ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It is fair to say that the month of March 2018 was tough on Mack Motzko. He had just completed his sophomore season playing for the St. Cloud Cathedral boys hockey team.
The Crusaders had been upset in double overtime by Alexandria in the Section 6A championship game, denying them a second straight trip to the state tournament. Before the month was over, Motzko's dad, Bob, decided to leave his job as head coach of the St. Cloud State men's hockey team to become the head men's coach at the University of Minnesota.
Shortly after his dad's announcement, Motzko went down to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, where his dad had been the head coach since 2005.
"Our season was done and there was an empty stall in the Husky locker room and I'd put my gear in there because I'd go and skate after school," he said. "When my dad took that (job), I went and took all my stuff out of there.
"A day after, (Ryan Poehling) texted me and said, 'You come back here. You're still a part of us. You're always going to be a Husky,'" he said of the first round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens. "It's something I get a little emotional about now because they're such a good group of guys ... Ryan deserves all the success that he's gotten."
Motzko made his way back to Cathedral for his senior season and will be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Crusaders begin defense of their Class A state title. Second-seeded Cathedral (23-3-1) plays Mankato East/Loyola (14-13-1) at 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 4, at Xcel Energy Center in the state quarterfinals.
Motzko helped the Crusaders get there with two goals in the section championship game, an 8-1 win over Alexandria.
"From our tough double OT loss from two years ago, it had been 700-some days when you have to live with that sting and that pain," he said. "To finally put that aside and, more importantly, get the win ... having the two goals was pretty special. It's something I'm thankful for. It feels pretty sweet."
A year away
In the summer of 2018, his family sold their St. Cloud home, moved to the Twin Cities suburbs and Mack played last season for Minnetonka High School. He helped the Skippers to the No. 1 seed in Section 2AA, but they got upset by Holy Family.
Cathedral, on the other hand, went on to win its first Class A state title last season. While he was not on the roster, Motzko spent a good share of the state tournament with the Crusaders.
"I was super excited for them because that was what we had set out to do growing up, it was a dream of ours," he said. "For me, it was tough not being there (on the ice) with them. I can't really describe the emotions because it's a little bit of a sting, but you're happy at the same time, too.
"They won Wednesday and I hung out with them after the game," he said of last year's state tournament. "Friday after the won in the semis, I was hanging out with them in the hotel. After the championship game, I went out to eat with them. It felt like I was a part of the team."
After the school year, Motzko decided he wanted to go back to Cathedral, so he talked with his parents and got clearance from the Minnesota State High School League to transfer back for his senior season.
"It was tough. It almost felt like I went to college two years earlier than everyone else," he said. "Those adjustments are hard for anyone and I know I'm not the only one who has had to make a move like that. I'm just thankful that I was able to come back here for my senior year and graduate in my hometown."
He is having the best season of his four-year high school career. Motzko is third on the team in goals (27), assists (30) and points (57) in 24 games. He had three straight games with a hat trick (Jan. 27-30) during a seven-game stretch from Jan. 25-Feb. 8 in which he had 15 goals and 10 assists.
"When he had those hat tricks, they looked like the same kind of goal," Cathedral coach Derrick Brown said. "He goes hard to the net. He's a simple guy below the (faceoff) dots and he's never going to get outworked. He wins his wall battle and you can see it — he comes out of the corner with the puck on his stick and he's going to get it on net and he's going to follow his chance.
"He might not score on his first shot, but there's a lot of times where he's going in and burying his own rebound opportunity. You can tell he's a coach's kid. He does the little things really well and has since he was a freshman."
Brown said that Motzko is also a vocal team leader for the Crusaders and lauds his ability to find the right moments and right things to say, even during the tough times.
"He is one of the best young men I've been around in my life," Brown said. "This is my 11th year coaching and I've never met one like him.
"He wears his heart on his sleeve. He's like talking to a mini adult. We've had a lot of adult level conversations. He had a tough year last year, not necessarily with the hockey. But everything else, with the move and the changing environments. Everybody is so happy for him because he didn't get that (state title) redemption last year. To see him get that this year was a special hug and moment with him. That felt different and I was really thrilled that he got to come back and have that moment."
Motzko, who is a 5-foot-11, 170-pound 19-year-old, is a free agent in terms of junior hockey and college hockey. He said that he plans to attend tryouts with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League and Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League this summer.
Class A state tournament (all games at Xcel Energy Center)
Game 1 — No. 2 St. Cloud Cathedral vs. No. 7 Mankato East/Loyola, 11 a.m.
Game 2 — No. 3 Hermantown vs. No. 6 Monticello, 1 p.m.
Game 3 — No. 1 Warroad vs. No. 8 Hutchinson, 6 p.m.
Game 4 — No. 4 Mahtomedi vs. No. 5 Delano, 8 p.m.
Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 11 a.m.
Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 1 p.m.
Semifinals winners, noon
Class AA state tournament (all games at Xcel Energy Center)
Game 1 — No. 2 Blake vs. No. 7 Maple Grove, 11 a.m.
Game 2 — No. 3 Eden Prairie vs. No. 6 Lakeville South, 1 p.m.
Game 3 — No. 1 Andover vs. No. 8 St. Thomas Academy, 6 p.m.
Game 4 — No. 4 Moorhead vs. No. 5 Hill-Murray, 8 p.m.
Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8 p.m.
Semifinals winners, 7 p.m.