St. Cloud, MN – The St. Cloud State University men’s hockey program took a big hit this week as 13 year head coach accepted a job offer from the University of Minnesota. This wasn’t a surprise as within hockey circles it had been suggested for several months that this could be coach Lucia’s final season and rumors were already floating that Bob Motzko would be a candidate for the head coaching job if in fact this was Lucia’s final season. It wasn’t surprising that he’d be a top candidate considering his previous stint as assistant coach at the U of MN and the success he’s had at his alma mater, SCSU after taking over the helm from Craig Dahl who had left abruptly after a 14-23-3 season in 2004-05. Additionally, his success as head coach for USA Hockey in two World Junior Tournaments brought substantial credibility as well.
Motzko, a 1987 SCSU graduate just completed his 13th season as head coach of SCSU and has compiled an all-time record of 276-192-49. He was a player during the Herb Brooks era and an assistant for both Herb Brooks and Craig Dahl. Motzko honed his coaching skills in the USHL, first at the North Iowa Huskies where he won a USHL championship and was named USHL Coach of the Year and then at the Sioux Falls Stampede handling both head coaching and GM duties. In 2000 he was named the USHL GM of the Year. His collegiate coaching career took him from Miami to Denver to the University of Minnesota. At Minnesota, he was instrumental in expanding the reach of the Gophers recruiting which led to the teams National Championships in 2002 and 2003. Prized recruit, Thomas Vanek, was a player of his in Sioux Falls and followed him to Minnesota where he single-handedly won the national championship for the Gophers in 2003. He took the helm at SCSU in 2005-06 and catapulted the Huskies to becoming one of the most successful programs in college hockey. He was named WCHA coach of the year in 2006 and 2007, finalist for the Spencer Penrose National Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and 2018 NCHC Coach of the Year. In addition to a Frozen Four appearance in 2013, he has led his teams to eight NCAA Division I tournament appearances. The most recent was this season as the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament in the West Region in Sioux Falls, SD.
In the week leading up to the 2018 NCAA tournament it was formally announced Don Lucia would be stepping down and immediately Motzko was perched on the top of the list of candidates. It certainly didn’t hurt that Motzko and Lucia have a friendship and good working relationship and that Lucia would be staying on at least another year as a special assistant at the University of Minnesota. Naturally, it could be an ideal situation to have the former coach and incoming coach available to ease the transition of the coaching change. Although it was wishful thinking that there was something that could be done to retain Motzko at SCSU it was inevitable that it was not the same playing field when dealing with the resources of a BIG 10 program. With the University of Minnesota able to offer a total package at least twice that of what a Minnesota State University school could offer you can’t disparage him for securing the future of his family and future retirement regardless how deep his roots are with SCSU. Regardless, it was still a painful decision for Motzko to make despite the difference in the dollars. Having to leave a university and program where he is an alum, has deep roots and spent 13 years recruiting and building was painful and despite what some people might think not an easy decision.
It’s now incumbent on the SCSU administration to move quickly and find a replacement that will maintain the status and success of a hockey program that has elevated itself to be in the top tier of college hockey nationally. The pay scale is competitive and there should be numerous quality candidates applying for this position. The timing and choice are also critical for the sake of the NCHC to have a strong member in St. Cloud State University to uphold the prominence and depth of the league and to keep its post-season tournament in St. Paul strong and viable.
Personally, there will be a void not having coach Motzko in St. Cloud. He was an ideal fit for the SCSU program, seldom found himself on the wrong side of the fan base and found a way through a great eye for talent and aggressive recruiting to keep the program competitive year after year. But, beyond that I’ll miss our occasional road trips to watch a local high school game or our impromptu lunches at the local Short Stop Restaurant where we’d have a chicken dinner and he could sit back in his laid back way and patiently teach me some of the less obvious finer points of hockey.
I can’t help but wish him success at the University of Minnesota as he has earned the opportunity that was presented to him. He’ll no doubt bring this program back to prominence and get the fans back in the seats.
However, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing him in anything other than cardinal and black.