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Neighborhood rivalries will live on, pledges Bob Motzko in advance of Gophers-Huskies series

While the future schedule is not set and contracts are not finalized, the Minnesota Gophers are committed to playing the five other D-I programs in the state, and North Dakota, going forward.

St Cloud vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers forward Matthew Knies, left, and St. Cloud State Huskies forward Nick Perbix tangled along the boards at 3M Arena at Mariucci in an Oct. 15, 2021 meeting between the teams in Minneapolis.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS – Prior to any given Minnesota Gophers hockey series, when you ask the coach and players about their opponent, you are likely to get a few nice words about how they are a formidable foe, but the team in maroon and gold is focused on itself and what it needs to do to be successful.

There is clearly an exception made when Gophers coach Bob Motzko considers facing St. Cloud State – the school where he played college hockey, earned his degree, got his first assistant coaching job and ran the Huskies program for 13 seasons.

“I spent a lifetime there. That place afforded me a whole lot of great opportunities. I’m forever grateful for my time there,” Motzko said following his team’s practice on Thursday, admitting that this week he has heard from more than one skater he recruited to wear the red and black of the Huskies. “It’s been fun. Old players are reaching out to me and giving it to me, but I love it. It means they’re following, which I like.”

With future Gophers schedules up in the air, and no set contract to play the Huskies in the future, there is concern among some fans of both teams that this neighborhood rivalry could go away. Motzko put those fears to rest as best he could, offering assurances that Gophers games versus the five other in-state programs, and a neighbor on the other side of the Red River, will continue.

“Our North Dakota contract’s not done, our Duluth contract’s not done. We’re going to have contracts with both of those schools and then we do have a contract with St. Thomas now,” he said. “We have a problem here. We have a lot of teams that want to play us and we don’t have a lot of dates.”

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Notre Dame vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko watched the action from the home bench during a 2019 game versus Notre Dame at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brace Hemmelgarn / University of Minnesota Athletics

The coach noted that in his five seasons at the helm of the Gophers program, Motzko’s teams have played the Huskies in three of those seasons, adding that the 2020-21 season deserves an asterisk, as teams only played conference competition due to the pandemic.

“I’ve said since I got here that I’m going to do the best I can to play all the teams around the state,” Motzko said. “I said behind the scenes that St. Cloud was going to be the first team I take care of, for obvious reasons.”

He added that the Gophers played Minnesota State Mankato in a home-and-home series early this season (in addition to facing the Mavericks in the NCAA tournament the past two years) and they traveled to Bemidji State for a New Years Eve exhibition that was well-attended. The Gophers faced St. Thomas in an exhibition last season, played at Doug Woog Arena in South St. Paul, and the coach said the establishment of a Minneapolis vs. St. Paul rivalry with the Tommies in future seasons could be fun.

“The St. Thomas thing, that’s a good road trip for us,” Motzko said, with a smile, noting that Wisconsin is the only Big Ten road series that can be reached via ground transportation. “In the league we play in, we only have one bus trip. The rest are all airplanes. I don’t mind playing a road game where it’s eight miles away. So we’re going to keep playing all of the Minnesota schools when we can get them in.”

Although they are in different conferences and only face each other twice a year, at best, there are abundant connections between the Gophers and Huskies. That includes the fact that the Huskies home rink is named for Herb Brooks, who played for the Gophers and coached both programs.

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St. Cloud State center Grant Cruikshank, who played on the Gophers’ Frozen Four team last season, is tied for the Huskies' team lead with a dozen goals. For Gophers right winger Byrce Brodzinski, whose brothers Easton and Jonny both skated for the Huskies and brother Michael was a Gopher, this will be a rare time when his parents’ loyalties won’t be divided. Although that is not guaranteed.

“This will be my first time playing without a brother on the other team,” Brodzinski said, joking that his father, widely known as “Big Mike,” is having a difficult time adjusting to life without a son playing for the Huskies. “It’s definitely easier for my mom, but my dad might still be wearing St. Cloud red. You never know. He might have to adopt a kid just so he can send them to St. Cloud one more time. He’s looking forward to going back to the Herb and seeing all his friends.”

SCSU vs Western Michigan_0726.jpg
St. Cloud State forward Grant Cruikshank (19) works the puck past Western Michigan defenseman Jacob Bauer (2) in the third period Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

The Huskies won in Minneapolis last season. The Gophers won in St. Cloud the next night, scoring a controversial goal in overtime after Minnesota’s Blake McLaughlin pulled down St. Cloud State’s Nick Perbix from behind, and no penalty was called. It’s a moment in this rivalry that fans and players on both sides remember well.

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“From last year, they’ve got a bad taste in their mouths,” Brodzinski said. “So we know they’re going to come hard and we know it will be a fun weekend.”

And while contracts are yet to be signed, there is a pledge to have more of these fun in-state rivalry weekends in the future.

Weekend details

The games versus St. Cloud State face off at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday in St. Cloud and 3 p.m. CT Sunday at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Saturday’s game will be televised by CBS Sports with Dave Starman, Alex Heinert and Sireen Saski calling the game. The Sunday rematch will be carried by Bally Sports North with Sam Ekstrom and Ben Clymer on the broadcast.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.

The Gophers are 58-35-12 all-time versus the Huskies with their first series coming on Oct. 12-13, 1990. The teams tied 3-3 in St. Cloud in that series opener, with the Gophers prevailing 5-4 in Minneapolis the next night.

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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