Bob Motzko took the podium for media day on Wednesday, and a common theme from the Gophers head coach was that there has been a lot of turnover to his squad heading into 2019-20.
“We’re in a transition,” Motzko said. “Nineteen freshmen and sophomores [on the team]. Losing 12 players from the year before will do that to you.”
With the roster turnover, the head coach also declared, “You lose that many players, we have a lot of work to do to get above that. Gopher hockey needs to be above that.”
While the coach knew that there might be some growing pains early on, he was confident that in time the team will get that figured out. “In December they will be different then they are now,” Motzko said. The coach also went on to note that special teams and goaltending will be completely different as well, further adding to the growing pains that comes with the turnover.
“We had a really good power play last year. They’re all gone. We had the top penalty kill in the conference last year. They’re all gone except [Ryan] Zuhlsdorf and [Tyler] Nanne. We had really good goaltenders. They’re not here. We have all new goaltenders.”
Although Motzko made sure to point out that he had confidence in his team to get it figured out as the year goes on.
“We have the right roster for where we are at with our program right now,” the coach said. “It’s how fast we can get to a comfort level, and that includes goaltenders. It is a process to get there. We have to follow that process.”
After last season’s disappointing finish that ended with a missed NCAA tournament, the Gopher program looks to get back on track in a stacked Big Ten Conference. But again, with a heavy roster turnover that has a heavy influence of underclassmen, there might be a sluggish start to the season that could lead to another missed NCAA berth.
But the key remains all about growing for Motzko and his program heading into year two behind the Gopher bench.
“We like our talent. We like our guys,” Motzko declared. “You get to the critical part of the game, we have some work to develop critical hockey to win hockey games. Penalty killing, special teams, goaltending. That’s going to come in time. The answer’s in the room.”
Nanne, Walker Named Captains
Last week, senior defenseman Tyler Nanne and sophomore Sammy Walker were named captains for the 2019-20 season. While Nanne was expected as a senior, the sophomore Walker came as a bit of a surprise. Motzko had high praise for the Edina native.
“Infectious personality. Big hearted. Extremely hard work ethic,” Motzko said of Walker. “In a situation like this with 19 freshman and sophomores, he’s the leader of that group.” However with a young team, Motzko said there will need to be more leaders on the team than just the two captains this season. “We’re going to be leadership by committee. We’re going to need other leaders in there.”
LaFontaine To Get Nod In Goal
With heavy roster turnover, there will be new faces in new places for Minnesota this year. The goaltender position is no exception, as there are three new goalies on the roster this season. Junior goaltender Jack LaFontaine — a transfer to Minnesota — is expected to get the starts early on in the season, and Motzko offered some comparison to now departed goaltender Mat Robson for what to expect.
“Boy is he mature. He’s an extremely well conditioned athlete. Has a great demeanor about him. He’s got a confident aura about him. We’re excited he’s here. There could be some similarities [to Robson] to where he could perform at a high level.”
Minnesota opens their 2019-20 schedule with an exhibition game against Mount Royal at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Sunday at 5 p.m.