ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Mack Motzko spent last hockey season playing junior hockey for the Sioux Falls Stampede and the New Mexico Ice Wolves, but he was a staple in the St. Cloud hockey scene since 2005.
That was when his dad, Bob, took the head men's hockey coaching position at St. Cloud State. Mack was 4 when the family moved to St. Cloud and he played for the St. Cloud Youth Hockey Association and then three seasons for the Cathedral High School team.
Mack died Sunday from injuries sustained in a car accident in Orono at the age of 20. For those who knew him, there are themes when they are asked about him.
"One of the first things that comes to mind is his ever-present smile," said Emmett Keenan, who has been Cathedral's activities director since 1999. "He always was happy to see people. The words I thought of were 'kind, respectful.'
"I have never met anybody who had a bad word to say about Mack. There's a picture floating around of him sitting at the MAC on the bench and he's got a smile on his face. To me, that's Mack."
Robbie Stocker coached Mack in bantams in 2015 and then was an assistant coach for Cathedral during Mack's freshman season in 2016-17. Stocker took the job as Cathedral's head coach in May.
"After being a player at Cathedral and now getting to be a head coach, you start thinking about how you want your kids to behave on and off the ice, the type of people you want them to become," Stocker said. "When I think of who I would want my players and kids to become — as a person, as a leader, as a hockey player — Mack fits every single aspect of that.
"He is Cathedral hockey. The passion he had for it, the way he approached things — with his faith, his leadership, his absolutely positive personality and work ethic — the kid was Cathedral hockey ... He was everything you would have wanted as a person, as a friend and as a player."
Jeremiah Minkel has been St. Cloud State's hockey equipment manager since 1999 and Bryan DeMaine has been an athletic trainer for the Huskies since 2005.
"You'd never know that he was the kid of the head coach running around this place," DeMaine said of Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. "He never acted like it. He was humble. He was respectful. He was just here to be your buddy. That was probably the best part about him. He never showed any sort of entitlement. He just wanted to be part of the group."
One of Mack's buddies at the St. Cloud State rink was Minkel, whom he would help whenever he was given the chance.
"Bob would joke with me that Mack is going to be an equipment manager one day — he loves it," said Eric Rud, who was an assistant coach for the Huskies and Motzko from 2006-10. "Hanging with Jeremiah was Mack's favorite thing. He would go hang out, help, move skates or move sticks. He was just a worker and he loved it."
Brooks Center was a 2nd home
Mack graduated from Cathedral in 2020 and at his graduation party, there was a collage of photos of him from over the years and one was of him with Minkel at a young age. On Monday morning, Minkel remembered something that he would do with the empty boxes from shipments he would receive and if Mack was around.
"I would get these boxes and I'd shut the lights off and put a box over my head and chase and scare him," Minkel said with a smile. "I would run down the hall into the training room. I was the box monster."
Ben Hanowski, whose father was his high school baseball coach, played hockey for the Huskies from 2009-13 and bonded with Mack and his younger brother, Beau, playing hockey with them in the locker room.
"We would shoot (tape) balls at them and play with them and act like they were a little brother or nephew and push them around in the laundry carts, sometimes just to get them to be quiet," Hanowski said with a laugh. "Mack was a good kid and you could really tell he liked the game of hockey and being in the locker room. We did a good job — for the most part — of trying to make him feel included.
"He loved every second of it. I was usually around in the summers and I would usually spend a lot of my time there," he said of the arena. "That was when we would get to see him more, when Bob would bring him and Beau into the locker room and they'd be at the rink for the day. I was a coach's kid in high school and the older players were always really good to me and that was something that I remembered and tried to take with me."
The Motzko family and the Rud family were very close when Bob and Eric were on the staff together. Part of that was because their kids were close in age. Mack's sister, Ella, is 22, and Beau is 17. The Rud children are Sam, 22, Gabbie, 19, and Max, 17.
"They're as close of childhood friends as my kids have," Eric Rud said. "They spent many, many hours in rinks and the kids would play (hockey) together one year and then not the next. They would run around together at (WCHA) Final Fives and in hallways at the St. Paul Hotel or at the Radisson.
