March 24, 2019

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Move Over, Gophers: Balance of Power Shifts in Minnesota Hockey

Move Over, Gophers: Balance of Power Shifts in Minnesota Hockey
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Over the last eight years, Minnesota Duluth, Union, Providence and Yale won their first national championships. Since 2009, the five Minnesota Division I programs (Bemidji State rounds them out) combined for seven Frozen Four appearances. Only Minnesota State failed to make it, even as a No. 1 seed in 2015.

A decade ago, most recruits in the region considered the Gophers their best route to pro hockey. That is no longer the case. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that two members of Bemidji State’s 2009 Frozen Four team, Matt Read and Brad Hunt, play for the Minnesota Wild.

“In the day, Minnesota used to take whoever they wanted,” said Brett Larson, the former Minnesota Duluth assistant coach who succeeded Motzko as coach of the St. Cloud Huskies. “Now these kids know there are four other great options out there, and they can find the one that fits them — not just as a hockey player, but as a person too.”

St. Cloud, Minnesota Duluth, Bemidji State and Minnesota State share much in common. All play in relatively new or renovated facilities. St. Cloud renamed its arena for Brooks in 2013 after $13 million in upgrades brought it in line with similar arenas around the state.

It was Brooks, between N.H.L. coaching jobs, who stepped in as the Huskies’ head coach for one season, 1986-87, guiding the transition from Division III to Division I. A young Motzko, a former St. Cloud player, took his first coaching job as one of Brooks’s assistants. Brooks helped the university secure arena funding before leaving to coach the Minnesota North Stars.

“Herb Brooks’s vision of getting St. Cloud State to the Division I level was to create more opportunities for kids in the state to be able to play at that level,” said Larson, who grew up in Duluth. “That was the turning point. For Minnesota, and for the rest of us, it’s created a very competitive environment in the state.”

Motzko returned to St. Cloud as head coach in 2005 after four seasons as an assistant at Minnesota, a stretch during which the Gophers won their last two N.C.A.A. titles. The Huskies made eight N.C.A.A. tournament appearances in Motzko’s 13 seasons.



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