Gophers' impromptu 'Legends Tour' up north brings them face-to-face with the program's biggest star
Going a few hours out of their way on the road to Bemidji State, current members of the Minnesota Gophers got to meet the program's most legendary player and see a few classic Iron Range rinks.
EVELETH, Minn. — Some unexpected idle time between Christmas and New Year's Day is common. For Minnesota Gophers men's hockey coach Bob Motzko, a bit of down time led to an idea that provided a link between his program’s past legends and current stars.
During the team’s first post-Christmas practice at 3M Arena at Mariucci, with assistant coaches Ben Gordon and Steve Miller each handling a group of Gophers at opposite ends of the rink, Motzko had nothing to do for a few minutes. His eyes drifted to the rink's rafters, where a banner honors 1950s star John Mayasich, whose No. 8 jersey is the only one retired by the Gophers in 102 seasons of hockey.
Motzko knew that on Dec. 30, his team would board a northbound bus for an exhibition game at Bemidji State and he devised a bit of a detour.
“I jumped off the ice and started texting people to make sure he was in town,” Motzko said. “I got in touch with John, and he was in (Eveleth) and I told him we were coming up. He said, ‘Who’s we?’ and I said, ‘The whole team.’”
Mayasich came to the U of M in 1951 after setting every Minnesota high school scoring record in existence for the Eveleth Golden Bears. He played four years in maroon and gold, averaging nearly three points-per-game over the course of his college career.
As an Olympian, Mayasich won a silver medal in 1956 and gold in 1960 before settling into a lengthy career in broadcasting sales in the Twin Cities.
Now 89 and retired, Mayasich lives back in his hometown but can still be seen regularly at the Eveleth Hippodrome — the community’s legendary ice rink. That was where roughly two-dozen members of the 2022-23 Gophers pulled up in their team bus around lunchtime on Friday, meeting one of the true legends of the U of M program, and getting a look at one of the historic Iron Range arenas where the seeds of the game in the State of Hockey were planted.
“What a historic, nostalgic building,” Motzko said. “It meant the world to our group and it meant the world to him. The players were in awe. John gets right into stories and he was so proud to show things off at the rink.”
What Motzko called the “Legends Tour” also made a second stop between Eveleth and Bemidji, visiting Coleraine’s historic Hodgins-Berardo Arena, known as the “Snake Pit.” There, they were greeted by former Gophers defenseman Andy Sertich, a member of the program’s most recent NCAA title team in 2003, and Pat Guyer, the long-time Greenway High School coach whose son, Gino, also was on that national title squad.
We also made sure to make a stop in Greenway to visit '03 National Champion Andy Sertich!#PrideOnIce pic.twitter.com/yLCRZpTGVf— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) December 30, 2022
As the bus rolled west on Highway 2, headed to lakeside the home of Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox, Motzko was practically beaming as he recounted the day’s events by phone.
“It was great,” he said.