MINNEAPOLIS — Bob Motzko begins his fifth season as head coach at the University of Minnesota focused on building off of last year's trip to the Frozen Four.
Last year's Gophers team won the Big Ten regular season title, and earned the program's first NCAA Frozen Four berth since 2014. The Gophers came up short in last year's national semifinal where Minnesota State-Mankato beat Minnesota 5-1.
"Two regional finals in a row — punched our ticket through (to Frozen Four) once — we are knocking on the door, it's going to happen and that's what we have to do," said head coach Bob Motzko. "The fact that we're short, 60 minutes to getting to the championship game, we got to go back and build it again. It's the journey to get there, and we got heart, character and leadership that wants to get there."
"With a lot of guys coming back, we have that experience now and we know what it feels like to get there and to play at that stage," said goalie Justen Close. "We're hungry for even more, so we came up a few games short last year, but it's definitely a motivating factor for us to get back there again this year."
This year's Gopher team returns quite a bit of veteran leadership, but also an influx of younger players. Leading the youth movement will be two top-25 picks from this summer's NHL Draft in Logan Cooley (No. 3 overall to Arizona) and Jimmy Snuggerud (No. 23 overall to St. Louis), son of former Gophers standout Dave Snuggerud.
"I see some familiar faces out there on that rink, and then we got a whole pile of new guys, and that brings excitement," said Motzko. "We can skate, the guys are working their tails off right now. Great camaraderie, great spirit inside our group. We are excited to get going."
"They've been awesome so far, I think we're excited to have them here and they're already a close group. They're all great guys," said captain Jackson LaCombe.
LaCombe is apart of a deep and veteran group of defenseman, led by team captain Brock Faber. The future Minnesota Wild defenseman (acquired via trade this summer) served as captain for Team USA this summer at the World Junior Championship.
"He's got such tremendous (skills), to watch the transformation of leadership, and how he takes it over, it's just natural for him," said Motzko. "He is all about this program, and you get that from him, not from me."
The Gophers schedule is challenging right out of the gates, including a home-and-home series with Minnesota State-Mankato in early October.
"Button up. Right off the bat. Mankato's been a nemesis for us, they've ended our season two years in a row. Mike's doing a helluva job over there, they've got a great program," said Motzko. "Hopefully we keep playing them, because you know they're going to be there. They're just at that point right now, but so are we, we are getting there, too."
Minnesota opens up the season Saturday, Oct. 1 at home against Lindenwood.
Watch more of Minnesota sports:
Watch the latest sports videos - from high school hockey to the Minnesota Vikings and everything in between - in our YouTube playlist: