MINNEAPOLIS — Like many Minnesotans, Gophers hockey coach Bob Motzko is eagerly awaiting the start of the college football season, and not just because of the high on-field expectations for the state’s lone Big Ten team.
On the gridiron, the Gophers had a breakout season in 2019, winning 11 games including the Outback Bowl. And with a recruiting class that’s ranked in the top 10 nationally, there is much talk that Minnesota could return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since John F. Kennedy was in the White House (1962), if the 2020 season is played as scheduled.
That “if” in this time of coronavirus pandemic is a huge word, and not just for college football. When asked about the prospects for a “normal” college hockey season recently, Motzko said that everyone who works at 3M Arena at Mariucci is keeping a close eye on what happens across the street, at TCF Bank Stadium, to see if and how hockey can proceed.
“We’ve had no specific meetings about hockey. I know we get lumped into being a winter sport, but... we’re a fall, winter, spring sport, so we cover all three seasons,” Motzko said in a Zoom call with reporters. “I think the biggest picture right now is the start of school, a path forward for school to start, and football, which is obviously the big money from around the country.”
While major winter college championship events like the NCAA Final Four and NCAA Frozen Four were canceled, and college spring sports were not played, May has seen the resumption of professional soccer and baseball overseas, and NASCAR in the United States, without fans in attendance.
Fans of hockey and basketball in North America remain hopeful that the NHL and NBA will find ways to finish their seasons. Motzko said that they are hopeful a resumption of some pro sports here will provide a road map for college sports in the next four months or so.
“Is the NHL going to start this summer, is baseball going to start? I think everyone is looking for the group or a group to start the path forward and then piggyback off it,” he said. “Every day we wake up hoping to hear good news, not bad news, and we all know this will pass. We just hope that in between time comes sooner rather than later.”
The Gophers football team is scheduled to open the season at home on Sept. 3 versus Florida Atlantic. If college hockey starts on time, Motzko’s team will open a month later, on Oct. 3, with a home game versus Bemidji State.
With college coaches unable to meet with recruits in person, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck has drawn praise for his success in remote recruiting, with some national publications ranking the Gophers’ incoming class of talent as high as sixth in the country. Motzko said Fleck, who played goalie for the Gophers in practice once last season, is not quick to reveal the secrets to their football success.
“I have talked to P.J. and I know he’s killing it right now, in their world,” Motzko said. “He’s got something pretty special going and he’s being pretty tight-lipped about it because he knows he’s doing a terrific job.”
So for the time being, the college hockey world waits to see what other sports do. More specifically, if there is a way for college football to play in September, that means hockey would most likely play a month later.
“If that path moves forward, then I think you’re going to see a path forward for hockey,” Motzko said.