As a former assistant at Minnesota who helped build nearby St. Cloud State into a national power, Bob Motzko was an obvious front-runner for the next head coach of the Gophers when Don Lucia stepped down.
That was, of course, if Motzko wanted to leave his alma mater, where he'd been for the last 13 seasons while enjoying just as much or more success on the ice as his former team did some 70 miles away.
The allure of one of the sport's most prolific programs proved to be too much for Motzko to turn down. He was hired on Tuesday, his 57th birthday, to be the 15th head coach in Minnesota's history, exactly one week after Lucia announced his retirement from the job he held for 19 years. The university scheduled a news conference on Thursday with Motzko and athletic director Mark Coyle.
"The rich history and tradition of this program is honored by so many in our state and around the country," Motzko said in a statement distributed by the school. "We will work tirelessly to make those people proud."
Motzko was an assistant coach on Lucia's staff for four years, a stay during which they won national championships in 2002 and 2003. He left in 2005 for St. Cloud State, where he reached the NCAA Tournament eight times, including the program's only trip to the Frozen Four in 2013. The Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed in the 16-team field this year, but they were upset by Air Force in their West Region semifinal on Friday.
"Bob has a unique perspective on the program. He grew up rooting for the Gophers, he's coached for the Gophers and he's coached against the Gophers. He's spent much of his career and most of his life in Minnesota," Coyle said in a statement from the university. "He fully understands this program's historic legacy and its unique place in our state's culture. I know he will add to the tradition and success Gopher hockey has enjoyed for nearly 100 years."
With Minnesota State to the south, St. Cloud State to the west and Minnesota Duluth to the north, the Gophers don't dominate the state's college hockey landscape like they once did, even though they're no longer in the same league as any of their in-state rivals. The Gophers reached the national semifinals in 2005 and 2012 and the national championship game in 2014, but they haven't since recaptured the trophy they took home in 2002 and 2003.
Attendance at Minnesota has been on the decline, too, following a price hike for season ticket holders that came right before the unpopular-with-fans move from the storied WCHA to the upstart Big Ten in 2013.
That was the same year the NCHC was formed in response to the departure of Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA for the Big Ten, with St. Cloud State joining the likes of Denver, Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota in the new league. The Huskies have kept right up, with Motzko winning the NCHC Coach of the Year award in 2014 and 2018.
The Huskies reached the NCAA Tournament five times in 18 seasons under Craig Dahl, his predecessor. Motzko's record with the Huskies was 276-192-49, with three regular season conference championships and three seasons of 25-plus wins in the last six years. Motzko was also head coach of the U.S. team at the world junior championships, winning a gold medal in 2017 and a bronze medal in 2018.