reporters in May, Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko admitted that they were anxiously waiting to see what football teams in the Big Ten would and would not be able to do, as a guideline for how winter sports like hockey and basketball could proceed as the coronavirus pandemic battle rages on.
Three months later, there is no official word yet on the fate of hockey and basketball at the U of M and elsewhere in the 14-team Big Ten. But if they’re using football as a guide, the news is not good. On Tuesday, Aug. 11, the conference announced that they would not play football or other fall sports like cross country and soccer this fall, and are hoping to salvage some kind of football season in the spring.
“This is hitting the pause button,” said Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle in a Tuesday Zoom call with the media, noting that this is a tough blow for the school’s football program. The Gophers won 11 games last season and was headed into the 2020 campaign with sky-high expectations of contending for the school’s Big Ten title since 1967. In a previous Zoom call, Coyle predicted that the U of M athletic department could lose as much as $75 million if there was not fall football.
Asked specifically about the eventual fate of winter sports, Coyle said it is too early to make a call, but they are talking hockey already.
“We’ve had many conversations about our hockey programs, our basketball programs, our swimming and diving programs and our wrestling program — those programs that start in the fall and compete in both semesters or start early in the second semester,” Coyle said. “The announcement (Tuesday) talked about the postponement of fall sports in the Big Ten conference and we’ll start to have further conversations about the potential impact on the schedules of the sports like hockey that start to train early in the fall semester, start to compete in the fall semester and cross over into the spring semester.”
The Gopher men’s hockey program has not announced a schedule for 2020-21, and has only given unofficial word on three incoming recruits (defensemen Brock Faber, Michael Koster and Carl Fish). The Gophers were expected to open the season at home versus Bemidji State on Oct. 3, but those plans are likely being revamped in the wake of the Big Ten’s fall sports announcement.
Schmidt logging big minutes for Knights
While he has not touched the back of the net since his team’s first postseason game more than a week ago, getting a sight of former Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights is a common occurrence inside the NHL’s Edmonton bubble.
Schmidt logged more than 20 minutes of ice time on Tuesday as Vegas opened their best-of-seven series against Chicago with a decisive 4-1 win over the Blackhawks and leads the team in average time on the ice, logging 23:25 a game in the Knights’ four games thus far.
Originally from St. Cloud, Minn., Schmidt, 29, was a standout at Cathedral High School and spent one season with the USHL’s Fargo Force before coming to the U of M program in 2010. He was a member of the Gophers’ 2012 Frozen Four team and signed as a free agent with the Washington Capitals after his junior season of college.
Claimed by the Knights in the 2017 expansion draft, Schmidt was a regular for them in Vegas’ run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, where the Knights fell to his former team, the Caps.
Mason let go by Wild after 18 seasons
Position coaches taking the fall when the players they oversee underachieve is not a new thing, in any sport. And still, it is hard to see good people lose their jobs in this business that can be cruel sometimes.
That was the case on Monday when Minnesota Wild general manager expressed his disappointment in the play of the team’s goaltenders this season, and punctuated that point by firing the Wild’s long-time goalie coach Bob Mason.
An International Falls native, Mason spent two seasons at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early 1980s, then was part of Team USA’s goalie tandem for the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He went on to play parts of eight seasons in the NHL for the Capitals, Blackhawks, Quebec Nordiques and Vancouver Canucks.
As a coach, he worked with Gophers goalies during Doug Woog’s final three seasons as their head coach, then was the first goalie coach with the NHL’s expansion Atlanta Thrashers. Mason, 59, had been on staff with the Wild since 2002 and had worked under all six of the head coaches in franchise history.