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Rinkytown blog: Gophers offensive leaders not paying much attention to women's team scoring race

Also: men's team members nominated for several individual awards, Tommies new home provides potential WCHA tournament options and that football team in purple breaks Bob Motzko's heart, again.

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St. Cloud State goalie Sanni Ahola turned aside a shot by Minnesota forward Taylor Heise during the Gophers 2-1 win over the Huskies on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — In a sweep of St. Thomas last weekend, Minnesota Gophers star forward Grace Zumwinkle scored twice in the Friday win over the Tommies. The next night star forward Taylor Heise scored once in another victory. That offense left both women with 18 goals this season and Heise with 42 points to Zumwinkle’s 41 so far this season.

But when you ask the two of them about the team’s scoring race with 10 regular season games remaining, you get nothing in the way of a rivalry, only smiles and laughs.

“Me and her are best friends in the sense that we do everything together and I hope for the next eight years or whenever we stop playing together we’re going to keep doing everything together every day,” said Heise, who is from Lake City and won the Patty Kazmaier Award last season, given to the top player in women’s college hockey.

Zumwinkle is from the Twin Cities and spent last season playing for Team USA, coming home from the Winter Olympics in China with a silver medal. She said winning a game in Duluth on a Sunday in March is the primary goal, and the scoring race doesn’t even make the priority list.

The pair played together for Team USA in December, in Rivalry Series games versus Team Canada held in suburban Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

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Olympics: Ice Hockey-Women Finals - Gold Medal Game - USA-CAN
Feb 17, 2022; Beijing, China; Team Canada goalkeeper Ann-Renee Desbiens (35) makes a save on Team United States forward Grace Zumwinkle (13) as Team Canada defender Renata Fast (14) defends in the first period during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Wukesong Sports Centre. Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports
George Walker IV/USA TODAY Sports

“It’s not something we definitely think about. We both had the mindset coming into this fifth year about how can we help this team win a national championship. That’s always at the forefront of focus,” Zumwinkle said. “It’s obviously special to be in the running with her for it, but it’s not something we think about.”

Gophers coach Brad Frost generally keeps the two of them on different lines in the interest of offensive diversity, and that has paid off for a team that is 18-3-2 heading into a series at Bemidji State.

“We certainly like that we have some goal-scorers on our team, and having them on separate line just makes it that much harder for the opponent,” he said. “We’re getting contributions up and down our lineup, which is huge, so having two elite players like that definitely opens some things up for some others too.”

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Minnesota Gophers defenseman Ryan Johnson moved the puck up ice during a game versus the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday, November 26, 2022 at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona.
Contributed / Sun Devil Athletics

Gophers men sliding into awards season

The major men’s college hockey awards will not be handed out until the second Friday in April, in Florida, but those who like to dream about guys who wear maroon and gold hoisting individual trophies got a boost this week.

It actually started prior to the Notre Dame series, when Gophers senior goalie Justen Close was among a whopping 41 puck-stoppers named to the watch list for the Mike Richter Award, given annually to the top netminder in the game. Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine won the award two years ago, in his last full season for the U of M.

This week it was announced that senior defenseman Ryan Johnson is one of the 15 finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which honors players for their good works on and off the ice. Johnson, who is from Irvine, Calif., has widely been praised for his activism in the Twin Cities community since he came to the U of M as a freshman. Strong in his Christian faith, Johnson works with the Firebase Movement, which is a network of local churches and houses of prayer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with the mission of spreading the Gospel far and wide.

Johnson is one of just three Division I men’s players nominated for the award, which is open to men and women at both the D-I and D-III levels. The other two are also from Minnesota-based teams – St. Cloud State defenseman Spencer Meier and Minnesota State Mankato forward Brendan Furry.

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And a day before the men’s series versus Michigan, the preliminary list of Hobey Baker Award nominees was released with two Gophers defensemen – Brock Faber and Jackson LaCombe. Each school is allowed to nominate up to three of their players, which is not a “final” list of candidates for the award. Along with Faber and LaCombe, some have noted that the seasons forwards Logan Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies are having, one of them could make the list of 10 finalists for the award, when it is revealed in March. Four Gophers have captured the Hobey, starting with forward Neal Broten winning the inaugural trophy in 1981. The most recent was defenseman Jordan Leopold in 2002.

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The University of St. Thomas expects to break ground on the new 4,000-seat Lee and Penny Anderson Arena, to be built on the school's St. Paul campus, with plans to have it open for Tommies sports by the fall of 2025.
Contributed / University of St. Thomas

New rink might mean tourney options for WCHA

Asked about the announcement of a 4,000-seat on-campus arena that will be coming for conference rival St. Thomas, Frost joked that it will perhaps add another layer to recruiting battles between his program and the Tommies. And the coach said Anderson Arena on the St. Thomas campus could also be a potential future home for the WCHA Final Faceoff.

Currently, the four-team conference tournament is held at the Gophers’ home rink, which can be an advantage for Frost’s team, to be sure, but he added that playing in their own building makes the Final Faceoff feel less like a tournament for his players.

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“It’s nice to have another … facility in the Twin Cities, because now if you’re hosting (high school) section games for boys and girls and we look to the WCHA Final Faceoff,” he said. “We’ve been hosting it most years because we haven’t been able to find something in the Twin Cities that seats 3,000. We don’t mind hosting but sometimes it doesn’t feel like a tournament for our players.”

Frost said overall it will be great for hockey in the Twin Cities to have another elite facility.

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Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko gives players instructions against Penn State in the second period Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Purple pain for Motzko

Like countless Minnesotans from Luverne to Lake Superior, Bob Motzko lives and dies by the fates of the Minnesota Vikings. For weeks this fall and winter he would delight in their march to a 13-win season and a NFC North Division title. And like most true fans of the purple, he did not take last weekend’s upset loss to the New York Giants well.

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The Vikings trailed by just a field goal at halftime, but when the Giants stretched their lead to 10, Motzko found it hard to watch and embarked on some absolutely unnecessary shopping instead.

“First series of the third quarter I drove to Menards. I didn't need anything but I got windshield wiper fluid, salt, a bird feeder, bird feed,” he said with a small chuckle. “Then started listening on the radio and we got back in it. So then I flew home for the last series. I started talking Monday again."

Motzko, 61, was a 15-year-old high schooler in Austin, Minn., on Jan. 9, 1977, which is the most recent time the Vikings have played in the Super Bowl.

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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