"Some of the first memories (with the kids) is we all would get together over at Bob's house and we would stay over night. Mack would terrorize Beau in a funny way. Our kids would be downstairs and fighting and laughing ... Mack was a great kid, just awesome."
Rud said that there were also special days at the Brooks Center when the kids would be off from school and their schedules would all align, they would spend the day skating and playing.
"All the kids would hang out in the locker room and in the lounge and there'd be a dozen kids skating at the Hockey Center," he said. "We'd get Little Caesar's (pizza) and the kids would run around and hang out. Mack always had the biggest smile in the middle of everyone, loving that. Both our families loved when those random days would work out."
And as Mack was growing up, his love of the game grew and he would re-watch Huskies games with his dad after he got back from a home game.
"(Mack) wanted to watch the game with him to learn," Minkel said. "He would soak everything in, the details."
"I think sometimes he would hang around the locker room just to see what he needed, or should do, to be a hockey player," DeMaine said. "He just wanted to be a hockey player."
And by the time Stocker met Mack at age 14, he was a cerebral player.
"We always would joke that coaching Mack was like coaching another adult. He was the most mature 14-year-old kid that I ever met," Stocker said. "You could tell he spent a ton of time around adults and locker rooms with Division I coaches and hockey players. At such a young age, it was funny to hear his feedback and how he would break things down at such an adult level."
Wanting to be a Crusader, Husky
When he got to Cathedral, he helped the Crusaders take third place the Class A state tournament as a freshman in 2016-17 with 33 points in 30 games. He had 36 points in 28 games as a sophomore, but Cathedral was upset in double overtime in the section championship game.
At the end of March 2018, Bob was hired as the head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota and Mack did not take the change well.
"Our season was done and there was an empty stall in the Husky locker room and I'd put my gear in there because I'd go and skate after school," Mack said in a March 2020 interview. "When my dad took that (job), I went and took all my stuff out of there.
"A day after, (Ryan Poehling) texted me and said, 'You come back here. You're still a part of us. You're always going to be a Husky,'" he said of the first round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens. "It's something I get a little emotional about now because they're such a good group of guys ... Ryan deserves all the success that he's gotten."
The Motzko family moved to Minnetonka after Mack's sophomore year and he played his junior season for the Skippers. But it wasn't the same and he transferred back to Cathedral for his senior year.
"He felt strong enough about our community that he wanted to be part of it," Keenan said of Mack, who also played golf at Cathedral. "I don't think the No. 1 base of that was hockey. I think he missed the school, missed the friendships, missed being in class with his buddies he grew up with. The fact that he wanted to come back meant a lot to a lot of people."
And even after having been away for a season, Mack was voted one of the team captains and ended up scoring the game-winning goal for Cathedral in the Class A third place state tournament game.
"He played the whole section tournament with a grade 3 torn ligament in his ankle," Stocker said. "So he played that whole playoff run hurt."
And that season, he was often seen at the Brooks Center.
"He would swing down and call me and have me sharpen his skates and he would shoot (pucks) in the shooting room," Mikel said.
"He had an injury and he came by to talk to me and I helped guide him on what to do with it and who he needed to see about it," DeMaine said. "It was really cool because he kept in touch. He still felt like he could come down here and be with us."
"He'll always be a Husky," Minkel said.
All of it has made coming to grips with his death so tough to take for those who knew Mack.
"If you go through all of the comments on social media, they're all positive because everybody felt Mack's presence throughout his life," Stocker said. "Everyone had a positive interaction with him. Everybody had a good thing to say about him. That was authentic. You can't fake that."
When Keenan and the rest of the Cathedral community found out the news, it hit hard.
"I think the word is 'devastated,'" Keenan said. "I say that about myself that I'm devastated. Other people I've talked to are devastated.
"I can't even imagine the devastation and the unimaginable pain for the Motzko family. You expect your kids to come home at night. We're not supposed to bury our children. We're supposed to bury our parents ... I can't imagine what that family is going through."
Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our Mack. No bigger heart or young man loved than this kid. Thanks to all who have reached out. He is my hero! pic.twitter.com/ufDTAkkpBu— Bob Motzko (@BMotzko) July 26, 2021