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After Monday’s practice, the Gophers took a surprise trip to the hardware store

After clinching the Big Ten title while on the road at Penn State, Minnesota Gophers coach Bob Motzko surprised his team with the trophy and champion hats at their Monday afternoon practice.

Big Ten Trophy Celebration
On Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team got to gather at center ice at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Mineapolis and admire the Big Ten regular season trophy they had clinched a few days earlier.
Kelly Hagenson / Gopher Sports

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Gophers’ Monday afternoon practice was winding down with some small area games, which are a normal part of their regimen. Coach Bob Motzko gathered the team at center ice beneath the big scoreboard at 3M Arena at Mariucci and talked about their recently-concluded sweep at Penn State, then looked forward to their regular-season finale versus Ohio State this weekend.

Gophers captain Brock Faber, who missed the Nittany Lions due to an upper body injury, was on the ice, being careful but feeling better. And then, in a surprise to all of the players, Faber was handed a shiny silver chunk of hardware to share with the team.

The trophy given to the Big Ten’s regular season champions will spend a second consecutive summer in Minnesota, and on Monday afternoon Faber hoisted it and shared it with the team, while staffers passed out hats that read “2023 Big Ten Hockey Champions” for all of the men in maroon and gold.

Just like the NHL teams that won’t physically handle the championship trophies for their respective conferences, as they have their sights set on the Stanley Cup, some teams have qualms about touching a regular season trophy. None of those superstitions were on display in Minneapolis on Monday, as several Gophers took their turn hoisting the trophy.

It was a notably more subdued celebration than when the team clinched the 2022 title on the last night of the regular season with a home win versus conference arch-rival Wisconsin. That night, athletic director Mark Coyle handed the trophy to team captain Sammy Walker on the red line, to the roars of a sellout crowd.


But in 2023, the Gophers were in Pennsylvania on Thursday night when an Ohio State shootout over Michigan eliminated the Wolverines from title contention, and clinched Minnesota’s sixth Big Ten regular season crown in the 10 years that the conference has sponsored hockey.

The Gophers had traveled to Penn State needing only one win or a Michigan loss in the final four for both teams to clinch, and they got the title secured 24 hours before their series opener.

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“There was never pressure. We had a pretty good lead. Unless something really fell apart, we were going to get it,” Motzko said, after his team blasted past Penn State 7-2 on Friday, and erased any notion that they would coast into the playoffs.

While the team will absolutely hang a banner to commemorate the accomplishment, and players will get rings in the future, Motzko has made it clear that winning the Big Ten is just the first step on the road to their ultimate goal, which is to bring a sixth NCAA men’s hockey title to the U of M.

But for now, another hard-earned trophy has been added to the case, for a crowning achievement between October and February. Even if, for now, the “crown” is a brand new mesh trucker hat.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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