Frozen Four Notebook: Motzko drawing on past NCAA triumphs and failures as Mavericks showdown looms
Michigan wants to run-and-gun, Minnesota State Mankato wants to do its own thing, and Denver's Bobby Brink wants to advance and maybe play his boyhood heroes for the NCAA title as the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals get underway.
BOSTON – The Minnesota Gophers have a unique resource at hand as they prep to face Minnesota State Mankato in their NCAA Frozen Four semifinal game on Thursday at TD Garden. They faced the Mavericks roughly 53 weeks ago in a regional final. But Gophers coach Bob Motzko’s review of that video from the 2021 Loveland Regional – a 4-0 MSU win – didn’t last long.
“I got through 10 minutes of it, and then the two goals we gave up were just dumb mistakes on our part and then I didn’t need to see any more, because we’re not playing like that right now,” Motzko said on Wednesday in a press conference held after his team had skated on the rink where they will play on Thursday. “They can do that to you. When we got down, we got discouraged.”
MSU held Minnesota to just nine shots on goal through the first 40 minutes that night last season in Colorado. Twenty years after he won a NCAA title as Don Lucia’s assistant coach at Minnesota, and nine years after he took St. Cloud State to the Frozen Four as a head coach, Motzko’s Gophers will be playing their third NCAA tournament game in the state of Massachusetts on Thursday, having beaten UMass and Western Michigan to win the Worcester Regional two weeks ago. The coach wants to draw more on that experience than on the failure from a year ago, or even the big win from two decades ago.
“In Worcester, there’s no question that was a heavyweight bracket that we got thrown into,” Motzko said. “I’m more (focused) on that right now than looking back to 2013 and 2002. What these guys have gone through and what we went up against in UMass and Western Michigan, I think that helps us going up against Mankato.”
That’s not to say that the loss to the Mavericks hasn’t been on their minds and the chance for revenge isn’t a consideration in Boston.
“We were so close a year ago, to get to the regional final and Mankato knocked us off. This is a burning hole in all of us,” Motzko said. “You draw on that, on how it felt and what happened in that game and what you did leading up to that game. I think there are some things that we can draw on them. The only thing is that Mankato can draw on them too."
Gopher roots strong for Denver’s Brink
Denver star forward Bobby Brink’s father Andy, who went to the University of Minnesota on a golf scholarship and ended up playing hockey for Doug Woog’s Gophers for four years, will be at the Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday decked out in the Pioneers’ colors. Bobby joked that he’s pretty sure his father did not bring his old Gophers jersey along to Boston for the second semifinal game.
“I think my dad’s all Pioneers this weekend,” Brink said on Wednesday after Denver had their team practice at TD Garden. Denver’s coach followed up with a thinly veiled threat of his own.
“He’d better be,” joked David Carle to a round of laughs in the media room.
Growing up as the son of a former Gopher, and living in the Twin Cities suburbs, Bobby spent plenty of weekend nights inside 3M Arena at Mariucci.
“Since my dad played there, growing up I went to a lot of those games,” Bobby Brink said. “They were always super exciting but I haven’t been there a lot in the recent years, being away from home. But growing up they were my favorite team.”
Wolverines looking to entertain
When teams tried to match Michigan’s offense stride for stride this season, they generally failed. The Wolverines got into the most trouble on-ice when they faced defense-first teams like Notre Dame, which beat Michigan four times in the regular season, before the Wolverines won their head-to-head meeting in the playoffs.
Still, Denver coach David Carle joked that he would be fine with a 9-8 Pioneers win on Thursday. Asked on Wednesday, Wolverines players Jimmy Lambert and Michael Pastujov admitted they would prefer a 1-0 win with their gargantuan goalie, Erik Portillo, getting the shutout, and they could not envision him surrendering eight goals in a game. Maybe it is an innate confidence in his team’s offensive abilities, but Michigan’s coach would be fine with a back-and-forth shootout with the Pioneers.
“I’m not saying this against anybody else, but I really like the style they play. They play the game how I envision it,” Mel Pearson said of the Pioneers. “If I was a player on his team, I’d be so happy because they play the game a certain way, they like to play with skill, they like to get up and down the ice. I’ll say it – we’re in the entertainment business.”
Mavericks work to play their own game
In the frantic final 10 minutes of his masterpiece win over the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics, Team USA coach Herb Brooks notoriously and repeatedly implored his team to, “play your game.”
Minnesota State Mankato coach Mike Hastings played for Brooks at St. Cloud State, and looks to take a lesson from the Miracle on Ice when the Mavericks face in-state rival Minnesota in the second Frozen Four semifinal on Thursday.
“What I’m expecting is two teams are going to go out and try to get to their own game as quickly as they can,” Hastings said, looking ahead to the first Mavericks-Gophers game since a 4-0 MSU win in the Loveland Regional final last season. “With a team with the amount of draft picks they have and the talent they have, we don’t want to create their offense for them. So puck management is going to be very important to us.”
That likely means that if the Mavericks are to play their game, it will be a more lock-it-down defensive style, and leaning heavily on star goalie Dryden McKay, who shut out Notre Dame in the Albany Regional final, earning MSU a second consecutive Frozen Four trip.